Illmatic, Track # 9

"Why do some of us fight for representation? Look at the list of Golden Globe nominees. While I would normally be celebrating the shows and films that inspire I can't help but feel disinterested. This is why I love Sci-Fi storytelling so much. At least we fit into alternate universes."- Azita Ghanizada, actress and one of the stars of the former SyFy Network show Alphas

I know Tony doesn't but does Vision count as a POC?
Coco was number one at the box office again for the third weekend in a row. There are arguments to be made for competition among movies right now and no big new releases coming out until this weekend's latest Star Wars installment. But I think the success of Coco is about storytelling and word of mouth and one key factor- people are ready for entertainment with non-straight white males in the protagonist's seat.*

Representation matters.

I'm going to be honest with you and tell you something that will probably not surprise you. When I heard that a Black Panther movie was being made I said, aloud, "When can I buy my ticket?" I didn't know anything about the cast or director or story at this point. I just knew that I needed a movie with the Black Panther in my life for some reason. He wasn't my favorite superhero character, even in the Marvel Comics universe, but at that point I needed to see his movie. I enjoy the MCU and the fact that he was even a viable character choice was epic to me. And necessary.

Fast forward to today and nothing has changed but the intensity in my wish to see T'Challa do his thing in a solo movie. Th trailers have excited me and the cast and director and what little bit I know about the story has me fully locked in for February 16, 2018. This is true for a lot of my African-American and African diaspora friends, even those who aren't invested in comic book movies and the MCU.

Representation matters.

People enjoy any good content but they particularly seem to enjoy content with folks that look like them and/or are different than the norm of what is usually presented by the mainstream media outlets. Year after year of seeing stories told with just one type of hero or slight variations of the straight, white male as the protagonist of fiction takes its toll. Any reprieve from that same cookie cutter mold is appreciated and if the story is engaging, even better.

So diverse.
I loved Marvel growing up but outside of a few characters like the aforementioned Black Panther, the choices were few and far between for a black kid to see someone with a similar face in those panels. The situation was even more dire for other POC and people with non-heteronormative identities. It wasn't just in the "funny books" either. Not everyone saw their face in the future of The Jetsons. Orbit City was a pretty homogeneous place. The Jetsons made a very small me have to confront a  big question- what did that mean that people that looked like me and the folks in my neighborhood weren't in the future? I loved these shows and movies and fiction in all forms but it made my engagement less involved. The love was there but it was one-sided and strained. Sure, I could choose to imagine myself in the role of the white male protagonist but why couldn't the hero just be someone of color?

Flashforward to 2017. The saying "the future is female" is in the zeitgeist. Comic books are starting to introduce characters with different backgrounds and hues into their lineups as more than sidekicks. Avenues for creativity for marginalized folks are appearing thanks in large part to the internet and the access it gives to almost all of us. Hollywood is beginning, hopefully, to take those baby steps into creating a more diverse landscape because they are seeing the potential dollars that can be made from people whose voices weren't heard before finally being recognized and shown.

Representation matters.

I watch reaction videos on YouTube for the DC shows on The CW and the two that consistently get love with caveats that are minor in comparison to their two forerunners are Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl. I think there is an obvious connection between the praise they get and their depictions of their diverse casts of main characters. The facts that a female is at the helm on both shows and they don't shy away from showing depictions of lesbian/bisexual relationships is also key to their popularity. Seeing some facet of your life and people like you in entertainment is very important.

Representation matters.

This all brings me to last week. I saw a trailer for a movie a year into the future that I didn't even know existed. I have only an inkling of what the plot will be by the name because it is similar to a recent comic event that I am mildly familiar with. There is so little for me to know about this production at this point but I'm about 95% sure I'm seeing it and that is mainly due to the fact that Miles Morales appears to be the main character. An African-American and Puerto Rican kid is the star of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and I'm in.

Do it! DO IT NOW!
Miles Morales is such an important character to me. I have always liked the character of Spider-Man starting with Peter Parker. He was a nerdy guy from Queens who tried to do the right thing and often fell flat on his face. As a nerdy guy from Queens this was relatable. After Parker, there were other versions of Spidey, such as clones like Ben Reilly and Kaine and future Spider-Man 2099 Miguel O'Hara (another half-Latino Spidey). There were bad Spideys like Venom. There were even female Spideys like Julia Carpenter and the much cooler Jessica Drew. They were all cool (okay, maybe not Julia and Kaine) but I didn't really embrace the totality of a Spider-Person until Miles appeared in the Ultimate Universe of Marvel Comics. Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli gave me a Spidey I could call my own, albeit at the late age of 31.

Miles represents another new take on Spider-Man. He has similarities to the Peter Parker of the past but with different challenges and different takes on situations, both as a youth and a POC. They are both goofy good guys but they are appreciated by me for different reasons. I like Peter's stories and struggles but I really love Miles' tackling problems head on and just enjoying being Spider-Man most of the time when he isn't being yelled at by his abuela or dealing with the shenanigans of his Korean-American best friend Ganke Lee.

Miles also has a special place in my heart because he makes me think of my nephew who just started high school who also happens to be a half African-American and half Puerto-Rican teenager. I think the fact that young people currently have options in their choice of fictional heroes and can find one that looks like them in the mainstream is a very good thing. It also makes me extremely jealous.

We need diverse characters in our entertainment because we have diverse characters in our lives. People need to see folks like themselves represented positively and more often. The market exists for these stories and has always been there despite what you may have heard and still hear. I'm glad to see that this is all occurring now and want even more tales of people with different skin hues, sexual orientations, physical disabilities, etc. The future is here and it's full of all kinds of people that deserve to be seen. Let's see them.

All of us should be on the page and on the stage.

Representation matters.
*Don't worry straight white dudes. The world is still the world and you'll always have a role.

Sean Fields is an aspiring writer and has been in the education field for more than a decade. He works mostly with teenagers nowadays which both keeps him well informed on pop culture and makes his hair turn grayer daily. He has a few blogs but is currently focused on this one and this other one. You can also find him on TumblrTwitter and Instagram, if you want to be entertained or infuriated.

Illmatic, Track # 9 Illmatic, Track # 9 Reviewed by SeanFields on Wednesday, December 13, 2017 Rating: 5
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