The Bailey Vow

Status Update: I have successfully moved.

I’m still settling into my new home–trying, as I’ve been advised, to slow down and celebrate victories.

But also trying to settle back into being productive. The Movepocalypse sidelined all of my creative endeavors for over a month.

Well . . . except for this one post, which felt so important that I started it on July 15th. I’ve followed through and published it here because, for me, this marked an important evolution in my priorities as a writer of color. If I did not publish this, and take the ensuing vow on this site, I’d be doing my platform a massive disservice.

So, please enjoy what I’ve come to call “the Bailey Vow.”

~~~

A weird thing happened last week.

While packing, I decided to put on Deadpool 2, a movie that happened to be on Hulu–the last hurrah of an HBO subscription I bought for Game of Thrones and would never, ever renew.  The goal was “something I feel I should watch, but don’t actually need to pay attention to.” Essentially, voices in the background while I packed.

I came away from that movie with a few thoughts:

  1. Wait–Josh Brolin was Thanos and Cable?
  2. Deadpool can be funny, but when he dips into Family Guy-esque celebrity humor, he isn’t, at all.
  3. And, most importantly: wow, I love Zazie Beetz’ Domino.

They didn’t give her any development (because of course they didn’t), but she is an extremely fun imagining of a character I didn’t care about at all in the comics.

Deadpool 2-Domino just looks great. The FoX-Men movies often interpret characters to look way worse than their comic counterparts, but Domino is actually the opposite; she doesn’t look anything like her comic counterpart, but her big hair and simpler, less comic booky outfit pair really well with her character. When Domino is falling out of a moving truck but sees a giant parade float under her, she just turns her back, putting her arms behind her head, lounging, mid-air, through the wreckage and landing without a scratch; and, seeing that, we know exactly who she is–the chill, carefree vibe she puts out–and it’s awesome.

“Let me hop onto Twitter and talk about that,” I thought to myself.

And, well . . . Cue that infamous part of “Requiem in D Minor.”

“The little mermaid was written as white, was white in the film, is based in Denmark and based on a European fairytale, but is cast as black . . . How is this not racist and cultural appropriation?”

“Ariel must be a cute girl with white skin and red hair singing sweet and crisp!!”

“Ariel must be white because she is a white girl and that’s it . . .”

“Disney, you made a huge mistake by hiring Halle Bailey . . .”

“. . . This is going in the TRASH.”

Wow. Especially that second quote. She must be “singing sweet and crisp”? . . . What the fuck? It’s like a soda ad became sentient and took racism for a spin on Twitter.

For me, the “black Ariel” conversation continued immediately the next day at work.

With a Hispanic coworker. This happens sometimes, of course; a coworker who’s a fellow minority will out themselves as a fan of Ben Shapiro, or maybe an accidental supporter of the continued, often racist casting standards of Hollywood. Among the points made were . . .

  1. So, what? Is Poseidon gonna be black now?
    My Answer: Holy shit–that would be rad. I didn’t even think of that.
  2. It’s a Swedish fairy tale!
    My Answer: Keywords: fairy tale.
  3. I’d sooner believe a mermaid would be pale-skinned.
    My Answer: I’d sooner believe a mermaid had green skin, giant gills, and an unhinging jaw, actually.
  4. What if Black Panther had been White Panther instead?
    Answer: So, you mean what if Black Panther had been like every other goddamn film in the franchise?

We went back and forth for a while, my coworker making unreasonable points, me thinking, “Why . . . the fuck am I even having this debate? With a fellow Latino, no less.” Why this instead of both of us talking about how cool it is and musing, “Wow. Maybe someday, we’ll finally get a Hispanic Disney Princess”?

Instead, I was enduring the same arguments from Twitter, winding down with the same major point I’d seen on there: “Why don’t they just make a new movie with a new black main character?”

The thing is . . . I don’t completely disagree with that idea.

As I’ve said before in previous articles about All New Marvel’s weird penchant for swapping out white characters with ethnic characters and boys with girls, I don’t actually think that’s the best move for diversity (with the exception of Miles and Carol, who are genuinely just killin’ it). Sure, at this point, replacing white characters with minority characters is the best we can really hope for . . .

. . . but what would be far superior . . . is a bunch of new stories headlined by minorities. Stories like Brian Michael Bendis’ Naomi. Naomi is an amazing title because the title isn’t “Iron Man,” or “Thor” (and, of course, in the eyes of the rabid, sexist and racist masses, “Black Iron Man” or “Female Thor)–it’s just fucking Naomi. No argument, no bullshit, no looming shadow of a white predecessor.

But, to that coworker, I said, “Well, dude, no shit it would be better to have a new movie about black merpeople. But Hollywood would never do that. And people don’t–“

And I know I kept talking, but I don’t remember exactly what I said.

I had been saying, “And people don’t write their best stories with ethnic characters, because they’re usually afraid to.

“Because everyone’s been told, time and time again, that IP’s with ethnic characters won’t sell, which is bullshit.”

To which I asked myself, “Then why the fuck is Kole Buchanon white?”

Since seeing The Force Awakens, I’d imagined the protagonist of one of my own novels, Kole Buchanon, as John Boyega, but I’d never actually gone back and changed his original description–a vague set of visual guidelines that allowed readers to infer whatever skin color they wanted for the character. After all, I didn’t want to upset anyone–I wanted everyone to feel welcome. And, sure, I still do . . .

. . . but, as I said on Twitter, the reaction to Halle Bailey, like the reaction to Amandla Stenberg’s Rue before it, has made it clear that we don’t live in a world where that’s possible.

I can make my characters as welcoming to all races as I want, only for society to assume their whiteness and Hollywood to bolster that assumption, while I ultimately stand up for no one.

Or . . . I can make every single one of my protagonists a minority. Not a careful handful. Not one or two, experimentally.

All of them.

So, here, now, I’m taking what I call the Bailey Vow, so named because I don’t want to live in a world where this insane, racist reaction to Halle Bailey being cast as a mermaid, ever happens again.

I don’t claim that everyone should take this vow; I’m not trying to overturn all of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, and get rid of all white protagonists, because that would be bad too. But I do want to contribute to a world where protagonists being brown is no big deal. As a brown man writing for a predominately white genre, I have to contribute to that effort.

Thus, my vow:

  1. To always write stories where the protagonists are minorities.
  2. However–eternally inb4 the white-blind raging that’s sure to come if I’m successful–these stories will not always focus on the protagonist being a minority.
  3. I will always go out of my way to make it undeniably clear that my protagonists are minorities. We’re talking full descriptions of skin color, hair texture, etc., so that no one in their right mind could ever utter the words, “He / She was black / brown / Asian / etc.!?”
  4. Finally, I will always keep the film rights to all of my projects, so if any of my work ever gets optioned by a studio, I can make sure my characters are never white-washed.

It may never matter that I took this vow here; I may never be so successful of  a writer that this makes any difference.

But I took it regardless.

Now I just have to add “Redo Kole Buchanon descriptions” to my To-Do list on the Memory rewrite.

~~~

And, of course, I need to get back on the other projects I’ve been neglecting, now all backed by the Bailey Vow, which makes them more exciting–as if this is the mindset with which I always should’ve approached my projects (because it is).

Thank you for reading, and, if you’d like to be here the next time I decide to post something wildly polarizing, you can subscribe with the button on the left hand side of the screen.

Until then, take care, and write well.

Published by

Louis Santiago

I'm a fantasy writer based in New York. Recently, my short story, "Aixa the Hexcaster," was published at Mirror Dance Fantasy. You can read it here: http://www.mirrordancefantasy.com/2016/09/aixa-hexcaster.html.

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