Monday, June 20, 2011

Green Lantern vs. Meteor Man: White Heroes Must Go

Another white guy saving the world? Come on already!
An embarrassingly bad article in The Christian Science Monitor compelled me to go see Green Lantern. Having no intentions of seeing a movie that looked about as interesting as watching Buried while actually being buried alive, the words quoted below obligated me to see the film: 
“Hollywood often continues to use a white American male as its default lead character and assumes that viewers of all demographics will be able to identify with him,” says Amy Corbin, assistant professor of art and film studies at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Penn.

The white male becomes the “universal” character who is supposedly compelling for everyone – while when women and people of color play the leads, those films are often assumed to be “niche” films that will only attract a viewing demographic that matches the lead character,” she adds via email.

The Green Lantern origin myth pushes this particular bias further than most in the super hero canon, says comic book expert Julian Chambliss, who teaches history at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. In the Green Lantern mythology, the latest wearer of the ring of power is chosen by the ring itself, specifically for the wearer’s strength of will and ability to overcome fear.

The ring is looking for “the best of the best,” says Mr. Chambliss, adding: “You’re telling me that in 2011, on a planet of some 7 billion people, the vast majority of whom are minority faces, that the best of the best is going to be a white guy from southern California?”
Actually, Amy Corbin, Hollywood has been doing everything possible to displace white American males in film, going to the insane levels to actually tell Thomas Jane he was “too white” to play in Headshot. It is foreign white males who play the bad ass in American cinema now, as Ryan Reynolds is a Canadian. 

And Julian Chambliss, you should know that the United States Military’s newspaper, Stars and Stripes, pursued absurd measures in an attempt to prove that white males weren’t the only valorous people in the military. Just like the ring of the Green Lantern Corps, all they could find were white guys.
Don’t worry though Julian: Black actors will be cast in Seal Team 6, so Black heroes will be manufactured for your viewing pleasure. 
I wrote a book called Hollywood in Blackface that discusses how white American males have been replaced in the action film, with blockbuster films conditioning the audience that only Black guys have the ability to be bad asses on the screen. Roger Ebert wrote it best in his review of XXX: State of the Union, when he bashed the film, but praised it for following the white-out script:
Did I enjoy this movie? Only in a dumb mindless way. It has whatever made the original "XXX" entertaining, but a little less of it. Does it make the slightest sense? Of course not. Its significance has nothing to do with current politics and politicians, the threat of terrorism, and the efficiency of bullet trains. It has everything to do with a seismic shift in popular culture.

Once all action heroes were white. Then they got a black chief of police, who had a big scene where he fired them. Then they got a black partner. Then they were black and had a white partner. Now they are the heroes and don't even need a white guy around, although there is one nerdy white guy in "XXX" who steps in when the plot requires the ineffectual delivery of a wimpy speech. So drastically have things changed that when Ice Cube offers to grab the president and jump off a train and grab a helicopter, all the president can do is look grateful.
Justice League cartoon: Green Lantern was Black so it wasn't all white guys saving the world
Only two weeks ago I wrote a long-piece about comic book movies as the last refuge for white actors to find work in action films (unless their name is Paul Walker, who is the token white now), because all of the popular comic book characters were written in a time when the United States of America was unafraid of promoting actual Americans in their work. 
Sure, you can make Nick Fury Black in Iron Man so that the 2012 Avengers film has a Black actor, but there aren’t many Black superheroes because Black writers have failed to create any compelling characters that resonate with the general public.
Attempts to create Black comic book heroes to replace traditional white ones, most notably by the late Dwayne McDuffie, ultimately failed to find an audience despite some, modest, initial success:
There is a revolution going on in a Manhattan high-rise on 23rd Street near the Avenue of the Americas. On the fourth floor, a small army is busy creating a new universe. It is a world not unlike ours, full of colorful heroes and sinister villains: Blood Syndicate, Hardware, Icon, Kobalt, Shadow Cabinet, Static Xombi. The denizens of this world are made in the image of their creators - a band of artists, editors and writers of backgrounds not limited by race, age or gender. It's a strange new world, one you may not have heard of yet, largely because its universe is the comic book industry. As a poster in a far corner of these offices proclaims, "This Revolution Will Not Be Televised."

At least not yet.

Welcome to Milestone Media Inc., a three-year-old, black-owned comic book company based in New York. Milestone's operating philosophy is based on the premise that comic book characters with "powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men," as well as the artists and writers that tell their stories, should be African-American, Asian, Latino and female - as well as white and male.

That premise has been validated at the cash register. Since Milestone's first comic book debuted in February of 1993, the publishing company has sold about seven million copies of seven monthly titles to the retailers that make up the industry's direct market. Sales for 1993 alone hit 3.5 million copies, raking in more than $5 million in sales. Milestone's fans range from U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas to filmmaker John Singleton.

But diversity alone is not what makes this company special. Afrocentric and multicultural comics are far from new to the industry (see sidebar, The New Adventures of Blacks in the Comic Book Business"). The Milestone revolution is driven by the application of a more basic business premise: The greatest product in the world won't make money if you can't make consumers aware of it, and then get it to them.
By cutting an unprecedented marketing and distribution deal with industry giant DC Comics Inc., Milestone's principals, President and CEO Derek T. Dingle, V.P./Editor-in-Chief Dwayne McDuffie and V.P./Creative Director Denys Cowan, have staked a claim on a $1 billion industry, long lacking in minority representation.
Here is Wikipedia on the failure of Milestone:
Milestone had several advantages in its publishing efforts: Their books were distributed and marketed by one of the "Big Two" comic book publishers, the comics industry had experienced remarkable increases in sales in preceding years, they featured the work of several well-known and critically acclaimed creators, they used a coloring process that gave their books a distinctive look, and they had the potential to appeal to an audience that was not being targeted by other publishers.

They also suffered from several disadvantages: The comics market was experiencing a glut of "new universes" as several other publishers launched superhero lines around the same time, a significant number of retailers and readers perceived the Milestone books to be "comics for Blacks" and assumed they would not interest non-African-American readers, the books received limited exposure beyond existing comics-shop customers, the coloring process added slightly to the cover price of their books, and overall comics sales had peaked around the time of Milestone's launch and declined dramatically in the years that followed. It also should be noted that even though they received press coverage from non-comics related magazines and television, they were virtually ignored by the comic book press such as Wizard Magazine.

Milestone cancelled several of its lower-selling series in 1995 and 1996, and aborted plans for several mini-series. Heroes, a new team book featuring Static and several of its more popular second-tier characters, was launched, but failed to sell well enough to justify an ongoing series. Milestone shut down its comic book division in 1997, with some of the remaining ongoing series discontinued in mid-story. Today, it is primarily a licensing company, focusing on its television property, the Emmy Award and Humanitas Prize winning animated series Static Shock.
It should be known that DC Comics is bringing back Static because of a need for Black heroes to fill the pages of its stories. 
If you can’t make Black comic book characters, why not just make a beloved character Black? This is McDuffie was able to do with the Justice League cartoon show, as he was able to convince Bruce Timm to make the Green Lantern Black:
He becomes the only major black character in the Cartoon Network’s (CN) regular lineup and one of the very few in any animated series.
Executives at CN, which is part of AOL Time Warner’s Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting System, said they have sought to have more black characters in general but that they never suggested the Green Lantern character to the making “Justice League.”
Create and producer Bruce Timm, a sort of star in the confined world of superhero TV animation, said he chose a black superhero “so it wasn’t just a bunch of white guys saving the universe every day.”

Timm doesn’t think most viewers will give much thought to Green Lantern’s skin color. But, he added, “I would hope black audiences would watch those and say, ‘There is somebody I can relate to.’
More than 20 percent of the CN’s viewers are black. 

It’s an effort that should be undertaken with sensitivity, said Linda Simensky, the network’s senior vice president of original animation. Cartoon characters are by nature extreme personalities, often ripe for mockery. “You don’t want your first lead African-American character on the network to be shown in a negative light,” she said. 

The selection has irritated some superhero fans. “On one hand they are mad we aren’t using their favorite version of the character,” Timm said. “On the other hand they are accusing of us of being hopelessly P.C. (politically correct).”

Timm pleaded guilty to that last one. “It’s is a P.C. kind of move, but I don’t think it hurts anything.”
Meteor Man: A hero for Black people
It was a politically correct move, and that move is precisely why an academic named Julian Chambliss is allowed space to complain that a white guy was selected to wear a ring that only someone with an ability to overcome fear and strong will is able to wear. 
Obviously, the ring was aware that no Black person can overcome the fear of dogs, ghosts and registered mail
Blake Lively made watching Green Lantern a tolerable experience, but midway through watching the movie I started thinking about a forgotten 1990s film that depicted a Black superhero: Meteor Man.
Don’t remember Meteor Man? How about a refresher from Ebert:
Robert Townsend's "The Meteor Man" is a good-hearted fable about a mild-mannered school teacher who is struck by a glowing green meteor and transformed into a superhero. He uses his powers to rid his neighborhood of a street gang named the Golden Lords, who dye their hair yellow and recruit schoolchildren as a junior auxiliary.

The movie stars Townsend as Jefferson Reed, a substitute Washington, D.C., schoolteacher who counsels his kids to deal with the mean streets of the big city by backing off and not picking fights. But this policy has led nowhere, and now the streets are ruled by the Golden Lords - who maintain a curiously high profile for drug dealers, with their identikit yellow hairdos and their pintsized trainees.

The junior auxiliary is scariest thing in the movie: little kids, some of them barely school age, using their lunch buckets to carry illegal profits and lining up behind their leader (Roy Fegan) like tiny Nazis. It's a sight that breaks Townsend's heart, but what can he do about it? Nothing - until the glowing meteor strikes, and he discovers that he has superpowers, just like the heroes of comic books. Until the meteor, he was quiet and meek, a grown-up living in a boarding house and still taking lots of advice from his parents (Marla Gibb and Robert Guillaume). His mother, in fact, sews him his Meteor Man uniform, and his dad dishes out free pointers: "Maybe you could go international, and deal with South Africa." But Meteor Man stays in the neighborhood, in a series of scenes where he stops speeding cars with his bare hands, and tosses tough guys around. For reasons not fully explained in the screenplay, his superpowers have a disturbing tendency to fade from time to time, which leads to suspense when he becomes temporarily vulnerable. The trick is to impress the Golden Lords when he's strong, so he can bluff them as his energy wanes.
Whereas Superman fights for the good of the entire world; whereas Batman fights to make Gotham City a better place to live for all citizens; Meteor Man was told to use his extraordinary powers to “deal with South Africa.” You see, Black superheroes must be Black first, members of humanity second.
Here’s a hilarious article on Meteor Man from Jet magazine:
If funnyman Robert Townsend, along with an all-star cast, used comedy and adventure to make a serious statement about the dangers of gangs and drugs in the inner city in the new film The Meteor Man.
The Meteor Man is the first Black superhero in history. Townsend pointed out that the never managed to make Blacks the swashbucklers. “We the assistant to the hero,” he said. “I am hoping The Meteor Man will give kids something to aim for, to help them say “I can be a hero; I can do something great in my life.” I wanted to create a true superhero, but I wanted him to be a regular guy.
The film, Townsend said, attempts to make a statement about the need for citizens to get involved and take their neighborhoods back from the hoodlums.
He wants to make certain that MGM Studios markets the film to groups of all races and age ranges and not pigeonhole it as just a Black film. “If everybody get out and sees the film- White, Black or Yellow people – they’ll enjoy it. It’s just getting past the prejudice factor.”
Obviously the people who were interviewed in that Christian Science Monitor piece have gotten past their prejudices against white American males.
Meteor Man turned out to be a monumental bomb, but it did have the happy ending of uniting the Blood and Cripes 15 years before hordes of illegal aliens united the two opposing gangs in real-life.
Look, I enjoy writing about movies, college football and sports, comic books, and pop culture. Not everyone who reads this blog enjoys those pieces, but it’s something I love to write about. In an ideal world, Starrz, Showtime or HBO would pick up The Punisher as a television series and I would do everything possible to be a part of it.
Because the majority of the violent crime committed in this country is by Black and Brown people, having a movie or television show where a muscular white guy goes around blowing away gang members and people that Thug Report immortalizes isn’t going to happen.
So don’t worry Black people and Disingenuous White Liberals: the day will come when Superman is turned into a Black guy; Spider-man is turned into a brother; and Batman and Robin become the Dynamic Nigga Duo.
In the real world, the majority of the people who actually make things work and run smoothly are the dreaded white male. When Black people can pass a firefighter test without the actual test being dumbed-down to accommodate their lower scores; when medical school requirements won’t be lowered because Black people can’t get past biology class and the MCAT; when engineers aren’t attacked for being too white and NASA starts to look toward the stars again instead of for that precious Black scientist; and when Black people can pass a police exam without the Department of (In) Justice stepping in to demand greater diversity, I’ll stop writing SBPDL. 

Until then, whenever some punk academic writes an article bemoaning that a white guy got selected to wear an intergalactic ring due to his valor, lack of fear and will power, I’ll just point out that no Black person could ever truly become part of the Green Lantern Corps because ghosts, dogs and registered mail provide an insurmountable trifecta of fear-inducement that can’t be overcome. 

Update: I would be remiss if I didn't point out that OneSTDV and Occidental Dissent both posted interesting observations on the same article that motivated me to see Green Lantern


Stephen said...

Oh curse those White males! Can't they just stop existing!

Anybody else find it hilarious how the same people that say "Oh but every other channel on TV is WET" demand that more "minorities" are represented in the mythical "WET" channels?

Douglas said...

I have noticed it's not just minorities you see taking all the parts of the wise and mighty, but women as well. It seems I can't turn on an action show without some woman kicking the crap out of a guy. I don't see any women stepping up to fight against the UFC males.

Keep up the good work. Love your writing as always.

Stirner said...

Hey, you forgot the black superheroes Bluntman and Chronic!

This bit from Chasing Amy is a classic:

David said...

Blacks have another super-hero to admire: Blankman. Damon Wayans and David Alan Grier are the heroes and the love interest is Robin Givens. I think the bad guy is a white person, too.

All the bases are covered for a jocular, life affirming, almost Tyler Perryesque film experience.

Whiskey said...

Black superheroes failed for a number of reasons. First is a tiny readership base (Black males) who are largely illiterate. Detroit is about 45% illiterate, and its a Black majority city. Black people consume the least amount of books, both purchases and Library checkouts, read the fewest newspapers, and have the lowest literacy levels.

Thus, any talented Black writer/artist is going to have a hard time, akin to a musician amongst the deaf. He literally will not have the support base for experimentation and refinement of characters and plotlines.

Second, efforts to "Black it up" have largely failed commercially. Fast and Furious is all about the CARS, not the guys, and is not a model for success any more than the endless 80's ripoffs of Raiders worked either. The two sleeper action hits were made by a French guy (Luc Besson, "Fifth Element"): Taken and From Paris With Love. Which featured angry or joyful White guys blowing away Muslim (and Chinese) criminals and terrorists.

Much of the problem with White US leading men is the domination of TV/Chick Flick movies (the critical training grounds for up and coming leading men) by the Gay Aesthetic. Its not so much a "Black thing" as too many US White actors adopting the Ryan Gosling / Jake Gyllenhall "sorta gay" feminization. Which is why NBC-TV's "Life" starred "Band of Brothers" Brit Actor Damien Lewis (who was and is terrific). Never have so many US actresses been so good and lovely, and never has the male side of things been so terribly, terribly "gay."

Whiskey said...

I also don't think that the Studios will yield to what amounts to a co-ordinated shot across the bows.

Studios became fat and dependent on DVD sales, which have fallen off the cliff in the recession, with Blu-Ray basically dead (killed off by Netflix and Amazon streaming). Theatrical has been pumped a bit up, by 3-D, but that's a fad that is already prompting audience revolt over bad effects, poor storylines, and expensive tickets.

Most of the World is not White and male, but they don't have much if any money either. China is a pirate's heaven, Hollywood has no realistic chance of selling there. Same for Latin America, which is mostly still poor and heavily dependent on selling the Chinese raw materials for income. Africa is not a place where even $1 DVDs sell, and much of the ME also relies on pirated content, with most people there still too poor to maintain Hollywood's money stream.

Like it or not, Hollywood studios in order to generate revenue are going to have to produce mass-audience movies in the US, sold to places like Netflix for a bundled flat fee. Since DVD libraries are now no longer cash cows, foreign sales are dropping, and Blu-Ray/3-D are not riding to the rescue like the Cavalry.

This means defacto White males who are the major customer base for Action Movies and remain the only folks with money to pay for streaming video, who are also interested in it.

The real danger for Hollywood is when Amazon, Netflix, Apple, and the rest of the steaming providers (Redbox, maybe Blockbuster re-organized after bankruptcy) start creating their own original content by hiring studio people, actors, writers, etc. Luc Besson out of Paris created Taken and From Paris With Love, two sleeper action movies that cost relatively little (almost no CGI or wire stunts that cost, traditional action stunts and scenes). THAT ought to frighten the hell out of the Studios (i.e. anyone can copy what they do, probably at lower prices).

So, no, I don't think the Action movie will turn Black despite the pressure. There's just no money in it.

Stuff Black People Don't Like said...


Bout to hit the gym, but you are spot on with your analysis of the dying DVD market and the prediction that Amazon, Netflix and Apple will start producing films.

Look at what WWE studios has done, as Vince McMahon has decided to use his vast millions and wrestling empire to produce limited release or direct to DVD films with his wrestlers/ performers that already have a built-in fanbase.

"From Paris With Love" is a fun film with great action. Love "Taken" as well.

Efforts to Blacken-up television have failed completely, as you note.

Anonymous said...

I generally won't speak as a representative of White males, but this is one instance where I feel my expert opinion is needed.

The beauty of White male people is that we always re-invent ourselves.

We try, we fail. We want to be farmers, there's a goddamn drought; we want to be musicians, we find out we're tone deaf; we want to be free and travel the world teaching English and having sex with hookers, we get some floozy in trouble and mom makes you marry her (my case).

Lay-zay-lay bonton roulette (sp?).

History has shown that white male culture is ALWAYS copied, co-opted and corrupted. So white men walk away. White women follow because white men rock the house. We start from scratch. So it goes.

So let the negro people have comic books. I've always said Denzel Washington would make a good Batman.

A white man's life is a progression of phases that goes from chaotic to order; a negro man's life is an echo of the white man -- less perfect, somewhat entertaining and mostly pointless (like the comic books they covet).

The Engineer

Anonymous said...

Oh, and Mr. Whiskey, you are right about negro people not being interested in books. I once bought a 3000 square foot Victorian Cottage for 1000 dollars -- in a negro ghetto. They robbed me blind but didn't touch my books.

The Engineer

Spunkmeyer said...

The most notorious black Film Critic on the internet has chimed in on this exact topic. Armond White, while hated by DWLs more than any other critic (making him my favorite), and more educated in film than the filthy ex-porn writer Ebert, still has his quirks. And naturally his main quirk is how he will attack films that portray blacks in a negative light (or not at all).

Here is his new article titled "Mean Green: Green Lantern is just the latest Hollywood comic book film that makes black guys look bad" where he attacks Green Lantern in addition to Thor (for making the black god the butler) and X-Men First Class:

Though I do not want to give the wrong impression, because interestingly enough aside from the black issue, Armond generally praised the movie, noting only a few other areas that could use improvement. He even spoke highly of Ryan Reynolds in the role: "Reynolds plays the seriousness better than Robert Downey in Iron Man or Toby Maguire in Spider Man."

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

It's also of note that the relatively recent Fantastic Four movies "blackened" Alicia Masters, The Thing's lover. Now Hollywood sees it fit to retcon intraracial relationships to suit the interracial fad.

Anonymous said...

Locust- Whiskey is right on target with a one cm shot group! Hollywood will never go totally black, whites will never support black films and television in numbers that will allow so called WET to die off. Black Run America doesn't sell anywhere but, well, in America! The rest of the world has said no to Americas spending craze on the african population temporarily eating away at the nation, in a letter from Finland: the weak link in the liberal suicide plot has always been the economy, when it goes so will liberal egalitarian democracies. But to survive we must awaken the majority, unfortunately they wont wake up until the nation has collapsed and rioting has started. I hope all of you are ready, its coming sure as the sun will rise tommarow. Good luck.

LittleMissPerfect said...

Although he was in a supporting role, Frozone was an awesome black superhero in The Incredibles!

Anonymous said...

You are of course forgetting about Blank Man and Other Guy!

Anonymous said...

majority of whom are minority faces,

So the majority will be minority faces? Does anyone else find this "oprahised" use of the words "minoratha" and "majoratha" as funny as when Cartman uses them?

Traveller said...

I am against wasting money on these pieces of crap. Not even for information purpose, if someone asks you how can you judge Thor if you did not see it, just answer if they tasted poo for saying they do not like it.

Spending money of that is already losing. And sice someone spoke about piracy, they are not even worth the time and the bandwidth.

Finally, funny the picture of this cartoon with a black Lantern you put in the post. With blue eyes uh? How many blacks have blue eyes?

Anonymous said...

Was into comics a while back and there are some black super heroes worth noting.

Bishop from X-men books
Blade has his own comic line, but also in spiderman and successful movies.
Afro Samurai, way more recent.
The Black Panther
Storm, X-men
Black Lightning
Firestorm, Jason Rusch
I'm sure if you did a google search you will find hundreds more, since a lot of comic characters fizzled out a long time ago.

One character that I found a bit distasteful was a side character named Jim Wilson, was I think first comic character to have AIDS and also happens to be a black male.

Anonymous said...

"I'm sure if you did a google search you will find hundreds more"

I'm sure no one gives a fuck.

Anonymous said...

@ Anon. 9:36 AM

I don't give a hoopla either, I don't care for those " New & Improved " ( stamped with the PC's approval ), fictitious in every way black characters. In the 70's Blaxploitation B movies were the real deal, one of my favorite is 1979's Disco Godfather.

Here's the trailer:

Anonymous said...

"In the 70's Blaxploitation B movies were the real deal, one of my favorite is 1979's Disco Godfather." one gives a fuck.

Diarrhea, get help, you fucking wack-job.

Anonymous said...

Blade is the only black character worth a damn. All the rest of them could die tomorrow and you wouldn't really notice.

Barracuda, a black comic book character with no superpowers at all is more interesting than all the black superheroes listed.

Phalluster said...

I watched this movie over the weekend and actually found myself agreeing with Julian Chambliss; it seemed very suspicious that the ring would choose a white man as the embodiment of fearlessness.

You see, whites tend to have a fairly prominent future time orientation. They take risks, they exhibit bravery, but fearlessness? That irked me as being simply the inability to calculate risk and anticipate danger. White people invest their resources and cautiously protect them. Surely a black man would be better suited to race into danger headfirst, if "fearlessness" was the only measure of quality.

Then the movie explained a bit more of the comic book lore: the ring's green power was actually "will", and the Green Lanterns were simply fighting the power of "fear". The white pilot from California had been reckless in some of his life choices, but he was selected because he could overcome his fears and fight for what was valuable to him. This made him unique and superior among the 3600 other alien species, and also made a lot more sense why a white man would be chosen over the more primitive races on Earth.

I wound up enjoying this flick; there weren't any cringe-worthy moments of token diversity, pointless profanity, or jokes about blowjobs. The hero's love interest was a beautiful white girl (unlike Thor, which paired the Norse god with a non-white). The storyline did not lend itself to any convenient political agendas. Basically the movie succeeds simply by not failing, a rarity these days for a big budget release.

Anonymous said...

They actually offered Will Smith to be Superman in Superman Returns. He neglected because he said,"You mess up white peoples' heroes in Hollywood, you'll never work in this town again!"

So your 'black Superman' comment was actually not that far from being reality.