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.

Update: Memory of the Black Sun–My NaNoWriMo 2014 Project–is Finished

LS-NaNoWriMoProgress-12.12.14-CompleteWhere I Wrote: At home, in the one room I always use for writing.

How I Feel About What I Wrote: Strange. The ending is a complication.

The Mood I Brought to the Table: I remember being really happy. I want to say determined, but that would imply that there was some difficulty. There wasn’t; I woke up, made coffee, and sat down with my tablet, excited to edit the bit of the ending that I had and try again to complete it.

The Experience: I’d planned a return to the New York Public Library on 42nd, but the end of Memory refused to wait for that; on Friday morning, after struggling with the last chapter and epilogue, I woke up, edited, tried another approach, and wound up finishing Memory within an hour or two.

And, yes, you read that right; I finished the novel on Friday and I’m only posting about it today, on Sunday. At this point, I’ve told exactly one person about completing it. My reason: boasting about finishing the novel feels incredibly celebratory. Which would be all kinds of silly as the book is absolutely not done.

In part because it needs to be edited. Sorely. I want to smooth out the pacing. I want to add more interesting descriptions for everything. I want to hone the world of the story. I want, more than anything else, to have the required Naming Session, during which I can finally stop calling my thief protagonist Locke, and–for the love of God–decide on a less awkward name than Memory of the Black Sun.

But also because… the ending for Memory is such a conundrum that taking one possible route with it does not feel like any cause for celebration whatsoever–I have not won yet; I have not figured it out. War of Exiles had a very clear, complete, strong ending that got unexpectedly more powerful for me every time I worked on it–every time I trimmed off excess and added another scene that needed a resolution. In contrast, I’m left staring at a handful of options for Memory, the terms of my Fantasy Story Stats buzzing around in my head endlessly; the ending can be High Spirit (emotionally comforting), or Low Spirit (emotionally challenging), I find myself thinking, only to immediately remind myself that I can find a middle ground–one of the many if’s and but’s that makes the logic puzzle of Memory’s ending a terrible little loop. I’m still weighing the matter with such honest confusion that writing this just feels… wrong.

But I still have to acknowledge that I’m on to the editing part. On to it so hard, in fact, that last night saw me whipping out the tablet on my bed at (seriously) 6AM because I had to write a scene that I knew would help the pacing and reinforce the protagonists’ relationship. I have, at least, crossed over to the phase of writing during which I can–and totally do–jump backwards in the timeline and tweak and edit absolutely everything. I’m up to the point where I can stare vacantly at a wall (or maybe at people in public) while I consider the ending for the umpteenth time, knowing as I do that there is a solution for it that I will find. Being at that phase with Memory is something I’m incredibly grateful for.

It took longer than a month; I took an extra week to put in hours at work and take care of other life things I’d been ignoring and then an extra week after that to actually write the end of the novel without rushing it. But I still, suddenly have a second novel down. If you’d asked me in mid-October of this year–just before NaNoWriMo–when I expected to finish Memory of the Black Sun, I’d have shrugged and half-asked, “2016?”

But it’s down, on paper, now–and it’s good–in a month and change, compared to the… seven years it took me to write War of Exiles?

Yep. I’ll take it.