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Interesting observations about characters of color in mass media - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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October 29th, 2009


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02:43 am - Interesting observations about characters of color in mass media
Every year for the last few years, teaotter has participated in the yuletide fanfiction exchange (which is specifically for both small fandoms and media that normally does not have fanfiction written about it). Becca is very into it, and rightfully so, because there are some truly excellent stories published there, including several by both her and by amberite.

However, her reading about all the work that goes into this rather huge effort occasionally also turns up fascinating info. It turns out that last year, some people made a fanvid for Yuletide, where they features scenes from a few hundred of the several thousand fandoms that are in Yuletide.

So, teaotter read this post about making the Yuletide video. Doing so was clearly a truly massive effort, and by virtue of the rather impressive amount of work the people involved did in selecting clips from several hundred fandoms, they learned some things about media representation. It turns out that the people making the video did their best to make a video that was diverse and non-exclusionary, including images of various characters of color that had been used in various Yuletide stories. In addition to the obvious facts that there's not all that much first world media that features characters of color and that people rarely write fanfiction involving characters of color, they also discovered something that I had never noticed and that's worth knowing and perhaps looking for – (mostly US) movies and TV films images of characters of color differently from white characters.
a slightly more serious part: things we learned about race, representation, media and fandom

1) We learned that people of colour are actually filmed differently, in terms of framing, than white people, or at least this was our anecdotal experience; it was often easy to get two white characters, especially two white male characters, in the same frame, but people of colour are by comparison much more isolated, cinematographically - often appearing in one-shots. This is how eruthros felt DESPAIR trying to get Jeremiah into the vid, because even though Kurdy and Jeremiah are BFF save-the-world-together types, they seldom get to share a frame even when they're fistbumping. And the problem with this vid is that we seldom had enough space to give any fandom more than one shot - in a lot of cases, fandoms got 17 frames and that was it, so we couldn't use two oneshots in place of one twoshot.

2) And even when people of colour get to have kisses, it's often framed differently - mostly, the camera is much further away, and you don't get closeups. When we vidded the first chorus, just putting together kisses that looked the same in terms of framing and blocking, we ended up with an all-white kissing montage; we had to go back and edit it to be a little less uniform aesthetically in order to make it less whitewashed. Although, unsurprisingly, it was very easy to get people of colour in on the sad line just following the chorus - "just touch my cheek before you leave me" originally had Judas from Jesus Christ Superstar, Pembleton from Homicide: Life on the Street, and Mu Bai from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and coming after the all-white kisses it sort of felt like a section called "people of colour are SAD!" This is a story about how easy it is to make a racist piece of art without ever intending to do any such thing. So, the big change we made there was Homicide, which went from a sad clip to a happy clip (more on that later), and putting in RENT (which we had to zoom the heck in on), and so forth. But yes: people of colour are often visually segregated from white people on tv, and since there aren't a lot of shows with lots of people of colour on them, this often means they're visually isolated as well.

3) We learned that fandom squicks us out sometimes. See, the thing was, we were trying to make the vid as wide-ranging as possible, with gay boys and lesbians and transgender folks and het makeouts, with people of all different races/ethnicities, etc. And combinations thereof - which is why The Wire is in the vid twice, because it was the only source we could find where two men of colour make out and two women of colour make out. So anyway, eruthros took it upon herself to go through the yuletide archive for characters of colour, looking up every single yuletide fandom that had moving pictures on imdb. And she found that there wasn't a great amount of people of colour, and what there was was Western media - so there is, I think, only one Bollywood film in Yuletide (Sholay!), and other than anime, very few films produced in Japan or China or Korea, etc. But the part that really weirded us out was that, over and over again, she would find a fandom with POC in it, and get excited, and then learn that the fic on yuletide didn't focus on the POC. Oh look, she'd say, a tv show starring Gina Torres! A cool fandom-actor of colour is the main character in this show! And it's a yuletide fandom! But . . . Gina Torres's character isn't in the fic. Or there'd be a show or a film even with more than one POC, even, but nonetheless the focus of the fic would be overwhelmingly on the white characters. This happened over and over and over again, well past the point of coincidence.

This is why I don't believe people who say that fandom doesn't have its own race problems, that it's just echoing the race problems of popular media. Because yes, it's one problem that POC don't get represented nearly enough on TV, and/or don't get represented positively - it's a whole nother problem that, when they do, we don't write about them. Anyway, this isn't really news, but it certainly brought this problem of systemic, institutionalized, often-invisible racism in fandom home to me.
I'd never noticed these differences in portrayal before, but I'm certainly good to look for them now. In any case, this is data that I wasn't aware of before and which definitely seems interesting to look for.
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful

(5 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:lupagreenwolf
Date:October 29th, 2009 10:06 am (UTC)
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Huh. Thank you for sharing this. It was good to read a bit more evidence on why we still need to keep speaking up.
[User Picture]
From:silvaerina_tael
Date:October 29th, 2009 11:41 am (UTC)
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This is very, very interesting. It confirms, or at least brings a lot more evidence regarding issues POC have been stating for years; issues I've only become aware of within the last several months.
[User Picture]
From:roseembolism
Date:October 29th, 2009 07:36 pm (UTC)
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Unfortunately, this is not at all surprising to me. What is surprising to me is that anyone could claim that fandom doesn't have issues with race with a straight face.

Ah well, denial is part of privilege.
[User Picture]
From:used_songs
Date:October 30th, 2009 11:22 am (UTC)
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Thank you for posting this. I went and read the original post, too. Next time I watch TV, I'm going to be watching with a much more critical eye.
[User Picture]
From:krinndnz
Date:November 5th, 2009 06:03 am (UTC)
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That was totally worth reading - good eye-opener sort of project, good way to cultivate awareness of things that are usually invisible to me/us.

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