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June 23 2011

Call for papers for "Race, Ethnicity, and Nationality in the Works of Joss Whedon". The deadline for the proposals is July 1st.

I find this really compelling and am interested to see what some people say. If I was more of a writer, I would enter something myself. Being an African-American and a big fan of Joss, I have always had mixed feelings about "our" place in the Whedonverse. Buffy is my favorite show, but as Mr. Trick said, "not exactly a haven". I have always thought that the core group could have been more diverse, and in our times (or even back to the late 90's) I think it is pretty normal for a group of friends to have members of different races. Other Joss shows do a better job to include more diversity in the main cast (Gunn, Zoe, Book, Boyd) but I do kind of long for the day where the main protagonist has a little more color (No offense Buffy, Angel, Mal, and Echo-I still love you all).
I think the fact that the largest part of the TV and movie audience is white does have a tendency to 'white focus' many shows and movies. Probably more than it should. And while people of color have a legitimate concern that they are being sidelined, the 'token Black' or the 'token Asian', isn't really an improvement on that situation. It looks forced and unnatural and doesn't really make anyone happy.

In Buffy, they lived in a moderate sized town away from the big cities. Is it natural that there are fewer minorities there? In Angel they were in the city, and there were more Black characters. In Firefly, they were more past the point where Black and White mattered at all.

Buffy and Angel had small core casts, and most of the guests were either victims or monsters. I don't think you can get too diverse without stereotyping or tokenism. And I don't see how that would make anyone happier.
Good points, Jelly. It's troubling that the vast majority of mainstream TV shows/movies still have white protagonists. It's like there's an unspoken belief in Hollywood that white people won't watch stories with protagonists of color (which is as stupid as the assumption that men don't watch stories with women protagonists). And when you do get "color-blind" casting it often seems discriminatory as well ... this is slightly off topic, but it really bothered me that a white actor was cast to play Jacob in Twilight--a Native American character-- because he was "the best person for the role". I mean, that could conceivably be okay--but only in a world where a black girl was cast as Bella, or a Latino guy was cast as Edward, because they just really fit the roles.

Back on the Whedon subject though: I wonder if any of the essays in this volume will address the scene from the unaired Dollhouse pilot in which Sierra had a racist imprint? Because that scene, as short as it was, was one of the more interesting moments of addressing race/ethnicity in the Whedonverse. I'm also curious if that might have been explored further in the show as originally conceived (as opposed to the revamped, "actiony" show we actually saw).
When I consider that characters in the inner circle of the ensembles like Zoe, Book, and Gunn were SO important and multi-dimensional I really have a heard time seeing any of these characters as a "token black" character. I think the writers wrote about what spoke to them at the time and it says a lot that they never failed to intelligently address issues of race and cultural diversity in any of these series.
I agree Krysten: Zoe and Book were amazing characters and not at all tokenistic. (I think Gunn is a little more problematic, but I wouldn't call him a "token" character).

I would, however, argue that BtVS "failed to intelligently address issues of race." It addressed a lot of things beautifully, and I certainly don't think its failure to address race invalidates it as a show. I suppose one could even say that it never set out to address this issue, so it's not a failure per se .... but it is something that IMO simply isn't there.

When I think race on BtVS, what comes to mind are either (a) peripheral characters like Trick, or the Slayers Spike killed; or (b) characters whose ethnictiy is more caricature or myth than informed understanding of that background--like Chao-an, Kendra, or Jenny and her uncle.

Don't get me wrong, I *love* Kendra and Jenny as characters. But that doesn't change the fact that there were some stereotypical aspects to Kendra's portrayal, and that Jenny and her "Gypsy" family had nothing to do with actual Romani people. Great characters? Yes. Intelligent exploration of racial/cultural issues? Not so much.
@erendis- I really like how you put it. Buffy did not address the issue of race at all really. It was not one of the topics that they focused on, and that's OK. The show really wasn't about that. One could argue that Angel (and to a small extent Buffy) addressed the race issue though the way Demons were treated; particularly in "That Old Gang of Mine". It was kind of poetic that Gunn had to deal with his own prejudices. His gang's blanket killing of Demons both evil and harmless can easily be seen as a metaphor for race relations.
There's also the fact that in the Firefly verse, which was supposed to be an amalgamation of Chinese and American cultures, there wasn't a single Asian character on the show other than extras and background characters. (I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that originally Kaylee's character was going to be Asian but Jewel Staite was just "the best person for the role", sort of like what erendis mentioned above, and though I love Jewel Staite, something about that sort of thing bothers me.

Also for Buffy and Angel to take place in Southern California and have very few Latin American characters is a bit odd. I'm pretty sure Kennedy is one of the only ones.
Buffy was full of metaphors: Fighting demons as a metaphor for the drama of being a teenager. Sleep with your boyfriend he goes evil. Coming out as a vampire slayer etc.
But, as Nicole pointed out, for shows based in Southern California the Latino population wasn't well represented. Although there were Latino actors (J. August Richards, and Gina Torres are both Afro Latino heritage and I believe Charisma Carpenter is of Latin descent.) there was no representation of Latinos in Los Angeles except for Mexican thug vampires.
I've noticed there's not a lot of dicussion of Dollhouse here, but with Boyd, Sierra, and Ivy, it's probably the most ethnically diverse cast on a Joss show.
I've noticed there's not a lot of dicussion of Dollhouse here


I get the impression that studies of Joss' stuff regarding race tend focus to on Buffy and to a lesser extent Firefly. Angel and Dollhouse seem to get sidelined.
I actually don't see too much brought up in when it comes to race in Whedon shows. Could it be because the majority of the audience is Caucasian?
I recall a time two years ago where I was interviewing fans at an event ( I'm a freelance photographer and cover press for a Whedonverse site). I asked some of the fans about their thoughts on the lack of representation of minorities in the Whedon shows. Most said they didn't notice. All the people I spoke to were Caucasian since there weren't exactly a lot of other ethnicities represented in the group at the event.
Jelly can probably back me up on this; As a Latina when I enter a room of people I am more likely to look for other people like me. It's a comfort thing. I love Joss' work and it inspired me to go into a media career. Angel is my favorite of his shows so I may tend to be more harsh when it comes to lack of brown and black faces because of where the show was located.
By no means do I think he has to fill a quota of minorities but I believe they have a place in the 'verse.

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