Joss Whedon

Why the Issues People Have With Joss Whedon Are Unfounded (Part 1 of 3)

The Daily Dot has an interesting article covering just about every reason as to why Joss Whedon is (rightfully) considered a geek god (or the geek god for you monotheists).

With a certainly impressive count of 17 reasons, Whedon is one of the select few who can lay claim to conceptualising (if not also writing and directing) brilliant content for almost any form of entertainment media—Buffy, Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse for television; Fray, Astonishing X-Men and Buffy (Season 8, 9, 10 and more) for comics; Serenity, Avengers, Much Ado About Nothing and Cabin in the Woods for cinema; and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog for the internet. And this is still glossing over his involvement in shows like Roseanne and The Office, movies like Speed, X- Men and Toy Story, and comics like Runaways. In fact, novels (y’know, the type with no pictures) seem to be the only field he seems to have skipped out on, but we’ll just count this really awesome open letter addressed to the license owners of the Terminator franchise.

What is particularly interesting about the article in question however, is that it also lists 3 reasons not to be Whedonites. Why? In the interest of not seeming biased, I guess. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with not liking a particular person or talent. The entertainment industry, after all, is (somewhat) made up of art and art, by nature, is subjective. However, like all subjective topics, things are rarely black and white and before any one thing can be used as a compliment or criticism, the argument has to be assessed.

Now, that isn’t to say that I, despite being a borderline Whedon fanatic myself, don’t have my own issues with Whedon’s work (more on that later)–it’s just that the points listed in the aforementioned article are not the reasons I employ. Due to the length of the article, it’ll be divided in to three parts, this one discussing Racism.

Cultural Appropriation/Racism

The diversity in Firefly's cast is more than meets the eye.
The diversity in Firefly’s cast is more than meets the eye.

Ah, this age old favourite. Be it sitcom, drama or action, the sufficient representation (or lack thereof) of various races is a recurring argument amongst casual viewers and pundits alike. And it’s all the more surprising when it occurs in a project by a person as accepting and diverse as Joss Whedon.

The article refers specifically to Firefly’s premise: a somewhat dystopic future where Earth’s multi-national government has been replaced by a massive central federal government formed by the US of A and China called The Alliance. This super-government grows beyond even atmospheric borders and soon controls multiple planetary bodies known as “core worlds” and, in typical human fashion, sets its sights on the outer worlds. This leads to the Unification War which saw the Independent Faction (Go Browncoats!) unsuccessfully resisting the Alliance to maintain autonomy for these outer worlds.

So the debate in hand is why are there no Asians (or, more specifically, Chinese) in the main cast.

Before I address this though, here’s a little tidbit for people who just don’t get how continents work: not all Asians are Orientals—there are Indonesians, Indians, Thais, Malays, Filipinos living in the continent of Asia. Also, Oriental isn’t a race—it’s a generic term (and that in itself is quite demeaning) applied blindly to Chinese, Japanese, Koreans and so on by people who either can’t tell the difference or are simply too ignorant to actually bother learning.

Back to the topic at hand—firstly, it’s arbitrary to accuse Firefly for having a non-racially diverse cast just because it doesn’t include, *sigh*, Asians. If you’ve actually watched Firefly (or its awesome movie-sequel Serenity) you’d know that the crew of the Serenity, are rebels. Meaning to say that The Alliance are the bad guys in the context of the show’s universe. Which means just because the government is (presumably) 50% Chinese it doesn’t mean that there has to be Chinese crewmen in the Serenity. After all, the Browncoats are actually the enemies of this Chinese/American government. Why not Japanese, Thai, Indonesians? I dunno, maybe they all died in the Unification War? (If you read up on World War 2, you’ll see that the Chinese have serious reasons to really not like the Japanese.)

But the main reason is this: Chemistry. When you cast a show, you first look at your character type and cast according to the required personality. The second thing you look at is the chemistry of your cast members. Now, the second consideration is a real make or break factor.

A famous example would be Harrison Ford‘s involvement in Star Wars. George Lucas was quite adamant on not working with the same actors again (he had already worked with Ford in American Graffiti) and was actively auditioning for the character of Han Solo. Ford, however, was asked to assist during Carrie Fisher’s audition and, in true Ford fashion, managed to get into an argument with the young starlet. This chemistry (yes, it’s still chemistry even if it’s explosive… or especially if it’s explosive) sealed Ford and Fisher as Han Solo and Princess Leia, making them household names even 37 years later.

With character depiction and chemistry being priorities, it leaves very little room to be adamant about the colour of an actor’s skin. What does need to be dealt with, however, is our perception of race.

The terms “Person of Colour (POC)” and “racial diversity” are interchangeably used. This is wrong. As I’ve already pointed out, Western Media hardly understands the term ‘Asian,’ let alone being able to tell apart ‘Orientals.’ Meaning to say, just because you don’t see much colour difference among the cast’s pigmentation it doesn’t mean that it lacks racial diversification.

Between Gina Torres (Cuban), Morena Baccarin (Brazilian and Italian), Her Divine Beauty Summer Glau (Scots-Irish and German), Ron Glass (Afro-American), Jewel Staite (British, Irish, French Canadian and Iroquois) and Alan Tudyk (Polish, German, English and Scottish), Firefly’s cast was incredibly racially diverse. And Nathan Fillion is Canadian! (That counts, right?!)

But apparently, the problem is that the cast wasn’t colourful enough. Because, it would seem, sincere racial diversity is less significant than nitpicking pigments. Look, if you wanna be so superficial about wanting colour go watch Power Rangers. And this doesn’t just end with Firefly (the article, after all, mentions that this is an inherent Whedon problem).

In Dollhouse we get Her Unholy Gorgeousness Eliza Dushku (Albanian, Danish and English), Enver Gjokaj (Albanian and American and an uber exotic name), Dichen Lachman (Nepalese-Tibetan and German) and Harry Lennix (Afro- American).

So? Not racist. In fact, I’ll go a step ahead and offer a counter-argument: Firefly is one of the least racist shows for the simple reason that the Afro-American woman does not end up with an Afro-American guy.

In all honesty, shows that include minority cast members only to have them end up with members of their own race are infinitely more racist. The idea that two differently coloured skins (Oh, the scandal!) simply should not end up in bed together is an abhorrently racist ideal that is not only backward but incredibly offensive to the diversity of humanity.

Parts 2 and 3
Part 2 discusses the perceived sexism in Whedon’s work.
Part 3 discusses Whedon the Writer vs Whedon the Director.

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