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.

Games for Writers: The Walking Dead – Season One

LS-G4W-WalkingDead

Wow. I haven’t written one of these in a while. But as Season Two of The Walking Dead releases tomorrow and as I hit more scenes in my Outline that need to be completely overhauled, I felt now was a perfect time to get back to my Games for Writers series.

Why The Walking Dead?

I have a tendency to buy critically acclaimed titles and just leave them alone for years (I’m still sitting on Fez). In most cases it’s because I know something intense and high quality is waiting and I want to be sure I’m ready for it. That was especially true with Season One of Telltale’s The Walking Dead series. I was told the ending was heartbreaking and I generally prefer to control my intake of “heartbreaking.” So I put it off until this Halloween, at which point I discovered that oh man, seriously, I underestimated just how hard I would be hit by the story—particularly the last few hours.

However, this article isn’t about the conclusion. While the drama of No Time Left, Season One’s final chapter, was really, really potent, there’s something a bit more practical and universal that makes this game worth a play for any writer. Not the concept of making people bawl their eyes out, but the concept of Choice when it comes to your characters and your writing. Yes, if there’s one thing I think writers should play The Walking Dead to experience, it’s the constant, inescapable presence of Choice.

You and 45% of players gave her the gun

For writers, Choice is a very serious, very high stakes, and very constant factor in the story-telling process. The writer experiences it themselves the moment they take up their pen, because even that moment—before any words have even been set on paper—is steeped in choices: “Where do I start?” “Who’s in this scene?” “Where do I want this to go?” “What are these characters going to do?” I believe all writers know this, and I believe that even if a writer played this game simply to experience the way it trains you to make important choices, they will have gotten their money’s worth.

Clementine will remember you said that.

LS-Dubious-tineKnowsHowever, Choice goes deeper than just what the writer wants. At the very least, in the best stories, choices are also constantly and logically made by characters. I think we’ve experienced a handful of games that pervert the concept; while I love it, games like Skyrim present you with a mostly blank slate to mold into whatever character you like, and in my experience, most people turn that canvas into a confused, meta-self portrait with no real in-game motivations. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who choose to roleplay their characters, but I’m also sure most people just did a 100% play through where their incredibly judgmental, culturally traditional, Storm Cloaks-aligned Nord just said, “Fuck it. Yeah, I’ll be a vampire. : D Cause, vampire powers!”

The Walking Dead, however, makes choice something that characters do. You can absolutely play it the way you want and make your own Lee with his own consequences, but the consequences are what make the experience, and those consequences are largely out of your hands because, most of the time, they’re based on the actions of NPC’s. More than any other game I’ve played, The Walking Dead makes you believe and relate to the characters around you, even if you play a completely meta Lee. It does a frighteningly good job of making you understand why and how Lilly is crazy, for example, or most often and most clearly, what Clementine thinks of you based on what you say, do and tell her. To tie it in more tightly here, it shows you exactly how your decisions—your choices—affect others and lead them to choices of their own. In short, it gives you characters that feel frighteningly real and whose ability to think for themselves is absolutely a lesson any writer would benefit from experiencing. I don’t think every story can foster a host of character decisions, but The Walking Dead stands as a compelling example of how characters should act—alive. Self-centered. Real.

All of the Decisions Ever

However, there’s another meta take on all of this. I mentioned earlier that I was reaching more parts of my Outline that needed to change in my first draft. The thing is, that statement implies that I found mistakes and inaccuracies that needed fixing. In some cases, yes. But in most cases, I realized a fact that The Walking Dead makes incredibly obvious:

There are almost infinite ways that scenes can work—almost infinite ways events can unfold in a story—based on the desires, beliefs and decisions of its characters.

There’s an inherent pressure in writers to find the “right” scene. We reach for vaguely defined, optimal approaches—infinitely perfect moments—for each scene that we believe will make them perfect. In a lot of cases, this ideal scene is the beginning of our story and many of us wait for that lightning to strike until we sadly forget the expected shape of it and move on to something else. The thing is, there is no ideal—no brilliant first sentence that will shake everyone who reads it. That isn’t how writing works; no one falls in love with a novel because of its first sentence. People memorize the first lines of classics and brandish them on occasion, but the merits of classics are not in the sentences they begin with. They’re in the characters they begin with.

And that is why I changed some scenes back to the way they were; when I chose to add or subtract moments in an attempt to find that ideal, I ignored what characters had done before as illogical. But then, during the actual rewrite, as I started to listen to my character’s decisions, I found that a lot of those ideal changes I made didn’t make sense; in the final version of my book, scenes either regressed to mirrors of older scenes with drastically different, more character-relevant tones, or I changed them a third time, based on how my characters felt and what other decisions they’d made.

The lesson for me, and the one The Walking Dead makes clearly, is that the choices all of your characters make are as important as the choices you make as a writer. And those two things are not always the same and can’t always be the same; at the risk of sounding completely crazy, your characters can and will disagree with you and you have to let them. Even if it means you’re undoing your own work or sitting at your computer for hours trying to figure out—“Wait… so, if he does that here… that means… … <sigh>.” Put simply, if you don’t consider what your characters actually want to do or say—what they actually think and feel—in favor of putting them where you want them and speaking your words through them, you need to play The Walking Dead if only to be humbled. If only to realize that your character’s decisions can and should come first.

thegang

~~~

Well, that got intense. As always, thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this latest in my Games for Writers series, there are three others here (although, friendly warning, they’re all over three years old and may contain a lot of snappy jokes [that I’m… willing myself… to not edit out for the sake of honesty and integrity]):

Games for Writers: Silent Hill 2

Games for Writers: Metroid Prime

Games for Writers: Metal Gear Solid 3 – Snake Eater

All Likes, Comments, and Subscribes are appreciated as well, but regardless of those, I hope you have an awesome holiday!