The Latin Bechdels – Part 1: The CAR Test

It’s been almost two years since I first talked about Earth-Modern race in fantasy on this site. Two whole years and the world has changed a lot. At least, lately, America is coming along. Same sex marriage has been legalized. The confederate flag has finally been thrown into question. And I’ve lost at least two pounds (seriously, I got weighed at the doctor’s office the other day and I’ve lost two whole pounds).

Being a latino though, the bit of news I’m most grateful for is Donald Trump’s racist rant against Mexicans. Not because I’m an impossible idiot who agrees with him–I don’t–but because it’s finally opened the door for casual talk about Latin American and Hispanic culture. People are finally aware that–specifically–Mexicans have a voice and aren’t just a silent work force, and–more broadly–that Latin American culture is a thing that can’t be trivialized or ignored. People are out there, right now, watching videos about the difference between “Latino” and “Hispanic.” Or they’ve at least seen that video of the Mexican construction worker talking smack on Trump. That means there’s an opportunity for people like me to speak up–say things like, “Yes. Yes, latinos are also here in America–hello–and no, we aren’t just drug dealers or gangbangers, like you see on TV.”

And, for me (closet bureaucrat that I am) it’s also an opportunity to create three tests–in the spirit of the Bechdel test–that dictate whether fictional stories are archaically racist against Latinos!

And write a whooole mess of posts about them!

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the first of a three parter, The Latin Bechdels. I was fully intending to make this one post, but talking about the very first test ran on way, way longer than I intended. So, instead, I’m devoting the next month to discussing my three tests for racism. Two of these tests are applicable to all fiction, but the last one is only for fantasy. They are the Cops and Robbers (CAR) Test; The Latin Lover Test; and the Degrees of Archaic, Guiltlessly Generalizing, Exclusionary Racism (DAGGER) Test specifically for fantasy. That’s right–DAGGER. Because I could and it sounded awesome.

Today, we’re starting with the CAR Test.

The CAR Test

Criteria for Failure: the named Latino or Hispanic characters in your story are either criminals, cops who are reformed criminals, cops who are related to criminals, or civilians . . . who are related to criminals.

Not having a Latino or Hispanic character to begin with is an automatic failure.

I was considering naming this one “the Trump Test,” but I don’t want his stupidity to live on, so instead, we’re going with a disarmingly playful name for a facet of fictional racism that has bothered me since I was young.

You’d be surprised by how completely everything fails the CAR Test. Seriously, when it comes to general fiction, you are almost guaranteed two things: 1) you will not get a named Latino character, but 2) if you do get a named Latino character, their arcs will always depend on being, having been, or knowing a criminal. I think the implications are clear here; if you’re Latino, you either are a criminal or know someone who’s a criminal. The inherent racism and slack-jawed assumption in that kind of thinking is obvious, so I won’t delve into it.

Instead, I’ll tell you to just take the CAR Test for a spin (don’t think about that pun–I hate myself for it). Test it out and discover that, in most movies, any Latinos who appear have a depressingly high chance of being gun-toting drug dealers, or cops who are only cops because they grew up with gun-toting drug dealers.

Of course, you can apply CAR to any race, but it’s at its best (worst) when applied to Latino or Hispanic characters. There are stories that pass (I mention two below), but if the stars align and a movie or show even features a named Latino, chances are it’s going to fail the CAR anyway. Like these fantastic examples:

Properties that Fail

The Walking Dead – In season one, Felipe is the leader of the Vatos gang. Yes, they were taking care of elderly people. But, no, the plot twist, “The Hispanic criminals are actually nice! Whoa!” isn’t a plot twist that excites me in any way. Felipe and his thugs are around for a single episode.

Two seasons later, another Latino finally appears, but, of course, he’s Tomas, the most unlikable of the criminals holed up at West Georgia Correctional Facility (or “the prison,” as it’s usually called). By the end of his second episode, Tomas is dead at the hands of our protagonist.

Another season later, the show finally introduces Rosita Espinosa. But, of course, by this point, The Walking Dead has already super–ultra–failed the CAR Test.

Ant-Man – This was pretty depressing for me, but Marvel’s Ant-Man actually goes above and beyond with the CAR Test, failing so spectacularly that it’s actually offensive for all races.

In a predominately white cast, the protagonist is Scott Lang, an altruistic, tech-saavy ex-con. His partners–who are all completely unapologetic and active criminals–are a Hispanic man, an African American man, and a Russian American immigrant, all three of whom act as bizarre race caricatures for comic relief, their intelligence routinely jabbed throughout the film for laughs.

The Hispanic man, Luis, spends most of his screen time talking very quickly and acting masculine in front of the female lead, Hope Pym, in an obvious attempt to get into her pants.

The African American man, Dave, only makes a significant contribution to the story by quickly stealing a car to divert police attention–a contribution he squanders by over-excitedly throwing his hands around in celebration and accidentally honking the gag horn of the team’s disguised truck.

The Russian American immigrant, Kurt, is the tamest of the bunch–a hacker who seems intelligent–but is still portrayed as an idiot whose most notable character trait is arguably his heavy accent.

All three of these characters are, at one point, literally science-talked to sleep. Not as a side note but as one of the movie’s direct jokes; the protagonist displays his powers and all three of his minority side kicks freak out. The following scene has Hope Pym explain that she fed them some drugs and explained the science of the Ant-Man suit to them, which made them fall asleep almost instantly.

Let me just rephrase and restate that joke: after the movie’s only three minorities freak out over a character’s super powers–in a universe where super powers are now common and accepted–a white scientist says to a white super hero, “I gave the minorities some Xanax and talked science at them for a few minutes. The combination of a name brand anxiety drug with smart person talk shut off their stupid, minority brains like a bird cage cover puts a bird to sleep. Even the Russian hacker couldn’t stay awake . . . Comedy!”

. . . Yeah. I think that just about captures all of the weird racism of that joke.

Moving on . . .

Properties that Pass

The Flash At first, I thought Cisco Ramon was really annoying. It’s the villain naming thing; the villains’ rebooted, TV aesthetics really, really clash class with their old-timey, Silver Age names, making each naming really cringey. Cisco decides, “He’s the Pied Piper,” and I think, “Why? Because he has gauntlets that make sound? That’s a pretty big stretch for Pied Piper; he doesn’t even have an instrument. Why not Shockwave or Soundwave or–oh right. It’s because this character was created in 1959.”

But then I realized, “OMFG he actually isn’t an ex-criminal! He’s just a smart Latino! Who does science!” Of course, I’m still waiting for the day when we get more of his backstory and find out about . . . fuck–I don’t know–Ignacio the Dragon, Cisco’s other brother who leads a drug cartel somewhere and gets super powers from . . . I don’t even know who. <sigh> It’s going to happen.

Daredevil – (I’m sorry. I watch a lot of super hero shows, alright? It’s technically fantasy–what do you expect?) Claire Temple is at least portrayed by a Latina (Rosario Dawson). Granted, I grew up with the disappointment of seeing Latino actors and actresses playing non-stereotypical characters in movies only to learn that they’re portraying other ethnicities, so Claire Temple is a hard call; she might not be Latina at all. Still, she seems to be an intelligent, well-spoken Latin American character who isn’t a criminal or related to criminals.

And, regardless, Elena Cardenas (Judith Delgado) is an adorably accurate depiction of an abuela. Yes, she’s a side character, but she’s still a named Hispanic character with no connection to criminals. It happens so rarely that I’ll take it as a win!

And, with that, I think I’ve said enough about the CAR Test. Did I say too much? Maybe. But has the CAR been brewing in my mind for decades? Really frustrating decades? Absolutely.

Hopefully, you were as horrified by the test. If you were–if you stopped to test some of your favorite movies and found that they failed miserably (even The Avengers! Hooray!)–drop a comment below. I’d love to hear about it–although I’d really, really love to hear it if you found a movie that passes the CAR.

Drop by again in two weeks, when I’ll dish on the Latin Lover Test, which forces us to consider a really overused and incredibly frustrating racial stereotype that people still laugh at to this very day.

— Project Updates —

LS-ProgressBar(3.0)-8.12.15-(InPost)Disclaimer: Apologies about the how tiny this Progress Tab is. The next biggest size was obnoxious. If you’re reading this after my next post, click the Tab here for a better look.

I made a new Progress Tab to reflect my weird, unexpected, on-going writing trends. That surge of short stories? That never really calmed down. The result: I’m working on a ton of ideas that I quit on a long time ago (including a few that I didn’t list there because I’m still figuring out how to make actual stories out of them). “Rainwater,” “Reset,” and “Dream Runner” are stories that I’ve already started, however–all halfway done.

Thus the change; I kept making new tabs with progress bars that never moved (the last few months I’ve started “Writing” projects that have always jumped to “Editing” two weeks later), so I’ve streamlined. The only progress indicators that remain are the terrible, ever-present ticks for submissions.

 

— Acknowledgements —

Thanks for the Follows . . .

. . . Siuquxebooks! It’s a blog that posts recommendations for Mystery/Thrillers, so it’s not really my thing, but I appreciate the Follow regardless, of course!

. . . and Jack J. Binding! His post on social media is absolutely fantastic. As a man who tries and fails to find patience for Twitter on a daily basis, absolutely hates Facebook, and also says an unabashed “fuck you” to Pinterest, how could I not love that post?

And thanks for the Likes . . .

. . . Megan Manzano! Her latest post, on YA’s over-dependence on romance, posed some pretty interesting questions about the genre. Full disclosure: I haven’t read a lot of YA, but I always love challenging tropes. And I’m pretty anti-romance (not the genre, but the plot element), so, naturally, bitter fuck that I am, I had to like that post . . . Give it a read!

. . . Siuquxebooks! Thanks again!

. . . Damyanti! Seriously, I could not help linking this post about the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. I was once a super secure writer, but now, I can safely say that the submissions process has completely changed my mind about that! So I absolutely have to support any group that supports struggling writers. It is a rough business. If you’re a writer struggling with the craft, check out IWSG. I definitely will.

. . . and James Radcliffe! His latest post takes a look at why he’s getting happier as he gets older, which turns into a listing of the five elements of his life that contribute to his on-going happiness. As someone who absolutely needs an outlet for some bad and inlet for some good, I have to give you a firm thanks, sir; your post gave me a few interesting ideas.

That’s it for this week. If you’ve liked what you read, consider giving me a Like or Follow; it’s fine if you don’t, but I’d appreciate it if you do! As always, you can find me fitfully posting on Twitter as @LSantiagoAuthor.

Either way, thank you for reading. And, as always, write well.

Why the Hell Haven’t You Seen “Thor” Yet?

Okay, look–I know the answer to that question. You haven’t seen Thor because you know there are two kinds of Marvel superhero movies:

1) The Iron Man Type – Funny, fun, and with a good smattering of action, these movies are clearly done by people who wanted to make an awesome movie about their favorite superhero for all of his/her fans. The second (and first, despite some… aesthetic issues) Spider-Man movie, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, and (although maybe it didn’t hold up?) the first Blade are this type of Marvel movie. I suppose you could argue that the second X-Men movie also fits the bill, but I’d ignore you.

2) The Daredevil Type – For the love of God, why are there so many of these? I don’t even need to explain because you know exactly what I’m talking about: Daredevil, Elektra, Ghost Rider, X-Men, probably X-Men II, X-Men III: Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Fantastic Four, Fantastic Four II: This Should’ve Just Been About the Silver Surfer (or whatever it was called), Punisher: War Zone, Hulk or The Incredible Hulk (failure, finally working to your preference), the rest of the Blade trilogy. Spider-Man 3. All terrible, terrible mistakes. Attempts at more money with plots written to include the most salable characters because the molds for their action figures were already finished.

With such a complete imbalance between the good times and the bad we’ve gotten from Marvel Studios, why would you, why would any of us, actually decide to give a movie about Marvel’s take on the Norse god of thunder the time of day?

If you’re anything like me, you’d say it was your duty; maybe not professionally, but to comics in general, which is admirable even though it’s the same reason why I went to see Jonah Hex. <shudder> In the end, that desire (maybe I should just call it “the Hex”) to support comics led me to the Ziegfeld two Saturdays ago where I was was completely surprised.

Whoever watches this movie, if he be worthy, shall soon possess the Blu-ray of Thor.

It’s Surprisingly Believable

I told my friends that I felt Thor was the movie that would either make or break The Avengers. They were surprised by the idea, but I explained quickly that it wasn’t a matter of Thor needing to look powerful enough or be cool enough; Thor needed to be believable enough or every time he walked on the screen the audience would want to laugh. As viewers, and even as comic readers, we can jump on-board for a hero’s or villain’s origin and totally believe it because of science. Even if it’s completely ridiculous and we know it, we still barely need to be pushed to believe that, say, Tony Stark would survive not only with but because of a huge, super battery lodged into his chest. Or that a bite from a genetically altered spider would grant a school kid from Queens spider powers. A writer slips in a word like “genetics” or “tachyon” and we shrug, think, “Sure! Whaaatever!” and keep reading. But somehow–probably because of religious beliefs–the line often gets very seriously drawn at mystics and god characters. In an Iron Man comic, someone says, “Let’s call Dr. Strange, master of the mystic arts!” and 8 out of 10 readers smack their foreheads in dismay. That is, honestly, exactly what I thought I would do the very first time Thor said “thee”.

But that’s just it–Thor never says “thee”. Or “thou”. Not even (and thank God) a “verily”. Marvel was very, very careful to not make Thor sound like a complete idiot. In fact, they somehow turned it around so that he wasn’t even a bumbling moron when he gets to earth; he’s more an intelligent tourist who makes tourist mistakes that are extremely funny. Tourist mistakes that are also completely understandable after a full hour or so spent watching Thor in Asgard.

But what makes all of it even more believable is the marriage of science and magic, proposed in the trailer and fully executed when we see Asgard. The whole look of the place is (aside from honestly being one of the best executions of a fantasy concept on film) a weird hybrid of sorcery and science. Perhaps that’s being a bit generous though because no one ever jumps on screen and shouts, “And now, MAGIC!” Instead, we see a bit of technology meshed with scenery that very cleverly fails to lean too far in one direction; sure, magical things happen, but they’re often the cause of a huge machine. Or magic that is completely not dressed up with the typical tropes (wizard staff; some grand, completely terrible, rhyming incantation). Even everyone’s armor looks surpringly… modern. Possibly even technological. All in all, the result is a very different fantasy experience that manages to be oddly genuine.

There’s Nothing “Low Key” About Tom Hiddleston’s Performance

Okay. Hands down… Seriously, hands down… I don’t think you can find a better performance for a Marvel villain than Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. I really don’t. And do you know why? Because everyone I’ve spoken to who saw it said, “I’m not sure Loki was devious enough,” to which I replied, “Exactly.”

Not going into too much detail, he’s Loki, the God of Mischief. And not only does Tom Hiddleston look like Loki, he speaks like Loki. He sounds like Loki. He moves like Loki. He acts like Loki. The fact that so many people thought he wasn’t devious enough says one thing and one thing only:

Mischief.

You Will Not Find More Appropriately Hot Comic Book Female Roles in Any Other Comic Book Movie

Oh my God. Natalie Portman as Jane Foster! Wow! She’s actually… attractive. Like, as attractive as comic artists have made Jane Foster. Are we sure this is for real? Are we sure they didn’t actually cast Sarah Jessica Parker, or someone else that the media seems to think is actually attractive but isn’t?

Seriously, I’m sorry, but casting for female roles in comic movies has only met with failure before. Kirsten Dunst is not a super model / actress–not the way comic book Mary Jane Watson was anyway. Gwyneth Paltrow did a great job as Pepper Potts, but outside of having red hair, she didn’t do comic book Petter Potts justice in terms of looks. And seriously, let’s not even get started on Katie Holmes.

The casting director for Thor seemed to realize this and completely turn the problem around. By casting Natalie Portman as Jane Foster. And Jaimie Alexander as Siff! And… Oh my God…

Kat Dennings as... does it even matter?

Uh… Louis?

Loui–

Bah! I’m sorry! I kind of… lost track there. What was I saying?… Oh yeah. The women casted for Thor are extremely attractive. And on the flip side, ladies, seriously, you owe it to yourselves to see Chris Hemsworth’s performance as Topless Thor. Perhaps you’ve said to yourself before, “I just don’t think superheroes are hot,” and that’s fine if you did. But Chris Hemsworth will change your minds so hard that after the end credits, you’ll be IMDBing the release date for The Avengers. On your smart phones. In your seat. In the theater.

All jokes aside, Thor is a surprisingly fun, entertaining comic book movie. I’m not sure if it’s going to be the best one this year because, really, it has it’s flaws. Artist Blair Kamage admitted to having a problem with the pacing of Thor’s romance with Jane Foster; “It just happened too fast! It was just lust!” Writer Daniel Ho wanted Thor to dish out more old English. I, honestly, was bothered by the fact that Thor never shouted “For Asgard!” and my brother (and about 80% of the internet) was annoyed that Thor didn’t wear his helmet for more than 5 minutes. Still, Thor will entertain you way more than you’re expecting it to, and, even if Captain America bombs, you’ll still be excited for The Avengers in 2012. At least, I know I totally am!