BOOK REVIEW: THE SECRET HISTORY- by Donna Tarrt

The Plot: Richard Papen is a poor, detached young man with a poor relationship with his parents. When he finally gets the chance to escape his dull life by accepting a place at a liberal arts college to study English while claiming financial aid, he comes across a group of aloof and intriguing young classics student, taught by a mysterious classics teacher, professor Julian Morrow. When Richard gets the chance to join this elite group- under the condition that he takes class with no other teachers. Richard, iscolate and desperate for approval, assents and is allowed into the tantalizing world of the classics students. But, there’s more than what meets the eye, and soon things spin out of control and he enters a web of secrets that eventually lead to murder…

Review: I would like to begin this review by saying ‘buy this book.’ Seriously, it was 500 pages and raced along like a 200 page novel, with so much talk of the classics but not a wasted line or breath. This is one of those books that not only was I sad when it ended, but I couldn’t read another book because I wasn’t ready to let it go. This is a brilliant novel, and one that goes down as one of my favorites of all time. There’s no lagging, no slow points, no parts that bored me, and even parts that seem inconsequential are there to set up later moments. The whole thing is supurbly written and incorporates

 

As the novel is entirely character driven, the best way to discuss this book is by looking at some of its fantastic characters…

Richard Papen

This is the reason that this novel is given out as part of University studies: Richard’s unique narration. He is both the novel’s biggest strength and the biggest frustration. He is the text book example of the Peripherial Narrator, always just outside of the main group , desperate to become part of this mysterious, elusive clique that is scorned by the more well adapted members of the liberal arts college.

Because of his outsider status, he’s never really the central player (that would be Henry) and reading this always feels like you’re reading the story through the crack in the door. This can be frustrating, because all the ‘secrets’-especially the triggering secret- are extremely fascinating. Not to mention Richard is extremely passive, cold, detached and hard to sympathise or empathise with.

Yet his narration is narration is the novel’s brilliance. So often when you read a novel from the first person POV, the main character’s point of view is clearly the authors and is presented as the objective, unquestioned truth. But not here.Richard misses what’s right in front of him, clouds both Julian and Henry in the fog of his own awe, Camilla in the fog of his infatuation, and his judgement is often clouded in the fog of copious amounts of drugs and alcohol (of which there is a lot of , since this is set in the 80s). That is, until eventually its broken through and the cold light of reality sets in.

Henry Winter

Arguably, Henry is the real central character of this novel: he is the one with the most emotional investment with Bunny, the one Camilla is closest to, Julian’s favourite, the group leader. He is everything that the narrator wants to be (although this is never explicitly stated, but can be gleaned from the fact that Richard focuses on him more than any other character.

But like with Camilla, for most of the novel we can only see him through the rose tinted lense of Richard’s admiration. It’s only after his character is interrogated that we can truly see his flaws… that were there to see throughout the novel, but thanks to Richard’s awe he was never able to see it… and neither were we.

Edward ‘Bunny’ Corcoran

Bunny, for all his appearance of amiable, callous stability, was actually a wildly erratic character. There were any number of reasons for this, but primary among them was his complete inability to think about anything before he did it.

Edmund ‘Bunny Corcoran, our central murder victim (as revealed by the prologue) and one of the two major driving forces of the story. Because we’re told right from the start that he’s going to die, the suspense lies not whether he’ll die , but how, when and why and whether our leads will get away with it, and what

Much of the first half of the book can be described as a character study of Bunny and his rapidly deteriorating psyche. And he is a big, unique character. Brash and irritating, everything about him is well sketched from his affable ‘old boy’ way of talking, his privilidged delusions of grandeur, his way of ‘slapping people on the back, eating twinkies and Hohos in the reading room of the library and dropping crumbs all down in the bindings of his Greek books.’

Camilla and Charles Macaulay

“Things would have been terribly strange and unbalanced without her. She was the Queen who finished out the suit of dark Jacks, dark King, and Joker.”

Camilla represents an excellent use of the unreliable narrator: she flits in and out of the novel like a beautiful mirage, shrouded so heavily in the fog of the male gaze that it’s impossible to ascertain her true personality, except she’s somewhat too tired and broken to be the princess that Richard wants to make her. Every time she’s introduced the narrator will fall into accolades, and muse about her unknowability in a very self aware, unreliable narrator that only a woman could write.

Charles is a loose cannon. He’s seemingly the more affable, relatable one (though unlike with the others, I get this mainly from what I’m told about him rather than what is seen).

Francis Abernathy:

Francis is the closeted gay guy, everyone’s college experiment, and like Camilla, is not as central as Henry or Bunny, but has a definite presence. Towards the second half he serves as Richard’s sort of confidant and side kick. He has secrets of his own, which like this novel is kind of sad. I raise my eyebrows at the fact it’s the token gay who’s the neurotic weak one who is there to make Richard of all people

The whole story does play out like a massive Greek tragedy. Because we are told right from the beginning that there’s going to

7 THINGS THAT I’D LIKE TO SEE IN AN UPCOMING FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM FILM

So here it is. The first Fantastic Beasts was a good effort for a first screenplay and a crowning achievement for the CGI team, but as a film it was… fine. It went on too long and wasn’t bad, but lets face it if it didn’t have the Potterverse brand it would be pretty much nothing. And yet we’re getting a load more of those films. So, what could help bring them up to scratch? Well here’s my top 7 things I’d like to see in the upcoming films. Warning, spoilers for Fantastic Beasts ahead.

1. A LOT OF COLLABERATION WITH OTHER SCREENWRITERS

Yeah, JK Rowling knows how to created a brilliantly set up mystery and well executed mystery, but cinema is a very different beast and though FBAWTFT was pretty good for a first screenplay, her lack of experience really shows. The aid of a more polished screenwriter would have gone a long way.

2.PAY FULL ATTENTION TO THE WORLD ENDING THREAT

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The biggest problem with Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them was that it didn’t focus on its main plot. It had one of the darkest moments in the entire franchise- the cruel death of an abused kid with learning difficulties- yet I felt nothing for him because the movie didn’t build that moment up. The main plot was relegated to the sidelines and seemed superfluous until the end of act three where we learnt it was the main plot.

Instead we got endless hijinks with magical creatures which went on for far longer than it needed to. Seriously, the film was less focused on the main quest less than I am when I’m playinjg The Legend Of Zelda. In fact, that’s what this film felt like! It was basically Scamander pissing around trying to round up all the Cucco’s and then thinking ‘oh yeah, Ganondorf Grindewald is trying to take over, better actually do something! Dubious deus ex machina away!’ At the last minute. I bet she could have made that work as a novel, but in the tighter confines of a screenplay it felt unfocused.

3. A SAVAGE EDITOR

Yeah, at least 10 minutes could have been cut from the gotta catch em all magical creature league. A really harsh editor would help. Maybe the lady who edited Fury Road? She did an excellent job and it sounds like she had her work cut out for.

4. BETTER FEMALE INCLUSION

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Poor ol’ Hermione. She really was the only female in class worth our attention.

Females often get sidelined in mainstream media (although this is greatly improving), so when you see female writers like Meyers , Rowling and Cassandra Claire create such lackluster female characters, you can’t help but think ‘why’?

Don’t get me wrong, Hermione was great (though mainly because the movies toughened up her character and transformed her from the nag who puts a damper on the boy’s fun to a badass whose friendship is valued equally to Ron’s). But she was the only central female until Luna came along. In the Harry Potter series, if you named the 10 most plot central characters (Harry, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, Voldemort, Snape, Sirius, Hagrid, , Draco, Neville), the only female you would get would be Hermione… okay and maybe Professor McGonagal, though all her importance comes from being Dumbledore’s 2IC. In Fantastic Beasts our two female leads included basically Scamander’s sidekick and another beauty who gets paired with an unattractive guy (because you shouldn’t judge on looks… if you’re a woman. Men get to choose mates based on looks all the time, but if women hold men to the same standard, they’re vain).

To be fair, all of the leads felt a bit one note throughout the film- except the muggle. But in future films I hope we have more active and complex female leads who are on par with the complexity of characters like Snape and Sirius Black.

5. MAKE UP FOR ITS LACK OF POC CHARACTERS

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The only thing even more abysmal than her track record for female characters is her track record for POC characters. While if you named the top 10 most plot vital characters you would get one female, you would not find a single POC on there. In fact, I’m not convinced that you’d find one on the top 20 most plot vital characters- as although Shacklebolt became Minister of Magic, lets face it, he was the least prominent Auror and didn’t make too much of an impact by himself. In FBAWTF we have a euthanist and an incompetent Black Boss, as well as some random background characters, and you really can’t pretend to say your series that tackles prejudice if your cast list is whiter than Trump’s cabinet picks. It sounds harsh, but true; allowing the audience to sympathise with the victims of prejudice only when its happening to someone like you does not challenge a damn thing.

Rowling, you are such a good ally on Twitter. Lets see that reflected in your films. Be the change you advocate. Give your POC fans the chance to finally see themselves in your universe, and give POC actors the chance to prove shine alongside their white counterparts. Who knows… perhaps we could have a daring Indian/ middle Eastern guy who could be a jerk with a heart of gold who one day could be future Aladdin.

6. TREAT DUMBLEDORE THE SAME AS YOUR LEADING STRAIGHT CHARACTERS

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Yoda once wisely said ‘do, or do not. There is no try.’

Either make Dumbledore’s sexuality a vital, represented part of his character the same way sexuality is important to every straight character in the Harry Potter and FBAWTFT series- or just say flat out it’s not going to happen.

If she doesn’t want to do that, then fine, stop giving LGBT fans false hope and stop with vague statements and taking credit for something that was scribbled on the character notes which failed to make it into the main story (which is what Word of God is).

7. KEEP UP THE BRITISHNESS

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With everything centred around North America and having to listen to the words ‘white picket fence’ over and over again (most boring fantasy ever), Hogwarts always was a breath of change and fresh air. It was just so British, and even if we’re with the North American wizarding world, a parallel world where the Americans are the grounded, level headed ones (come on, Americans, you know you deserve a bit of ribbing after voting in your new Commander In Tweet!) I hope it remains so.

9 THINGS I’D LIKE TO SEE FROM THE LION KING REMAKE

You got to hand it to them, whatever you think of Disney, they are freaking evil geniuses when it comes to marketing. These live action remakes are the perfect way to keep their aging films relevant, and because those films have our childhood nostalgia by the balls, we will keep on going to see them over and over again. After the dizzying success of Beauty and The Beast, the next one on the horizon is The Lion King.

With the director who handled The Jungle Book pretty well on the case, the live action version of The Lion King has a pretty good shot of being actually good. Here are a few things I’d like to see from a remake that would really help it to up its game.

1. PLEASE FIX THE JARRING CHANGE IN MOOD OF THE ORIGINAL

From tragic death to Hasa Diga Eebowai Hakuna Matata in five minutes, this is the most break neck tonal shift since Bambi.

I mean, he’s watched his dad die, he’s been told it’s all his fault, he’s been seperated from everyone he loves but hey! Don’t get too upset kids-  Fart jokes! Goddamnit, If I wasn’t ready to move on, then sure as hell Simba wasn’t.So movie, try and ease us into the lighter scenes a little less haphazardly.

2. USE THE EXTRA RUN TIME TO GIVE SARABI MORE DEVELOPMENT

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If you were even half the President Obama was!

Sarabi is a strong lioness who’s balsy enough to go up to an evil tyrant and tell him to his face what a crap king he is. Imagine what she would be like in congress! But seriously, the problem is that she really gets brushed aside a bit. I mean, she’s barely an afterthought when Nala brings her up, and Simba spends a long time mourning for his dad but doesn’t spend even a second missing his mother. Hell, she was cut out of the sequel while Mufasa had a prominent role… and Mufasa was dead!

Don’t get me wrong, the focus of this film is (and needs to be) Simba and his father, but this lioness lost her husband and her son on the same day- and that’s so much worse than the death of a parent! She is an underated character who needs more love. I think maybe a scene or two between Simba and Sarabi, reconnecting and acknowledging their shared grief- and her pain at thinking her son was dead- is an angle that would really add a lot.

And speaking of leading ladies…

3. FEMALE RAFIKI

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The directors of the stage musical made a good point that there wasn’t really a prominent female character in the film besides Nala. And she was just the love interest. Even in female lead films Disney did love the smurfette principle in their Renaissance era. As much as I adored the original portrayal and thought he had the perfect balance of humour and wisdom, the Rafiki of the stage musical was really, really good. If you can’t get the original actor to come back, then lets get a female Rafiki.

4. MAKE THE CLIMAX AN EVEN MORE EPIC FIGHT SCENE

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It may not be Batman vs Superman, but watching two lions brawl is freaking badass, and so is a lioness army cutting through a gang of angry Hyenas!

The Lion King has one of the most rewarding climaxes. Everything- from Simba appearing in lightning as Scar shrieks ‘I’m ten times the King Mufasa was’, to the fight between him and Scar, to Scar’s confession- it sends shivers down my spine and so should the live action.

This director stepped up with the action in The Jungle Book, and I hope he does here as well!

5. MAKE MUFASA’S DEATH ACTUALLY SIMBA’S FAULT

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The Nostalgia Critic may have been wrong about the merits of the film, but he made an interesting point about the central conflict in his Disneycember review. That it was all about facing up to your mistakes, and yet as soon as Simba went to Pride Rock, it doesn’t matter because it turns out he didn’t make any in the first place. Good thing because his childhood friend and his freaking mother would have watched Scar throw him off the cliff if Scar didn’t confess.

Even as a kid, the conflict made no sense to me; Mufasa’s death clearly wasn’t his fault. I understand why as a kid he felt guilty. But as an adult? The guilt angle didn’t quite clinch. This would have worked a lot better if Mufasa’s death was Simba’s fault.

Imagine if the reason Mufasa died isn’t just that Scar tricked him… but he went somewhere else that Mufasa told him not to go. That Mufasa died to save him because of Simba’s actions… actions that he was too young to understand but whose consequences he has to live with for the rest of his life. That would make a strong conflict absolutely devastating.

6. IF YOU ARE HAVING BEYONCE AS NALA, YOU BETTER BELIEVE SHE’S SINGING SHADOWLAND

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Casting Queen B is another marketing move so clever, you almost have to stand up and applaud; Emma Watson may not have been the best actress, but having Hermione play the brunette bookworm princess was such a smart move. Meanwhile, Beyonce is royalty in the eyes of many African Americans (especially Black women), so making her the film’s future Queen is perfect- especially since this in effect makes Beyonce a Disney royal. Think of all the memes we’ll have when her twins are born. Sure, we don’t really know how well she can act, but Nala was more of a plot device and ploy to market toy lion cubs to girls than a complex character anyway, so she won’t make or break this movie.

I’m still not sure whether music would work with talking lions, but if they do, they need to put their Beyonce to good use! Shadowland was a beautiful and haunting addition to the stage musical, and I would love to see this sung by a woman who doesn’t need to rely on autotune.

7. GIVE IT MORE OF AN AFRICAN FEEL LIKE IN THE STAGE MUSICAL

Granted, it was more generic Africa than any specific culture, but still! It added quite a lot to the musical. I’m glad that they got James Earl Jones and his big manly booming voice for Mufasa, and a few other talented Black or African actors in the voice cast (as well as Queen B) wouldn’t go amiss.

The stronger feel for the time period worked well for Beauty and The Beast, so a stronger connection with the African landscape will serve this well too.

8. MAKE SCAR TERRIFYING

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Scar is one of Disney’s most memorable villains, thanks to Jeremy Iron’s performance, the fact that he killed a major character and, aside from Frollo, he has the coolest villain song.

Scar did follow some unfortunate Disney villain tropes in being slightly, well…

British.

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Okay, I know you thought I was going to say fey, but seriously. Look at the sarcasm that drips from those gestures. You can practically see that he wants to flip his paw around and give Musasa the finger, but he won’t because he has too much class. This worked well in the original, but I’m not convinced it will translate well to live action and I think Disney could lay off the fops for a bit. I want this to be a really, powerful warlike Scar, one that carries underlying menace, even if he is not stupid enough to say anything treasonous outright.

Maybe he could have got that Scar from fighting Mufasa flat out, Mufasa could have scarred him in the battle and Mufasa could have made him keep that name as a reminder of his shame. In short, I want to see both the soft, silver tongued manipulator and the big, murderous tyrant who inspires fear in his followers and shows us why Sarabi and Nala were too frightened to gang up on him and take him.

9. THIS BETTER MAKE ALL THE MEN IN THE AUDIENCE BAWL LIKE BABIES

‘Those are manly tears! I swear!’ This film is brilliant because its heart breaking and really gets through the sense of loss at losing a parent. If this film fails to do that, then nothing else the film could possibly do matters.

I COULD TELL YOU WHY GHOST IN THE SHELL ISN’T DOING SO WELL, AND ITS NOT JUST WHITE WASHING

1. THE NUDE SUIT MAKES WOMEN GO ‘NO THANKS’

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It used to be common wisdom that marketing to women was financial suicide, and that if you had two women passing the Betchdel then the testes of all the men in the audience would shrivel and die as they wept in the corner, disgusted and horrified by the revelation that women might be people.

But who knew? Apparently men (well the majority, anyway) aren’t crazed mysogynists,  and appealing to the other 50% of the population is profitable. Look at the explosive success of both Frozen and Beauty and The Beast. It should have been obvious that if you’ve got a female lead film with a popular actress, then female audiences should be part of your target demographic. But they alienated them with that stupid naked, fetishistic suit which made no sense whatsoever.

The original Ghost In The Shell movies is a classic, but that naked suit was ridiculous then and the one thing that SHOULD have been thrown to the wayside.

2. IT FORGOT TO TELL A COMPELLING STORY

I’ve read a lot of reviews for this film.While there are plenty of fans upset by the arse f@cking alterisations this classic recieved, and plenty of others upset by the white washing, there are lots of new viewers who care about neither issue that were just bored.

If you a film’s got an inheritely crowd pleasing idea like sexy vampires or superheroes pummeling each other, then it can get away with lackluster storytelling with the right marketing. GITS didn’t have that luxury, so bottom line is that  it needed to be a good movie to make an impression, and this just didn’t cut it.

3. IT KICKED FANS OF THE ORIGINAL IN THE FACE

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This was a big problem. It transformed a thoughtful, philosophical sci fi film which asked a lot of deep questions about identity, what makes a person ‘them’, or even ‘male’ or ‘female’ if the physical form is easily discarded- into a generic revenge flick against a Big Mean corporation. It bears more in common with Neuromancer and its heroine Molly Millions than it did to GITS and the goddamned Major.

The only things thing they did to make it connect to the franchise is to include a few cyberpunk elements, recreate a few scenes devoid of the meaning or context of the original, and kept the stupid naked suit. It bore so little resemblence to the spirit of the original, that there was no reason to even make it part of the franchise in the first place.

4. IT MARKED A CYBERPUNK FILM IN 2016

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This would have done well during Disney’s Renaissance, but the audience has moved on

Yeah, timeliness and marketing are everything. Look at Princess and The Frog for instance. Although it had a good story (albeit not an excellent one), it didn’t do as well because it was released at a time when computer animation was in and handrawn animation was being relegated to the small screen. Sure, it cashed in on nostalgia for older viewers, but a nostalgic Disney film isn’t going to appeal to the kids.

This film makes the same error; it looks and feels like Blade Runner. But cyberpunk is a very 90s genre, when we still had no clue what cyberspace was or what the internet were going to turn out like. Giving a film an aesthetic that had its heydey decades ago while bringing nothing new to the table is not a good marketing move.

5. DID YOU NOT SEE THE #OSCARSSOWHITE?

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Look, whitewashing has been an extremely contentious issue recently. While most audiences genuinely don’t care that much about whitewashing, the fact is that it is a big hot button issue. So of course, when media outlets that would usually provide free publicity ask questions, they’re all going to centre around that issue . As a result, the only thing people were hearing about the film was its white washing, and that certainly isn’t endearing.

Writers, if you REALLY believed that a non white actress doesn’t hold ‘mass market appeal’, then you could have avoided all this by just creating your own robot film– or derived it from a Western franchise like The Bionic Woman or Terminator.If you did that you could even pretend to be progressive without putting in any work. You’d already get points for having a female action lead.

All you’d need to do from there is include a token Asian and have someone like your now Not!Batou  make a very ambiguous statement about his sexuality and voila! You’re now progressive! (actually, he’s tool masculine, that tends to upset people because there has never been a manly gay man ever. Make that Not!Togusa)

But speaking of existing franchises, we also have this problem.

6. PEOPLE ARE GETTING EXHAUSTED WITH ENDLESS SEQUELS AND REBOOTS

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Creativity, creativity, why have you forsaken thee

Disney are getting away with it (for now) because their reboots are a visually interesting and manage to at least be passable. But overall, the audience is getting tired of reboots. So releasing a film that is (a) mediocre in terms of storytelling (b) unfaithful to the spirit of the source material (c) manages to repel women in spite of being female lead and (d) has a controversy that dominates the talk of the film… you’ve got a box office bomb on your hands.

And that, my friends, is why GITS tanked.

9 THINGS I’D LIKE TO SEE FROM MULAN, THE LIVE ACTION REMAKE

As much as I love Disney, I have mixed feelings when it comes to the Live Action remakes. On the one hand,  The Jungle Book really benefitted from an update, while on the other, I thought Beauty And The Beast was too perfect to be updated, and the live action proved me right.

However, when I heard of Mulan’s live action update, I felt like it made perfect sense. It’s based on a story that is very maleable and rich for creating new and astonishing interpretations. Plus, while the origin has its charm, it’s far from a perfect movie and there are some updates that this film would really benefit. What updates you ask? Well, here are my top 7 things I would like to see from the Disney Live Action.

1) A DISNEY VILLAIN WORTH FIGHTING… UM, AGAINST

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Oh Shan Yu, what high hopes we had of thee. He SHOULD have been one of the greatest Disney Villains ever created, but he was so utterly forgettable. While Lady Tremaine had to make to do with turning a teenage girl into a domestic servant, and Shir Khan was defeated by a ten year old, this villain threatened all of China and I barely remember anything about him. He’s a general who’s slaughtered children, and yet the most memorable thing about him was his eyes. This needs to be fixed in the live action.

It’s time to give us the kind of Disney villain we crave, the kind we still haven’t had since Hades. Make him big, powerful, menacing, larger than life… a man who inspires fear the minute he enters the room. A man who’s built up even before he appears on screen. Disney, give the swishy villains a break and make Shan Yu a dark, macho badass: a warlord who’s always calm and calculating, never needing to raise his voice, even as he sharpens his sword while dropping implied threats to his minions if they should fail him.

2) REAL MARTIAL ARTS AND ADVENTURE

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This is the most perfect choice of films to make a live action. Unlike with BATB, the original was far from perfect and Disney has not told the definitive version. There’s plenty of scope for change and for the writers/ directors to bring something new to the table.

This film lends itself perfectly to a good old fashioned adventure. I would love to see Mulan do some real martial arts and engage in some blood pumping stunts. I mean, Mushuu killed the villain in the original while Mulan mainly flails around wildly. I want to see a big epic climax.

3) DON’T CAVE INTO THE PRESSURE TO MAKE IT INTO A MUSICAL FOR NO REASON

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Love the songs, but this film is no The Little Mermaid. Songs aren’t necessary to make this film work and could serve to destroy the tension.

As much as I enjoyed the songs, Mulan is a film that really doesn’t call for it. It is better suited as an action adventure.

Remember when back in the 90s, a live action version of 101 dalmations was made and there was a controversy because the dalmations didn’t talk? Well, in hindsight, it was a good choice. Talking dogs would have been more jarring because it didn’t have the animation to soften the surrealness of it all, and it gave us all we wanted from the original: cute puppies and a GLORIOUS performance from Cruella DeVille.

In this case we don’t really need them. It’s an epic martial arts, swashbuckling, sword fighting adventure filled with girl power! It has a more serious conflict, and the musical element could diminish that.

4) IF MUSHU DOESN’T WORK, DON’T FORCE HIM

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Forget Mushuu, I always wanted to see THIS dragon in the film.

Comic relief characters like Mushuu are often wildcards. Sometimes they work really, really well (Aladdin, Despicable Me), but sometimes they can turn into a complete nightmare (The Magic Sword, The Hunchback of Notre Dame). I enjoyed Muushu’s performance… most of the time. But he did jarr with the film’s tone and I doubt him translating well to a live action with a slightly less campy tone.

I can see him looking good, but none of the designs which would make him awesome would make him look funny. The last thing I want is another CGI monstrosity on our hands ala Beauty and The Beast. And I don’t want him completely breaking the tension or destroying the Chinese atmosphere.

Disney, if Li Shang is not essential, than neither is Mushu.

5) GIVE US AN ALL SOUTH EAST ASIAN CAST

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Gotta give them credit, Disney does seem to be sorting themselves out on this front.

To be fair, I think Disney has enough sense to do this with at LEAST the leading heroine and most of the cast. I mean, it really did everything right with Moana and Lilo and Stitch, and took a risk and cast an unknown Indian kid in The Jungle Book remake. Plus, criticise it all you will for its treatment of Tiana, Disney  sadly is more inclusive than Pixar or Dreamworks, and has made some of the most genuine efforts to self reflect on what it can do better. With their dependence on marketing Mulan as their one and only Asian Princess, I doubt they would cast a white person to play her.

But yeah, while I’ll doubt it’ll do an all Chinese cast, an all Asian cast would be terrific.

6) A STRONGER PERSONALITY FOR MULAN

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Yeah, Mulan was brave and all, but in terms of personality, she is the typical goofball missfit who sings to their own tune and saves the day. She is Flick, Hercules, Quasimodo in that respect and not too interesting in and of herself.

Even if she starts out unsure of herself (although the heroine from the Chinese poem was pretty damn confident), I wasnt to see some real steel in her performance. I want a complete ferocious badass, a true action hero. I’d also totally want her to full on defeat the badguy without Mushuu’s help, making her the second Disney Princess who full on killed their opponent! The first, of course, being our beloved Tiana.

7) A MAN WORTH FIGHTING FOR

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Pictured here the very beautiful Japanese actor, Jin Akanishi

I get Li Shang won’t be in the movie, and that’s fine as not all stories need a romance. But I think it would be good to include a handsome, macho male lead. Firstly, we all need more handsome Asian guys on our screen.

But more importantly, studies into sexual attractiveness and race have shown that South East Asian men are deemed the least desirable in part due to unfair perceptions that they are less manly than other races. You know, those delicate flowers whose various cultures spawned such feeble warriors such as the Gurkas, Samurai, and the Shaolin monks.

Having a strong, masculine and desirable Asian male lead shown to a wide audience won’t solve the problem, but it would help.

8) A MORE MEANINFUL INCLUSION OF CHINESE CULTURE

Disney have improved a lot since the Renaissance when it comes to writing race. They incorporated Polynesian culture pretty well into Lilo and Stitch and Moana. Hell, even the European films had a bit more of an identity than just ‘generic fairytale land’, with Brave feeling distinctly Scottish, and BATB at least incorportating more of the 1700s French aesthetic into their live action.

I’m hoping they will include the Chinese culture into Mulan in a more meaningful way, because while the original was good it felt like a Western film with pretty watercolor aesthetics. Maybe they could bring more Buddhist philosophy and martial arts teachings into it, as well as perhaps taking the ancestral spirits a little more seriously.

9) ANOTHER GAY DISNEY CHARACTER

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After the whole mess of an April’s fools joke from Pink News surrounding a Gay Simba, it proves that people are still. But LaFou did not stop Beauty and The Beast’s box office success.

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But the problem with LaFou is that he is a walking stereotype and camp joke. What message does it say to gay kids… hey kids, you’ll never be the hero, but you get to be the obsequious mincing side kick who servilely drools over the big manly straight man! Progress!

Mulan is a perfect film to include a proper gay character when you think about it. Mulan already subverts expectations of gender and masculinity by ending with our heroes in drag; I’ll Make A Man Out Of You is a camp classic; there’s some theories that Li Shang was having a big gay crisis thanks to Mulan’s cross dressing and most importantly, people have already seen a gay interpretation of the character of Mulan. The stage is set. And there’s so many possibilities.

If they were uncomfortable with having a gay romance, they could easily do a Persona 4 style ass pull and have a gay male soldier find himself attracted to Mulan, and after he learns the truth he realises that it’s definately only men he’s attracted to. There could be a sad and poignant talk under a cherry blossom tree in spring about how they both knew they were different, but perhaps in different ways and come on! This writes itself!

Representation matters, and after all the work gay staff, musicians and writers have put into making their films the classics they are, I think its time to show that gay men and women are people worth including in their works!

That’s what I want to see from a live action Mulan, and I’m interested to hear your thoughts

BADASS PRINCESS OF THE WEEK: THE STORY OF THE CRYSTAL SHIP

It’s been a long time since I did a Princess of The Week; a series where I look beyond Snow White and Beauty, to the Awesome heroines who are just as strong and adventurous as their male counterparts Last time, we looked at a dragonslayer and a woman who used her wits to become the Sultan.

This week- as part of the prompt of the day challenge (inspired by the theme of magic)- we’re going to look at The Crystal Ship, a story where a young girl travels to the ends of the kingdom to rescue her Prince.
Continue reading BADASS PRINCESS OF THE WEEK: THE STORY OF THE CRYSTAL SHIP

BOOK REVIEW: MEN OF THE OTHERWORLD- by Kelley Armstrong

BLURB: I don’t remember the first time I changed into a wolf. One night I passed out, and awoke to find my body covered in yellow fur. My brain was beyond reacting. It took this in its stride, as it had everything else in my new life. I got to my feet and went in search of food.

As a curious and independent six-year-old, Clayton didn’t resist the bite – he asked for it. But as a lone child werewolf his life is under constant threat. So when enigmatic Pack member Jeremy Danvers saves him, Clayton is determined to protect his adoptive father, no matter what the cost.

So begins this gripping collection of four tales chronicling the bloody feuds of the American Pack, and the coming of age of Clay Danvers, a very powerful – and very singular – werewolf.

REVIEW: In spite of my gripes with paranormal romance, I love Kelley Armstrong’s writing; she’s funny, descriptive, her action sequences are great and I love her sense of snark. Out of all the different supernaturals that occupy her Women Of The Otherworld series, the werewolves are my favorite creatures. So when I found out this book was all about the werewolves with (almost) no other supernatural creatures, and minimal romance, I was in. Men Of The Other World was everything I’d hoped it’d be. Or at least, the Clay novellas were. The stories surrounding Jeremy’s heritage were a disaster zone, but I’ll get to that.

The two longest, Savage and Ascension,  cover Clay’s upbringing and Jeremy’s rise to Alphadom.

Savage mainly covers Clay’s meeting with Jeremy and his attempts to fit in with the pack, while Ascension covers the pack politics surrounding the power struggle that emerged over who will succeed an aging Dominic as Alpha.

Even though I hated Clay’s relationship with Elena, as a character he was interesting. A man who was turned a wolf as a child ( a sort of modern Mowgli), his story was fascinating and one that begged to be told. And Savage does an excellent job of this.

His meeting with Jeremy is very emotional and shows the patience of the man. Although this story is being told retrospectively from the POV of adult Clay,its still done in a way which employs the thought processes of child Clay. As someone who became a wolf when he was four and left human society until he reached the age of seven, Clay had initially forgotten how to understand human speech and has become a feral, slowly starving in the world.

Even though there’s no dialogue (Clay had forgotten how to speak at this point), and Clay doesn’t understand what’s going on, the emotion is all there. Clay’s mindset is that of well, a cross between a frightened child and scared animal, whose mentality is purely fight or flight, not fully comprehending what’s going on and only coming to Jeremy for food. He sees Jeremy’s attempts to try and dress him as a ‘game’, and it takes a long time to build trust. Armstrong doesn’t rush this, and we have repeated incidents of Clay running away, causing trouble and making Jeremy’s life extremely difficult.

This really demonstrates the compassion of the character, and his patience. Another wonderful thing about this story is that we finally see the werewolves (other than our Italian businessmen) hold down a job. In Women Of The Otherworld, it always felt vague how they were managing to afford this huge property as neither Clay, Elena nor Jeremy’s jobs were shown having much impact on their lives. Here, we see Jeremy having to deal with managing accounts and the inheritance of Stonehaven on his own, and having to deal with translating work to keep the place afloat. This added a lot of authenticity to the book, and it was so wonderful seeing him having to deal with financial issues rather than living in the almost Disney Princess fantasy land where he can just get loads of money selling the odd painting because he’s just that super talented.

It was also great seeing a young Nick growing up with Clay, and their friendship and how his easy going nature clashed with Nick’s loner personality.The power struggle within the pack was fascinating and it was interesting seeing how the different power struggles clashed, although I don’t understand how Malcolm could have ever been a viable contender. Malcolm himself, was just a big, mean ball of macho bile; he doesn’t have a job, is continuously antagonistic to everyone. I honestly didn’t understand why a sensible Alpha like Dominic tolerated him, because he’s such a pantomime villain and a loose cannon. Sure, he’s a great fighter, but he’s nothing that couldn’t be replaced by a good shot gun. What did save him from cartoon villaindoom, however, was his fascination with Clay. I liked how they were both sort of different sides of the same coin, and Malcolm uses his wolf ideology to justify his cruelty, while Clay, allegedly more wolf than human, cannot understand this senseless cruelty.

One thing I did really hate was how quickly Clay went from being behind his peers due to being in the wild so long, to suddenly being extremely gifted and talented and ahead of everyone else. This happened in the space of a year or two. I’m sorry, but this is complete nonsense. There’s no way Clay could have caught up so quickly, and the only reason he does is because he’s meant to be this super special love interest. Clay is impulsive, irrational and lacks judgement and is extremely primal. He has shown absolutely no sign of having a brain for the entire series, there’s no way I buy him as this super special genius.

But all in all, I absolutely loved these novellas and enjoyed them more than a lot of Elena’s books in the main series.

Infusion and Kitsunegari

Now, with a heavy sigh I have to get to the disaster that is Jeremy’s Asian heritage. Oh my, why did she have to do this? You see, in this Jeremy is half kitsune on his mother’s side (which isn’t a spoiler- if a Japanese supernatural turns up in urban fantasy, it’s always a kitsune). So basically, a kitsune comes along, breeds with Malcolm in order to give Jeremy cool Asian mind powers and is killed conveniently when she’s completed her utility. Yeah, that sounds a bit cold but that’s basically all she is- an exotic baby maker that gives her son superpowers.

The problem is that this is the poster boy for badly used mixed race protagonists in urban fantasy, which is excellently deconstructed in this article here. The only reason that she’s Asian is so that Jeremy gets cool exotic powers, and of course after she’s done that, she’s of no further use so she’s done away with. Nothing of her heritage is passed on to Jeremy, she’s never treated as a person, and none of Jeremy’s heritage affects his life or him as a person- you’d think that growing up getting racially abused by his father and being the only mixed race Asian amongst a bunch of white men would have some affect on him. But no, it’s brought up so little in the series this feels like a bizarre ret con. This is even lazier Mixed Race writing than Zoey Redbird was in HoN, who at least acknowledged the existance of her heritage (even if it’s only to justify her super special spirit Pocohontus powers)- and if I’m saying an element is worse than anything in HoN, that’s the most damning criticism I can heap on something.

Worse still, in Infusion, the reason that the kitsune grandmother uses for choosing to throw her grandaughter at Malcolm is because their race is dying and they need ‘strong blood’. Yeah, POC wanting the ‘strong bloodline’ of white people is a racist trope that’s been around for centuries, and though I’m sure Armstrong didn’t purposefully write it that way because she’s not a white supremicist, it sounds so much like this it’s impossible to ignore. Also, having a Japanese woman throwing herself at a white man in the 40s… when the Americans were throwing Japanese Americans into internment camps? Man, that’s pretty bad.

It appears they do at least acknowledge the racism and the mother does say that she was playing on Jeremy’s Racist attitudes… but because she’s given no character it all feels played straight.

It gets even worse in Kitsunegari, as a gang of Kitsune attempt to seduce Jeremy away from Jaime in mangled English saying ‘I for you.’ So basically:

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Yes, we went there: we went full ‘me love you long time’, and it doesn’t even have the excuse Full Metal Jacket did of being written in the 80s. Or Southpark for being Southpark. These creatures are literal submissive sex objects, and apart from being desperate for Jeremy’s superior white- um, werewolf – semen, they’re given no agency, no will of their own compared with the other supernaturals of Armstrong’s world. They are literal sex objects throwing themselves to be used by the white male protagonists, and that is one of the most pernicious, nastiest racial stereotypes surrounding Asian women. This wouldn’t be so bad if there were more Asian characters, but Women Of The Otherworld is whiter than Donald Trump’s porch after a snowstorm. Hope Adams is the only non white narrator in the series, while Zoe Takano is the only asian character in the series… and she wasn’t exactly very competent in Broken.

I mean, why are the Kitsune dying out when the werewolves are doing just fine? Surely there were plenty of other supernatural creatures nearer home they could breed with? Why travel to a country they were on bad terms with for their supernatural sperm doner. Plus, kitsune and shape shifters in Japanese mythology typically try and breed with nobility, so the Danvers would be of low blood and beneath them.

It’s a shame we had to do this, to walk into so many unfortunate racial tropes for no other reason than to give Jeremy a bit of extra magic- which could have been done another way, as to my knowledge mind powers aren’t amongst the typical kitsune skill set anyway ; it was interesting delving into Malcolm’s twisted psyche, and Jaime was her usual awesome sassy self. Plus, it was nice seeing Jaime and Jeremy interacting as a normal couple, having to make time to see each other, working around each others schedules and responsibilities. Damnit, why did we have go there book? You were so brilliant otherwise!

VERDICT: Ignoring the tropey racial disaster zone that were Infusion and Kitsunegari, Men Of The Otherworld was an excellent collection that did everything a set of short stories about a main series should do: they told a story in their own right, and added a lot of depth to the series main characters.

RATING: 4 wolves out of a pack of 5

And on a final note, the English cover looks so much, and so much better than the alternative version. It’s good to know that at least Women Of The Other World is going equal ops on terrible torso pictures:

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The Way Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them Takes A Few Steps Back With Race

My main thoughts coming out of Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find could be summed up as: meh. I mean, it was okay. The acting was fine, CGI team deserve an award for their creativity, but the characters felt flat and the actual plot of the film was shoved into the background in favor of a series of slap stick routines surrounding the magical creatures. It was long, but not terrible.

Still, there was just one little thing that bugged the hell out of me throughout the movie. The way it treated it’s one and only Black person who could be called a character. Seraphina, the head of MACUSA, was cast as The Big Bad Authority Figure (a Black woman as an oppressor in the 1920s!) Who’s Always Wrong: she shouts down poor trembling plucky White (well Jewish) Porpentina, let’s the main villain get away with shit right under her nose and is kind of a dick.

I looked on the internet, expecting to see a whole load of articles on this, but all I found was a lot of articles on the casting choice, and one review on BlackNerdProblems. The rest of the internet seemed to ignore this, and even praised it on handling themes of bigotry while pretty much ignoring anyone who would realistically be on the receiving end of bigotry.

This is a shame because this is such a missed opportunity. I love the Harry Potter universe, and am generally a fan of JK Rowling as a person. J K Rowling looked like she was making progress with standing up for the casting choice of a Black lady as Hermione in Harry Potter and The Cursed Child, and I’d hoped that all the excitement surrounding that would demonstrate to her how much including some none white people in the wizarding world would mean to people (hell, people get excited about being included as even random names or subtext in the books). But alas, with this movie it looks like she’s making the exact same mistakes as she did in the main series.

THE BLACK BOSS GETS DOWNGRADED TO ‘THE MAN’ SHOUTING DOWN THE POOR WHITE LADY… IN THE 1920S

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Just like with Kingsley Shacklebolt, the Minister Of Magic, Seraphina Picquery follows in the footsteps of a dozen minor Black high court judges, bosses etc who have little impact on the plot. You know, kind of like in those shows where we get the Black Police Chief who presides over the case, but the White people get to all the cool groundwork and have their storylines and lives focused on.

This is quite a tantalising way of deflecting criticism without putting in any actual effort because look! They’re role models! They’ve got power! They’re the boss! Who cares if they haven’t got trifling things like character or plotlines or screentime and their job amounts to them being little more than glorified support cast- empowerment!

But the thing is, Seraphina is actually a step back from Shacklebolt. At least Shacklebolt is supposed to be a good leader. Seraphina is… not. She is more like Cornelius Fudge, only at least he got to be likable for a little while. Seraphina shouts down poor, trembling Ms Goldstein when she’s trying to relay useful information, blames her for not telling her earlier, has our protagonists unfairly executed and is constantly outwitted by our villain.

The only difference between her role and that of a villain is that a villain gets in the way of the protagonists’ schemes because he WANTS to cause trouble; because he is scheming, competent and his objectives clash with theirs. Seraphina is antagonistic because of her incompetence- because she doesn’t listen to important information because the speakers are below her, who is decieved by the villain at every turn and during the final battle, her and all her Wizards were impotent and  had to be saved by Newt- a man who finds himself decieved by the small animals he’s supposed to be an expert on in a regular basis.

What’s worse, is that this is 1920s America and she towers over and oppresses a white (okay, Jewish) woman, belittling her and playing the big cruel antagonist. This just feels like a cruel denial of reality, where not only do we ignore actual prejudice but turn Black people into the villains and the white characters into the oppressed ones we’re meant to sympathise with. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if Seraphina wasn’t the only Black person who can be described as an actual character in the film.

The Unlucky Second Choice POC Romance

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The second most relevant POC in the film is Lita Lestrange. Okay, we only see her as a picture, but since the only other contenders are random diplomats with one line and some bit part who was totally going to euthanise the hell out of our protagonists, love interest photo is the closest we got to a second important POC character.

Even before she’s even had a chance to speak a line she’s being put in her place (she was a taker, you need a giver) and positioned as the inferior choice to Porpentina. She is now destined to follow in Chang’s footsteps as the Unlucky Love Interest. At least Cho got Harry’s undivided affections before book 5 before she got derailed in order to lift up Ginny as Harry’s one twu wuv.

 

I don’t think Rowling’s doing this out of malice- more out of lack of investment of POC characters. But author intent is pretty irrelevant, and what we get is a constant case of POC being the unlucky second choice.

AND THOSE OTHER PEOPLE… IN THE BACKGROUND

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Look at all that diversity… now, if only they actual played some actual role in the plot

Yeah, aside from the Serafina, the other POC characters include a Euthanist/ executioner, some black coded goblin musician, and a bunch of foreign representatives who stand around in the background and look diverse while not actually doing anything . This is no doubt going to be held up as proof of diversity, but having none white people as window dressing who have no impact on the plot does not count as being diverse.

 HISTORICAL ACCURACY AND PORTRAYAL OF POC. 

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Black people were more than just servants on the outskirts of society in the 1920s. Princess Tiana could have been also been aiming to become an African American policewoman, a sports star, or to earn a PhD and it would have been historically accurate for the time period.

Yeah, this always comes up ‘but it’s history- Black people wouldn’t have been around and weren’t able to mix with white people so therefore of course it’s not diverse’. No, Black people weren’t just passive servants living on the outskirts of society. In this period, they were a major part of Urban Life (as many left rural areas to live in bigger cities due to prejudice), they held important jobs such as policemen and women, military officers and aviation pilots. It’ss just that most history books tend to skim over this fact, and society in historical based fiction has been portrayed as entirely white save for slaves and servants so many times that most people believe this myth without question. Which again is not helped by the fact that history books tend to largely ignore this, so when authors do research on the era they’re not likely to easily find  detailed info on the subject- it’s a vicious cycle..

It’s a myth so prevalent that in the first draft of The Princess And The Frog they were going to make Princess Tiana a servant- not out of malice- but because they genuinely didn’t realize that Black people could be other things at that time period.

Am I Accusing JK Rowling Of Being A Racist?

Ah, whenever you bring up this issue you always get accused of trying to attack an author. So, do I think J K Rowling’s racist?

Short Answer: No.

Long Answer: No, and this issue really derails the conversation.  I’m not looking at this as evidence for a trial of whether she’s attained perfect allydom status- that’s not really the point of this analysis.

The point is not author’s intent. The point is what ended up on paper, and J K Rowling is making the same mistakes as she did with the Harry Potter series, and since that series is an important part of growing up and adolescence to so many people (and Dumbledore’s Army is now a symbol against racist ideology), that’s a damn shame. The series hasn’t been completed, and it would be great if POC got to be a part of the Potterverse in a way that they weren’t able to in the main series. J K Rowling seems like a reasonable person, so in bringing up these problems, and asking for better, the point is to make people aware of these tropes and to encourage future writers to learn from the problems and do better in the future.

So, then Forced Diversity?

Well, I think a lot of people complain about this are just so unused to seeing POC on their screens that ANY time they appear it’s so unnatural and MUST be the left wing agenda. But for those whom that isn’t the case. Having a more diverse cast doesn’t make a well written story less well written. I mean, look at OITNB, The Wire, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Spartacus, Moana, Kubo and the Two Strings, Steven Universe; the highly acclaimed Ms Marvel Kamala Khan incarnation, Luke Cage, Empire. The diversity added more depth to the work and allowed women, LGBT people, and ethnic minorities to feel more invested. Like it or not, fantasy is escapism that allows us to travel to another world and it matters being able to picture yourself as part of the adventure- that’s why pretty much every hero is a hapless every man rather than someone actually qualified .  Would Hunger Games have suddenly been a less well written book if Gale or Katniss had been an unambiguous POC? No.Not at all.

What does detract from a work, however, is half assed diversity, tokenism and only including one minority character. It’s a problem when they include a character to teach a Very Special Lesson, and don’t bother to give that character a personality or role in the plot. Worse, is when they only include one character, pin the responsibility of representing a whole group on them, and turn them into a flat role model instead of an actual person.

It would not make the series bad if they included interesting, well written characters who happen to be Black. As flawed a character as Cho Change may be, she meant a lot to Asian fans and there was a lot of excitement when it came to seeing her on screen.

Harry Potter means a lot to so many people- hell, even having a random name mentioned in one book means a lot to many people. So using these films- a clean slate to- as a way of allowing POC to feel more a part of the adventure that all of us grew up fantasizing we could be a part of.

 

GIRLS AND GRAPHIC NOVELS: 12 AWESOME TITLES THAT EVERY WOMAN SHOULD READ

Superhero movies are taking over our both the big screen and small and after seeing The Avengers, Jessica Jones, the new X-Men franchise and Deadpool to name a few, you kind of want to check out the comics and graphic novels they were based off of.

However, entering the world of comics for the first time can be a weird, convoluted and sexist and bizarre place. Even with the New 52 reboot, some stories still become a convoluted mess with endless tie ins, seeing your favourite heroines from the tv shows turned into badly written fap material (poor Starfire), and we have cases such as Frank Cho throwing a hissy fit because Greg Rucka (an amazing writer) told him to alter his cover design to make it less sexualised. However, the comic book industry has gotten a lot better, and there are a lot of really great comics and graphic novels out there which treat women with respect and are accessible to new readers.

12. OLYMPIANS- by George O’Connor

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If you’re interested in Greek Myth than this is a great start. It’s fun, clever and provides a very faithful and thoughtful look into the original mythology of the Olympians. This is the series that transforms both Hera and Aphrodite into interesting, nuanced characters instead of the two dimensional hateful bitches they’re normally portrayed as. My reviews of his take on Hera, Aphrodite, Apollo, and Hades, Demeter and Persephone can be found by following the links.

11. Batwoman Elegy

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Isn’t it ironic that a character created to be Batman’s beard became one of comic’s most prominent lesbians? Yeah, Kathy Kane was a silver age creation when distaff counterparts were all the rage, and Kathy Kane along with Bat-girl – no, not that Batgirl, we’ll get to her later- her whole schtick was that she was obsessively in love with Batman. It is believed in order to disprove rumors that he’s gay with Robin. And FYI, her edition makes things so much gloriously worse- just look how miserable Batman is at the prospect of kissing an actual female!

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I love you Silver Age, you never fail to make me laugh

She eventually got retconned out of existence for being ‘too silly’ (presumably along with alien killer cactuses, Rainbow Batman and Batbaby- yes, Batman got turned into a four year old and attacked people on a rocking horse. That happened). However, she was brought back and reimagined as a proud lesbian for the New 52. In this version, she was kicked out of the army under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and wandered around aimlessly, becoming a party girl to forget her problems. She eventually decided to sort her life out and serve her country by taking up the cowl. Colonel Kane her father supported her in her goal and got her years of specialised training with the best of the best, and turned her into a force to be reckoned with.

Greg Rucka is amazing at writing women, and J.H. William’s artwork is divine. Because the whole point of the New 52 was to reboot the comic cannon and make it accessible to new readers (whether it worked or fell flat on its stupid face is debatable), there’s no long backstory you need to know to understand it. Batwoman was my first ever comic book. The reason it’s not ranked higher is because- well, after the opening, the comic does go to really weird places, including having her fight this banshee creature and being assisted by a B-movie werewolf. It’s story telling often becomes shakey, but Batwoman herself is a great character.

10. Batgirl and Robin Year One

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Barbara Gordon is the iconic Batgirl and yet it’s quite difficult to find any comics centring around her pre- New 52 reboot. Here is a chance to read a modernization of the character’s routes before it all got messed up with The Killing Joke. In this, Barbara Gordon is a young woman living in a sexist time who wants to join the police force but is barred due to discrimination thanks to her gender and height. Defying everyone’s expectations of her, she takes up the cowl. Even Batman and Robin underestimate her at first, but she proves herself a valuable asset and her training begins.

Because the whole point of this is an origin story, there’s no need to have any prior knowledge of the Batman universe to understand that. Plus, it also stars a young Dick Grayson, and we all know that he’s always very popular with the ladies.

9. V for Vendetta

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No doubt you’ve seen the movie and know how strong Evey is. Well, the graphic novel is just as good as the film, if not better, and is thought provoking and worth checking out. Alan Moore has a very- spotty- record with female writing, what with humiliating and putting Babsy in a wheelchair and having his female characters constantly threatened with sexual assault (not to mention often pairing them with much older men), and both are true here, but here Evey goes through one of the most compelling character arcs in all of comic books, changing from a frightened victim to revolutionary who carries on what V began.

8. Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur

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This is definitely one for younger audiences, but it’s fun and there’s definately something for older audiences. Lunella is very rare in that she’s a POC heading her own comic book, and she’s a black girl genius. Moreover, she’s a great character and her struggle with being gifted and the iscolation it brings is really engaging. For more of a discussion of it, I’ve reviewed the first issue here.

7. Lumberjanes

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I heard a lot about Lumberjanes- that it has the great art from the artist who wrote for Adventure Time. Because of the title and the fact it was essentially about a group of girl scouts, I was skeptical. Whenever we read about stories trying to change the way women are portrayed, they inevitably seem to be slice of slice focusing on smaller issues about firendship, coming of age, when sod it- I just want heroines beating the crap out of people and saving the world!

But in spite of that, I was pleasantly surprised. This is that this is a good old school fantasy adventure. It’s fast paced, with a mystery to solve and a whole array of magical creatures they have to defeat. It’s a bit sweet and for a younger audience, sure, but it’s still incredibly fun.

6. SAGA- Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

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This is definately one of the most engaging series I’ve ever read and actually had me screaming ‘NOO!!’ Every time a chapter ended and breathed a sigh of relief when I realized it hadn’t. This award winning series is a Romeo and Juliet in space about a couple from two sides of a conflict who have a baby and are on the run from both sides. It’s from the man who wrote Y: The Last Man, and has a plethora of well written females.  Not only that, but it’s bad shit insane and manages to switch between being dark and funny

Even though it’s about a horned man, a winged lady and involves humanoid robots with tv heads which breed like normal humans, it also has one of the most realistic romances I’ve seen in a long time. It doesn’t start with the meet cute, but after they’ve had a kid, and they bicker and compromise like real couples.

Again, there’s a lot of diversity in terms of race, with the female lead and Gwendolyn both being women of colour.

 

5.Batgirl- Silent Knight (Cass Cain run)

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The erasure of Cassy Cain’s run as Bat Girl is one of the casualties of the New 52 reboot, but her series is pretty cool. Not only is she a young Asian superheroine who’s non sexualised, but she’s a complete badass who’s proficient in martial arts and an unstoppable fighting machine.

She was raised to be a warrior, but never taught to be a woman. In place of language she got taught to read ‘body language’- people’s movements in combat, and as such can’t speak. Jurie’s out whether this is the coolest or the dumbest idea ever.

4. MONSTRESS- MARJORIE LIU

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3.Rat Queens

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This is one of the most enjoyable series I’ve come across. I’ve reviewed it here, but essentially it involves a group of cool female friends who’s friendship feels authentic . I love the snarky humour and it’s utterly bombastic, plus the fight sequences are AMAZING.

Not only that, put it has a pretty diverse range of characters, with a lesbian in the main cast, multiple people of colour and one of the rare trans women action leads whom is looking likely to become more prominent. Afterall, who wouldn’t want to read out a badass transgender Orc woman who can annihilate everything in her path.

2. The Batgirl Of Burnside

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I could have put Gail Simone’s run here- and that is definately worth reading- but it was diminished by production issues, its continuous insistence of bringing the Joker in for angst but never allowing Barbara to defeat him, and tie ins to the Death In The Family event which made this series incoherent.

The Batgirl Of Burnside, however, is a great series that is everything New 52 should have been: it really gives her an identity that’s far more than ‘Batman/ Robin’s distaff knock off’, a distinctive world, a great cast of characters and its great solid fun.

The art is gorgeous, and Barbara’s a non sexualised, highly realistic young woman who lives a normal daily life which involves worrying about her Grad project, going on dates, using social media and hanging out with friends. Also, this series has the first trans same sex wedding in comics, which is a nice bonus.

With ‘Batgirl and The Birds Of Prey’ becoming a series, maybe Batgirl will become a spin off more akin to Angel, Xena and The Bionic Woman, a force in her own right and more than just Batman’s distaff. For a more detailed review, please click here.

1.Ms Marvel

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Carol Danvers (the original Ms Marvel, who’s now become Captain Marvel) is another great choice, but I had to go with the Kamala Khan version. I was torn between putting her and Batgirl at number one, but as much as I love Babsy, she is still a distaff counterpart, and I think Kamala might be a slightly better character- I like her doofiness, how much of a geek she is and how she struggles with her relationships with her parents.

Everything about this is great. I love how Kamala started off as a geek idolising the Avengers. The way her Muslim heritage is brought into it is done in a very nuanced, fun and interesting way- showing that Muslims aren’t a monolith, and it deals with Kamala’s frustrations with the restrictions placed on her compared with her peers.

ALSO WORTH CHECKING OUT/ HONORABLE MENTIONS

Spider Gwen is an alternate version of Spiderman where Gwen was bitten instead of Peter Parker- which involves our heroine . Greg Rucka is always great at writing women, and his run on Wonder Woman Rebirth should be promising. Nightwing is a male lead series which has a female audience in mind, as he is a strong, smart more vulnerable young man who is striking out on his own after being in Batman’s shadow, and is the hottest guy in comics; Deadpool isn’t great on women, but his series is every bit as hilarious as the movie and no Marvel knowledge is required. Plus, he became a pirate once for the hell of it- and yes, it was every bit as awesome as it sounds. Persepolis and Bitch Planet are known to be great as well, and as they are their own self contained stories, no prior knowledge is needed (although in the case of Bitch Planet, I personally prefer my feminism more incidental to the story, and build into the world and character writing, rather than being the whole point of the story). Plus, Riri Williams, a genius black girl with become Ironheart in the new Iron man series.

SUCH A STEREOTYPE! HOW TO WRITE MINORITIES WELL AND CAN STEREOTYPICAL CHARACTERS EVER BE WRITTEN WELL

”Oh, so just because she’s a woman she must be into shoes!”Of course the Chinese guy knows martial arts- and for Gods sake Samurai swords are Japanese!’ You’ve all heard people rage against a character on the internet.

For the millionth time, we get another fashion obsessed GBF who talks about sex, never has any, and gets to be the butt of hilarious gay jokes; another lesbian who either dies because she’s expendable and can’t be used as a sassy accessory like the gay men; secretaries and women relegated to support roles and black women who are either entertaining and sassy or high court judges who never get any real characterization or role in the plot. Asian martial artists. Latina maids. The super crip. Russian spies.

But the question is, is writing a stereotypical character always a bad thing? Because, here’s the thing- most stereotypes aren’t randomly pulled from the ether. A hell of a lot of women AREN’T able to become high powered lawyers or mechanics (the same way most white men aren’t) , and they ARE nurses and secretaries. While we rail against the effeminate gay male stereotype (the Kurt Hummels, the Hollywood Montroses), they do exist- although they are definately a minority amongst gay men and with each passing year that breed of gay men are becoming rarer and rarer. A lot of black people DO like Hip Hop and R n Band listen to Bob Marley.

And railing too hard against the stereotype can be a problem, because we can reach the other extreme; we can reach the idea that a female character can’t be strong unless she’s angry, unemotional and hates fashion and girly things (but she still has to be young and hot- a woman is still worth as much as her attractiveness to men); butch lesbians are terrible, a black woman can’t be a worthwhile character unless she’s a lawyer, an honour student, a doctor or a good role ( a standard which isn’t applied to white characters, who can be everymen)   . And I think we can all see why deeming these real life people as inferior is a problem.

1) DON’T! Do you REALLY need to write a stereotype?

In spite of the premise of this article, my first piece of advice would be not to write a character filling that stereotype. First off, that character type is pretty much catered for. We’ve seen enough gay hairdressers, Asian martial artists, promiscuous bisexuals, Latino/a sex machines, so you really don’t need to fill that void. However, the asian basketball fans (an old roommate of mine), black scientists, lesbian who actually survives and isn’t obsessed with babies categories are extremely underrepresented.

Second off, writing a minority group which you are not a part of (or the opposite gender) is extremely challenging at the best of times; but writing about one whose experience is completely alien to you, and of whom every single portrayal is steeped in stereotypes and misunderstanding that you don’t know which ones are true, and which ones are false caricatures? That’s a tricky, tricky task- and one that even writers with the best of intentions get wrong.

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Barrett bless him. You can’t help but love him, but by God whoever wrote him has never met a black person

Write a character you can relate to. For instance, a lot of people are terrified of not giving a woman enough feminine characteristics in fear of being criticized for writing a ‘man with boobs.’ Trust me, as a woman I’d rather watch a strong active heroine who is  ‘a man with boobs’ than a woman who’s defined by being someone’s love interest/ mother or given a forced girly hobby because ‘chicks dig that, amirite?’

As for the stereotypical ones? I’d say leave writing them to the butch lesbians, girly girls, flamboyant gay men to write (or at least, the people who know a lot about that community).They’re the ones who can write them with the nuance they deserve, because they understand that stereotype. For example Ryan Murphy from Glee managed to turn Kurt Hummel into a great and complex character… even though I think he dropped the ball a little in The New Normal. Ai Yazawa wrote NANA, who’s main character is an air headed, boy crazy girly girl who’s impulsive, makes terrible life choices…yet it was framed in such a way that she was used to show the challenges of a young woman in Japan.

2) CHALLENGE your internalised prejudices. And RESEARCH

Look, in spite of what people tell you, no, just because you have gay/ black/ trans friends does NOT mean you don’t have a touch of homophobia, racism, sexist etc. It’s a ludicrous argument and by that stroke, Bluebeard could argue ‘I’m not a mysogynist: all my wives are women… well, were- before I killed them! Now they’re dead- but they were alive!’

Just because you agree with interaccial marriage and don’t attend KKK rallies doesn’t mean you’re not prejudiced; you’ve just cleared the world’s lowest bar, and there’s plenty of prejudiced behavior in between being Jesus and committing a hate crime. And, when you start writing, often those prejudices that you don’t normally betray in every day life become magnified

You can counteract this by RESEARCH. Believe it or not POC, LGBT people are REALLY keen on telling you want, and writing about their experiences. Read stories from their POV, about what it was like being a say, latina maid, or an effeminate gay man who grew up having an interest in clothes and make up since he was a young boy.

2) Avoid language that’s locked, loaded and coded

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This is a big problem and primarily applies to effeminate gay men. I’ve read of gay men described constantly as ‘sashaying’, ‘mincing’ ; take for example, Lord Akeldama from The Parosel Protectorate, the Patron Saint of terrible cliched gay writing:

He minced into the room, teetering about on three-inch heels with ruby and gold buckles. “My darling, darling Alexia.”

Oh God. How does one even mince into the room? Is he waving around his limp wrists and voguing to an invisible camera.

You see, when you start using these buzz words, you are not writing a fully fleshed person based on reality. You are drawing on cultural stereotypes as a short cut to portray a certain idea of  that type of person. It also singles out their ‘otherness’; why can’t an effeminate gay man just ‘walk’ or ‘stroll’ into a room like every other character? Why does he need a special gay walk because he’s different?  Please, don’t use coded language and let

3) Do NOT make their otherness their sole personality trait. And do NOT bring it up constantly

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Fangs for the fantasy wrote an excellent example on the Lesbian Shark. Sometimes writers are so enamored/ obsessed with the characters otherness that they think its interesting in and of its self that they have to bring it up constantly. If your whole character can be summed up as ‘gay’ or ‘female’ or ‘sassy black friend’ then you have a problem (and no, the fact they have a couple of token interests you cling to like Shakespearean plays does NOT stop them from falling into this trope).

The worst example is Sir Loras in the TVs version of GoT. Oh God.Every time he’s mentioned, it’s always to bring up a HILARIOUS gay joke, or about his gayness, or to show him persecuted because he’s gay and so he HAS to be persecuted or forced into an arranged marriage (not in the book) or some other stereotype relating that, or to show him banging a guy to please viewers. This isn’t inclusion, this is a hollow shell.

4) Do NOT make their otherness their sole ark

This is not inherently a bad thing, because marginalization really, really does have a massive impact on people’s daily lives. Especially in historical times, when women were property, black people were second class citizens or slaves, gay people could be murdered for who they love (which still hasn’t changed), being disabled made you less than, and being trans was an impossibility. These issues should be dealt with and it would

But it gets frustrating when everyone else gets to deal with a multitude of interesting ‘neutral’ issues, like saving the world, or dealing with PTSD, or their commitment issues, what it means to be strong, a hero etc while minorities get to deal with minority problems. The first woman pilot/ mechanic etc. Racism at work. The coming out story. We are more than just our race/ gender/ sexuality etc, and we deal with other problems too.

The one thing that’s even worse is when their minority

A great example is Tyrion. Tyrion is a dwarf and constantly has to deal with a barrage of prejudice from his father and everyone around him. But that’s only part of his story: first and foremost he’s a pragmatic, cunning, witty noble with a penchant for wine and women, who is scheming enough to be a politician in Westeros, but lacks the cruelty of other characters. We see him leading battles, dealing with his tyrannous nephew, get arrested for murder and end up on the run. This is how you write a minority character and treat their prejudice.

A bad ex

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5) Do not reduce them to a side kick, supporting role

The sassy black best friend, the GBF, the magical cripple. Too often, if a writer wants to include a minority, they make them a sidekick or a best friend. The main problem is their whole purpose to the plot and their character is defined by their relationship to the protagonist. Inevitably, they will end up becoming a useful servant to the protagonist.

Give them an actual role- give them their own plotline, or even – gasp- make them the protagonist!

5) Please do not make the sole/ most prominent female the love interest

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More Elsa please

This one is the mother of all terrible female tropes. Too often women’s existence is defined by her attractiveness to men and as being a wife or mother, so we see this constantly reflected in the media. It doesn’t matter what she’s achieved, her kind personality, whether she’s funny, made mistakes or throws one hell of a party- all that matters about her is who she’s married to. It’s frustrating because even if she is a great character, she will always be seen as ‘X’s’ girlfriend and will be in his shadow as the less prominent/ successful half of the couple.

Even when love interests start out interesting, because the story isn’t about them but their boyfriend, too often she will end up getting sidelined and get stuck in the kitchen. Look at Mira from Spartacus, who for all her talk of independence got bumped off as soon as she was no longer Spartacus’ love interest and therefore there was no point to her; or Fiona from Shrek, who was left behind in the castle in 2 and 3, and only got to do stuff in 4 because the alternate timeline meant she was no longer with Shrek and therefore they could reset their meetcute.

There are exceptions like Katara, who’s very much not primarily viewed as Aang’s love interest and has achieved a lot in her own right, but she is very much the exception to the rule and even she still got imperiled multiple times to motivate Aang (though she was kickass the majority of the time).

Hell, the reason Elsa was so revolutionary was because, for once, we had a female not defined by her romatic relationships.

I honestly would say that if she’s the girlfriend of a more prominent male character, she hardly counts as inclusion. Please, include females who aren’t love/ sex interests.

 

 

What advice do you have for writing minorities? I’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments.