Culture

These Filmmakers Are Fed Up With How TV Kills Off Queer Characters

“If you’re a queer woman, chances are you underwent a great loss this year,” filmmaker Cole Santiago tells us, observing at the tombstone of the [*SPOILER ALERT even though I’m pretty sure we all binge-watched OITNB already*] late, great Poussey Washington. She adds that, in 2016 alone, 18 female queer characters have been killed off on television.

Indeed, the “Bury Your Gays” trope has been a particular topic of conversation this year, following not only the aforementioned death of Poussey, but also the controversial death of The 100‘s Lexa. Fans’ disappointment and frustration over the character’s death even prompted the series showrunner and executive producer, Jason Rothenberg, to publish an open letter, assuring viewers that “burying, baiting or hurting anyone was never our intention. It’s not who I am.”

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Credit: CW

This ongoing theme of unhappy endings (and, you know, death) for queer characters also prompted Autostraddle to release a comprehensive set of infographics detailing queer representation in media, with a focus on lesbian and bisexual television characters. Take a look; it’s worth your time.

And while there have been queer female characters on television (Remezcla has a pretty thorough list), there are few series ABOUT these characters. They rarely get the A story, and even more rarely “get the girl” at the end.

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Credit: ABC

And, thus, Vida.

Vida‘s team is unique in media–a female cast and crew, most of whom are Latinx–and the story they have to tell is an innately personal one. “Growing up as a closeted teenager,” Santiago explains on the project’s Seed & Spark page, “too scared to reach out, the only safe route to better understand my feelings came in the form of film and television.” The project, conceived as a short film and potential pilot, follows Vida, a quiet 17-year-old girl dealing with a roommate who wants to become Instagram famous. Vida’s life is uprooted by “a Courtney Love-obsessed lesbian vampire” and… I mean, that’s all I need to know to want to tune in.

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Credit: WB

Vida‘s fundraising page keeps things nicely on-theme, with fundraising goals named after popular queer (or queered, in some cases) characters. For example, if you pitch in 50 bucks, you reach Drusilla level, and a member of the crew will be slimed with a bucket of blood in your honor, with video proof. Mwahaha!

Take a look at Vida‘s teaser video, below, and help #ressurectourgays:

Disney Is Debuting Their First Jewish Princess And Surprise! She’s Also Latina

Entertainment

Disney Is Debuting Their First Jewish Princess And Surprise! She’s Also Latina

We all know by now that is no “one way” to be Latinx. Latinos come in a variety of forms, from Black to white, tall to short, descended from Indigenous, African, and European populations. And while Roman Catholicism may be the dominant religion in most of Latinidad, it goes without saying that Latino culture is not a monolith. Latinos practice a variety of religions, from Islam to Buddhism to, yes, Judaism. 

And while most people don’t necessarily think of Judaism when they think of Latin America, there is, in fact, a small but proud population of Jewish Latinos who keep their culture alive through tradition and a strong sense of community. But being a part of such a small community within an already-marginalized community can feel isolating at times. Especially when there are no public role models to see yourself reflected in.

That’s why Tuesday’s news that Disney is debuting a Jewish-Latinx princess sent shock-waves through the internet. 

Walt Disney Television Animation News announced via Twitter that an upcoming Elena of Avalon episode in December would be featuring a “visiting princess” from a “Latino Jewish kingdom”.The as-yet-unnamed princess will be voiced by Jamie-Lynn Sigler, the actress famous for her portrayal of Meadow Soprano on HBO’s seminal masterpiece, “The Sopranos”. 

The Tweet also revealed that the princess would also make an appearance in Elana’s “royal coronation special” next year. Although we do not know any further details of Sigler’s character or her storyline, “Elena of Avalor” writer Rachel Ruderman gave a small preview of what’s to come. “A little over a year ago, I had the honor of writing an Elena of Avalor episode featuring Disney’s first Jewish princess,” Ruderman said via Twitter. She continued: “Jamie Lynn Sigler knocks the role out of the park (wait ’till you hear her song!) Can’t wait to share this one”.

In a move of conscious-casting on Disney’s part, Jamie Lynn Sigler herself happens to be both Latina and Jewish–a giant step for a media giant that can sometimes miss the mark with casting.

Raised by a Jewish father and a Cuban mother, Sigler grew up in New York City as part of a multicultural family.In the past, Sigler has talked about being raised Jewish–attending Hebrew school, having a Bat Mitzvah, and even going on a Birth Right trip to Israel in 2008. 

This episode can serve as an educational experience for many people (including those of Latinx descent) who are unaware that Jewish Latinos even exist. In fact, what some people might not even know, is that the term “Sephardic” (a term used to describe Jewish people of European descent) literally means “of Spain or Portuguese descent” in old Hebrew. In other words, it’s not a stretch to imagine a character of both Latin and Jewish roots on our TV screens. In fact, it’s completely historically plausible!

Naturally, both the Latinx and Jewish Twitter population is super excited at this groundbreaking news.

As we mentioned before, the acknowledgment of Jewish Latinos in popular culture is such a rarity. When the media shines a spotlight on such a marginalized group of people, the advent is worth celebrating. And even though changes are slow in the making, any progress on the representation front is a step in the right direction.

Jamie Lynn Sigler herself expressed her excitement at the news, calling to attention the novelty of her position:

Yes, it’s exciting that the Jewish Latinx population has finally gotten some princess representation, but it’s still a little bit frustrating that we had to wait until 2019 for a Jewish princess. We have a long way to go.

This Latina Jew was incredibly excited at the prospect of having the chance to see her own unique lifestyle reflected onscreen:

The self-styled “Jewyorican” is one of many New York-based Puerto-Rican Jews who identify fully with both cultures. It’s not as rare as people think.

Some Latinx Jews took to Twitter to give some suggestions on how Disney could go about bringing the new character to life:

This Hispanic Linguistics Professor suggested incorporating the ancient Judeo-Spanish language of Ladino into the show. 

This multi-cultural woman celebrated the inclusion of multiple cultures in one character:

Families like hers are the way of the future–at least according to statistics. Although many media outlets still see American families in black and white, the rest of us living our lives know that our identities are increasingly a hodgepodge of cultures. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

There Is Going To Be A Remake Of Disney’s ‘Hercules’ And It Is Going To Have An All Black Cast

Entertainment

There Is Going To Be A Remake Of Disney’s ‘Hercules’ And It Is Going To Have An All Black Cast

There’s a new live-action stage version of Disney’s 1997 animated film “Hercules” at the Public Theater in New York City — and Hercules is Black as hell

In 1997, San Francisco Gate’s Peter Sack described the film as, “The great old Greek is turned into a ’90s-style athlete who gets endorsements, sandals named after him and a chance to stand tall among nymphs and muses.”

Sound familiar to you? Lest we not forget this was the same era that Michael Jordan did Space Jam and Shaquille O’Neal did Kazaam. The original animated film took inspiration from major athletes of the time and thus, it inevitably heavily references Black and hood ’90s culture. If you watch it now the sneakers, the gospel music, the humor, it probably seems so obvious. 

One might wonder with all these references to the Black popular culture of the ’90s, why didn’t the creators just make Hercules Black? Well, they finally have.

The story of Hercules.  

While most of us were forced to read and re-read Hercules in secondary school, not everyone may know the story. Hercules is the son of the king and queen of the gods, Zeus and Hera. When a prophecy foretells that he will eventually defeat the god of the underworld, Hades, Hercules is kidnapped as an infant. Unable to kill him, Hades is able to take his immortality away but not his strength. The baby Hercules is raised by a mortal couple. At 18 he figures out his real origins and is determined to become a hero so that he can return to Mount Olympus with the gods.

Meet your new Hercules.

Hercules at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, through The Public Theater’s Public Works Program is based on the 1997 animated film, and has kept Alan Menken’s musical score. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because he also created the music for Disney’s Aladdin. Jelani Alladin stars as the demi-god Hercules. Krysta Rodriguez plays his love interest Megara.

The difference between the stage musical and the film is that Disney has finally chosen to embrace their story’s Blackness. Rather than simply coding their narrative as one with allusions to Black culture, they’ve put that Blackness at the forefront and center. That’s what we call growth! Everybody loves Black culture, it’s time we start loving the people who make it. 

Danielle C. Belton of The Root describes the original as having flirted with African-American culture, while this new version embraces a multicultural cast. 

“While the film Hercules only flirted with African-American music and culture—the muses who were the “Greek chorus” throughout the film were patterned after classic, Motown-style Black ‘50s girl groups,” she writes. “This version of ancient Greece and the Greco-Roman gods features quite a few Black, Asian and Latinx people, including Jelani Alladin as the titular teenaged Hercules, and, of course—all five of the doo-wopping muses are…sistas with voices.”

How Hercules gave nods to Black culture. 

Hercules is something of a hood icon. It was the first time many kids probably saw Black women portrayed as the muses and Greek chorus. This gaggle of doo-wopping muses sang the funky, soulful Hercules theme. There were also pivotal aspects of hood culture, some of it is even social commentary. Hercules’s character is parallel to the superstar basketball players of the ’90s, their rabid fans, and endorsement deals. The creators, Ron Clements and John Musker, even referred to Hercules as the Michael Jordan of his time. 

In the movie, we see a young Hercules’ as he rises to fame for being a demi-God with some serious strength. When the hero-worship begins, he snags a sweet endorsement deal — but these aren’t Nike Jordans — they’re fresh to death Hercules sandals called Air-Hercs. When the villain Hades sees that one of his minions is rocking the Hercules sandals his response is simple and iconic: what are those?The phrase has now become a popular meme on Black Twitter going so far as being referenced in the “Black Panther” movieThe hero even has his own version of a Gatorade sponsorship, the drink is called “Herculade.”

A Latinx Megara embraces feminism.

Unlike other Disney women of the era, Megara was never waiting to be saved. She was sarcastic, witty, and pretty unimpressed with Hercules’ attempts to holler at her. Krysa Rodriguez’ Megara puts feminism at the forefront — again we see subtle codes made explicit. 

“In a new song, a pants-clad Meg imagines a world without men, envisioning it as a utopia where she could do as she pleases. A dopey, lovestruck Hercules, seeking to demonstrate his feminist credentials, replies clumsily, ‘My mom’s a woman,’” writes Adrienne Westenfeld for Esquire.

Diversity is always an improvement. We live in a multicultural world, there is never anything wrong with reflecting that in the stories we tell. After all, it’s the stories we tell that teach us who we are and who we will become. For Hercules that is learning the truth about his traumatic past to create a better future — for America, well, it’s no different.