Friday, September 23, 2016

Strong Female Character Friday: America Chavez (Marvel Comics)

Look, I don't mean to be inflammatory here, but I'm pretty sure the phrase, "She's beauty, she's grace, she'll punch you in the face" was originally intended to refer to one America Chavez, aka Miss America.

There's a delightful play on expectations when it comes to America Chavez, and it all centers around her "superhero name" as it were. See, America Chavez is an AfroHispanic New Yorker, born to immigrant parents, who suddenly finds herself gifted with extraordinary strength and stamina, and, of course, chooses to use these powers to fight evil. Her superpower name, fittingly, is Miss America. It's a classic play both on her actual name and on her powers' being vaguely related to Captain America's and on a well known and recognizable cultural thing.

The joke? Well I'm sure you've already guessed it, but most people don't immediately picture a gruff, badass AfroHispanic teenager who can lift a car over her head and throw a shark into outer space when they're told that Miss America will be saving them. And therein lies the beauty and genius of America Chavez as a character: She is Miss America, and because of her name, her background, and her powerset, she forces us to reconsider our ideas of what it means to be an American, what it means to be a young woman, and what it means to want to help the people around you.

She's pretty great.

Now, if you want to be all technical about things, America Chavez was not the first Miss America to appear in Marvel comics. But given that the original Miss America was largely a nonstarter of a hero from the 1940s and 50s, America's arrival in 2011 can largely be seen as independent of that. 

Coming on the scene in a small miniseries event called Vengeance, America quickly grew in popularity and eventually became part of the Young Avengers storylines, and is now seen as a central figure in that group. Heck, there's even a possible future we get a glimpse of where America becomes Captain America one day.

Born to two loving, superpowered mothers in a different dimension, America's backstory is about as bonkers and intense as your average superhero. When her mothers sacrificed themselves to save their home dimension (and America), she escaped into a different reality and decided to become a hero in their memory. She's been drifting through the universes ever since, eventually adopting the name "Miss America" and becoming a superhero. She ended up in the main Marvel timeline when she decided to stop Loki from hurting Wiccan, and then just sort of ended up sticking around.

But as we all know with comics, the actual plots and backstories tend to matter a lot less than personality or thematic point. That's the case here. With crossover events, weird shakeups where America is dimension hopping with a 1600s era Kate Bishop, and other nonsense like that going around, what happens is a lot less important most of the time than how the characters handle it.

And that's where America Chavez really shines as a character and as an interesting take on Hispanic/Latina femininity. Her way of handling things is less of a traditional female superhero's "let's all sit down and talk this out" and more of a "I'm going to punch you until I feel better". Which isn't really me editorializing either. Take a look at this honest to goodness moment from Young Avengers:

Clearly America Chavez is a woman who feels very comfortable in her physicality. As well she should. As an extradimensional being (or kind of an alien, I guess), America has powers we humans can only dream of. She's superstrong, has incredible endurance, can fly, and also has a nifty thing where she can punch or kick holes in reality and then walk right through. America the great, indeed.

You might, however, wonder what's so great about a female character who is angry and likes violence and is kind of grouchy all the time. I mean, why are we celebrating a Hispanic/Latina character who gets in a lot of fights? Isn't that exactly the kind of character stereotype we're trying to get away from?

Well, yes and no.

So, as we discussed in talking about Isabelle Lightwood last week, there are important considerations to take into account when talking about stereotypes of violence. Yes, there is a pervasive and damaging stereotype that Hispanic/Latina women are a lot more likely to have violent outbursts, to be so "passionate" that they lash out, and to get into fights with each other all the time.

Those stereotypes, however, largely stem from a belief that Hispanic/Latinx people in general are more "firey" and "spicy" and prone to valuing emotions over reason. They're why characters like Rosa Diaz and Amy Santiago can be completely different and yet both refutations of the same stereotypes.

The violence inherent in America Chavez' story isn't violence born of a "spicy" personality, it's violence born of the fact that she's a superstrong metahuman who tries to save the world a lot and doesn't get enough sleep. 

She never fights people who can't fight back, and while her superstrength does sometimes lead to slightly gruesome fights, America is all about making sure that the bad guys know why she's fighting them. She's very clear and very candid and not interested in making you feel comfortable.

Essentially, while America is deeply impulsive, her fighting is rarely based in emotions, making her a good counterpoint to the "violent Latinas" stereotype. It's also interesting to look at her in light of the general sexualization of Latina women fighting, and remember that America is rarely sexualized as a character, at least not outside of the original Vengeance run. 

More often than not, America is shown wearing comfortable street clothes, not even much of a uniform. She likes hoodies and shorts and sneakers, and while she's definitely attractive, most depictions of her highlight her muscles not her breasts, making her the rare female superhero allowed to be strong without necessarily being sexualized while she's at it.

Oh, and how about this for fighting stereotypes? America Chavez is absolutely not going to get into a catfight with another woman because she "stole her man". That is a thing that is definitely not happening.

I mean, it's mostly not happening because America is a confirmed lesbian, but also because that's really not her personality type. Would America get into a fight over someone insulting one of her friends? Probably. Would she get into a catfight over a romantic partner? Almost definitely not. It's just not who she is.

Yes, America is impulsive. Her catchphrase, after all, is "America YES" (which is alarmingly accurate as a catchphrase for our country to be honest). She's prone to bad choices, like throwing a shark into the sky, and not really thinking her decisions through until she's already made them. But these aren't exclusively Hispanic/Latinx stereotypes here, and the majority of her character really does push back against the hypersexual, very hetero, catty, fashion obsessed stereotypical Latina character.

But that's not why we're talking about America Chavez. Or, well, it's not the only reason we're talking about America Chavez.

I want to bring us back to what we were talking about in the beginning. America Chavez. Miss America. "America YES". For all that this is a silly superhero character who spends most of her time punching bad guys and having ambiguous flirtations with Kate Bishop*, America Chavez means something for Hispanic/Latina representation simply by existing. She's a character not defined by her relationships to any of the men in her life, who never apologizes for her race or background, and who proudly wears the flag of her country.

She's a woman who openly insists on identifying herself with the United States of America, fully aware that she's not how most people picture "Miss America" looking. She's a woman who refuses to let them tell her she's not good enough, not ladylike enough, not white enough to represent this country. 

America Chavez is my hero because she refuses to believe she's not. She takes ownership of this country and proudly claims it, completely ignoring anyone who tells her she can't. So, yeah. America, who? America yes.

*I ship it. Come on, Kate, we all know you're into her!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

'Star Trek Beyond' Isn't Perfect, But It Is Definitely Star Trek

When I try to describe my enjoyment of Star Trek Beyond to people, and rest assured that my enjoyment is well worth describing, it feels like all I can ever come up with, "It's so much more Star Trek than the other ones, you know?" To which they invariably reply that they don't know. It's a problem.

So for you, today, I thought it would be worth all of our while to explain precisely what I think Star Trek is, in order that we can examine how Star Trek Beyond, while not a perfect movie, is unmistakably Star Trek and that's great.

I'm not sure if you've caught it from the endless enthusiasm for Star Trek new and old, but I really really dig me some retro space adventures. As a kid, I grew up watching Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock go back in time to save the whales or battle Khan or accidentally destroy the timeline because Kirk fell in love again. I respected the hell out of Jean Luc Picard, adored LeVar Burton as both Geordi LaForge and the guy on Reading Rainbow, and wanted to be Deanna Troi when I grew up. Heck, I even got super into Deep Space Nine in college. I guess what I'm saying is that if it's Star Trek, I was into it, am still into it, and probably always will be into it.

But I'm also saying that the first two JJ Abrams' handled reboot films, enjoyable though they may be, are not Star Trek.

Which brings us to the big question. What then is Star Trek? Is it the low budgets, the cheesy costumes, the sometimes hamfisted acting? Is it getting great stage actors to chew the scenery as everyone falls over when we pretend the ship has crashed? Is it just science fiction and space and the idea of a pseudo military future? Not really.

Star Trek, to me at least, is about hope. That's all it is. Star Trek is a vision of a future where mankind gets our act together. Where we look up to the stars and hold hands while we race across the universe. It's a world where discovering the life outside of our little globe doesn't shatter us or tear us apart, it makes us proud of who we are and eager to meet others who might be just a little like us.

It's all the idealism and genuine excitement of the 1960s space race era, tempered with the reasoned desire to understand and to grow. Star Trek is a world where poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, and religious discrimination are virtually extinct. It's a world where the closest thing Earth has to a military is a fleet of exploratory vessels whose mission is to go out there into the great beyond and, I don't know, meet some people? Look at cool rocks? Just go explore, guys!

That's a future I desperately want, even if I doubt that, human nature being what it is, that future is possible. I want us to fly through the stars and make new friends while we're up there. To paraphrase a line from that other great 1960s optimism era science fiction show, imagine a world where that's what we do when we finally get to space: we dance.

This is what I see in Star Trek, what even the clunky interpretations of bygone eras have been reaching for. This is the point of the franchise, to embrace an idea of humanity as kind and selfless and hopeful. And this is why, when I saw the other reboot Star Treks, my general impression, whether I liked them or not, is that they were not Star Trek.

Now, I go into this in greater detail elsewhere, lining up a firing squad of reasons I was dissatisfied with Star Trek: Into Darkness, and you might find that worth a read. But instead of going over all those points again, let's look at how Star Trek Beyond was a pivot in the right direction. For all its faults and flaws, and it did have more than a few, this movie was still unmistakably Star Trek, and for that I will forgive a lot.

The basic premise of the movie is this: Largely ignoring the events of Star Trek: Into Darkness, Beyond starts with the crew of the Starship Enterprise a few years into their five year mission. 

Everything is going well, basically, but without any gigantic universe threatening explosions for a while, Kirk (Chris Pine) is starting to get bored. It's just one more weird planet with weird aliens and unsolvable conflicts after another. He's even put in his resume for a promotion that would strand him at a brand new space station, that's how bored he is.

Spock (Zachary Quinto), meanwhile, is also pondering his future and his life choices. When he receives the news that Commander Spock (Leonard Nimoy) has passed away, Spock feels like maybe his life would be better spent serving the community of Vulcans on New Vulcan, rather than gallivanting around having space adventures. And maybe he's not wrong. 

So while the rest of the crew get more minimal storylines (as per usual), we're set up with the idea that this is the Enterprise on its normal day to day work. Work it's good at, sure, but as Kirk says in the beginning, it's all starting to feel a bit "episodic". And that's where we begin.

First, during an ordinary supply run at Yorktown (the new space station), the crew runs into an unusual alien whose species is unknown to them. She doesn't even speak a language they've seen. She claims that her ship crashed on a planet inside the nebula nearby, but that the solar activity of the nebula has made it impossible for them to get help. She begs someone to go back with her to help save her crew. Unsurprisingly, Kirk volunteers.

Upon reaching the planet, however, the Enterprise finds itself gravely under attack by swarms and swarms of little ships. The ships cripple the Enterprise, causing the crew to jettison themselves and abandon ship while the main saucer crashes on a mysterious and remote planet. No way to call for help, no one who could come if they did, and a hostile army out there. Even worse, as the crew flew away in their pods, they were taken, one by one, by the attacking ships. So even the crew is gone.

The good thing is that the enemies didn't get what they came for, at least. A little artifact from one of their "unimportant" missions, Kirk finds and pockets the macguffin before the bad guys can find it, and here we get the plot. Kirk and a few of the characters we know and love have to find each other and work their way out of this mess to rescue the crew, while the bad guys hunt down Kirk looking for the artifact. Very, very Star Trek.

Down on the surface of the planet, the film does a good job pairing up characters who before now haven't had much chance to shine or work together. Spock and McCoy (Karl Urban) have a hilarious series of bonding scenes while McCoy tries to care for a gravely injured Spock and they bicker like the old married couple they definitely are. 

Sulu (John Cho) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) shine in a storyline about what happens to the crewmembers who were kidnapped, and they both give pretty great Federation resistance to the bad guy, Krall (Idris Elba).

Kirk, meanwhile, is fighting with the duplicitous alien who led them there and teams up with Chekov (the late, great Anton Yelchin) to trick her. But the best of all of these unlikely matchup stories is definitely the one that has Scotty (Simon Pegg, who also helped write the screenplay) working with another young strandee, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella).

This is the storyline that, more than anything else, makes this movie Star Trek. I don't want to spoil it for you, and I don't think I will, but suffice to say that Jaylah is the kind of character you rarely get anywhere else but an optimistic science fiction franchise like this. She's a young woman (alien) who has grown up surrounded by death and misery, largely alone and calling her "house" (the spaceship in which she lives) her only friend. She's a bit reminiscent of Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but with a slightly different spin.

Jaylah is martialistic and angry and terrified and silly and good with machines but not preternaturally good. She's a very realistic character is what I'm getting at, I guess. And I love that she quickly becomes the emotional core of the movie. There's no romance between her and Kirk (or Scotty), which is a pleasant diversion from business as usual. Instead, her character stands in for the crew as a whole, and the question of whether or not Kirk has it in him to abandon them.

So what makes this movie Star Trek when the other two weren't? Admittedly, like the other two reboot films, this movie does feature a third act full of explosions and dire consequences and impossible coincidences and half a city getting destroyed. But I would argue that such surface level trappings don't make it Star Trek or not. That is determined by the attitude and tone of the movie, and in this one they are both on point.

I said it above and I stand by it: the goal of a Star Trek story is supposed to be showing us the best of all possible worlds. We're supposed to look at the Federation, to look at Earth and Starfleet and the Enterprise, and want it so badly that we make it so. The point of the franchise is this optimism about our future as a species. And it's also not insignificantly about how when we work together we can make it so much further than we can make it alone.

These are all concepts I talk about all the time, but in all fairness it's because I think they're important all the time. We need to work together because people are social beings. We need to love each other like a closeknit family because that's the connection we crave. And we need to be on mission together because there is glorious work to be done and we can do it together.

Part of the appeal of Star Trek, at least for me, is the idea of getting to explore the galaxy and see new planets and meet new aliens with other people. With people just as committed to this hopeful future as I am. With people who believe in these values. The greatest gift that life has to offer, after all, is the opportunity to work hard at work worth doing, and getting to do that work with people that you love.

This movie, which centers its emotional core on the responsibility of a captain to his crew, understands deeply what people want to get out of a Star Trek film. It gets that we're here to see people fight evil and save the day, sure, but we're really here to see them do it together. The emotional satisfaction of the film comes, not when the villain is defeated, but when we discover Jaylah is (extremely mild spoiler) planning to apply to Starfleet.

It's the satisfaction because it brings it around full circle. It brings us back to Kirk on the bridge, bored out of his mind with the day to day routine, and shows us why that routine, even if it's boring sometimes, is so worthwhile. It brings Kirk back to his love of being the captain. Not because he loves bossing people around or starting intergalactic wars or seducing women, but because he loves helping people be the people they want to be. He loves facilitating that, so his genuine joy at Jaylah considering the academy is a full reversal of his character at the beginning, and that's so important.

This is not to say that the movie is perfect, though. It's really not. Sulu and Uhura might get a lot more screentime than they have in the past few films, but they're still relatively minor and don't get nearly as many fun moments to shine as everyone else. Uhura's noble sacrifice is amazing, but a little confusingly cut which meant I almost missed it. Sulu's relationship is cute and lovely and canon and all, but also very fleeting and really one of the few things he gets to do in the movie.

Likewise, it seemed a waste to cast the amazing Idris Elba in the film and then spend hours covering up his face with a heavy prosthetic that made it hard for him to talk. And let's not forget the awkward fact that of the three or four named characters of color introduced in this film, two were covered in thick makeup and weird wigs. That's not great.

Still, the core of the movie is good and that counts for a lot. It's a film that deeply considers what it means to be a good leader, and that leans into the franchise's interest in team dynamics and the idea of committed, passionate people trying to change the world. Or just save each other and love each other like a good community. Either one.

I don't know if you love Star Trek like I do, but I hope you understand now what I mean when I say that a movie isn't Star Trek enough or that something is Star Trek and therefore it's all good with me. I mean, Pacific Rim is kind of Star Trek. Pumzi is pretty Star Trek. Farscape is pretty dang Star Trek too.* A lot of things are Star Trek, and this movie is one of them. That's what I wanted from it; the rest is just icing on the cake.

*I actually consider Farscape to be a very early prequel in the Star Trek universe and I will fight you on this. I have bullet points!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Masculinity Monday: Poe Dameron (Star Wars: The Force Awakens)

More like Poe Daaaaaaaaamneron, right?

Anyway, your eyes do not deceive you. Masculinity Monday is back, albeit temporarily. From September 15 to October 15, we're celebrating National Hispanic/Latino Heritage Month, and part of that means going through and dissecting the representation of Hispanic and Latino characters throughout our culture, particularly in how they relate to expressions of masculinity and femininity. We started off last week by looking at the woefully underappreciated Isabelle Lightwood on Shadowhunters, and we'll continue this week by tackling Hispanics and Latinos in space with The Force Awakens' Poe Dameron. Ready? Good.

So I'm sure I don't need to remind all of you about the plot of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, as this was the movie that everyone and their grandmother was downright ecstatic about seeing last December, but you might not remember the whole story from Poe Dameron's perspective, so let's look at what happened in Episode VII from his point of view.

Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is the best pilot in the Resistance. Like, hands down, no contest, absolutely the best. He's literally their poster boy, and judging by the way he looks casually posing on the side of an Xwing, I wouldn't be shocked if he's painted on more than a few spaceship noses like the bombshell babes of World War II. Poe Dameron is a damn good pilot.

Even more than that, though, we know from the very beginning of the story that he's also an incredibly trustworthy and good man. How do we know this? Because General Leia Organa has chosen Poe Dameron out of the entire Resistance to be the one to track down the missing map that will lead them to where Luke Skywalker has been sulking for the past ten years.

Leia is firmly established in the movies (and the extended universe) as being a very good and very reliable judge of character, so if she's entrusting this mission to Poe, we know straight off the bat that he's one of the good ones. And that theory only gets confirmed when his mission is interrupted and they're attacked by the First Order. Poe has the chance to escape, but instead of fleeing (which would be completely understandable and even strategic), he sends BB8 off with the plans and stays to help protect the village. He's captured. He's tortured. And yet he refuses to give up hope. He doesn't even give up his sense of humor.*

But the real moment when we get that, hell yes Poe Dameron is a wonderful man, comes when some random stormtrooper comes and starts marching him down the hall in a halfbaked escape plan. Poe would be well within his rights to react badly to this. He could assume it's a trap, he could berate the stormtrooper (John Boyega) for not thinking this through, he could try to fight the guy and escape on his own. All of these would be normal action hero reactions.

Instead, Poe shrugs and agrees to help. In fact, he does more than that. He smiles and he trusts and he treats this stormtrooper, who doesn't even have a name, as a person with just as much value and integrity as him. And bear in mind that this is the enemy. Poe Dameron is the kind of man who takes his own enemy at face value and immediately forgives and forgets that not two hours ago this man was shooting at him and was part of the force that killed a village. He believes this man when he says he wants to change. Poe Dameron is a good, good human being.

So when the ship crashes and Finn, who spends the rest of the film going by the name Poe gave him, thinks he's dead, there's no small part of loss and remorse there. We actually completely understand why Finn would be devastated over the loss of a stranger he met not fifteen minutes before. Poe might have been a new person in Finn's life, but he irrevocably changed him, to the point where when Finn has to think of a new identity, a new person to be now that he's free of the First Order, he immediately chooses to be just like Poe. He can't think of anyone better to be.

Now we've already covered Finn in his own article, but I think it's hard to overstate how pivotal this character interaction is. I mean, in and out of the world of the film. Hell, the chemistry between these two characters was so good, and the storyline was so moving, that JJ Abrams actually decided not to kill Poe off and instead make him one of the main characters of the franchise. 

Seriously. Poe was supposed to die in the plane crash, but now he's a pivotal figure in the story because how do you kill someone so completely made of puppies and sunshine?

Later, as we come to understand from Poe's minor appearances in the rest of the film and the novelization which fleshes it out more, Poe escapes from the desert on Jakku, makes his way back to the Resistance, and is able to fly his ship in a battle where he spots Finn and saves him and they reunite, yay. But to be honest, Poe's presence in the rest of the movie, aside from the heartclenching jacket scene, is pretty minimal (because he was supposed to be dead), so we're going to talk larger picture about his character and why he matters.

So, to begin with, I think it's worth noting that Poe Dameron is a man of color. I mean, duh, that's why we're talking about him for National Hispanic/Latino Heritage Month, but still. It's worth noting because it is tragically rare to find depictions of Hispanic or Latinx characters in science fiction or in space. I mean, I've got Michelle Rodriguez in a few things, and I guess Zoe Saldana, though her characters are rarely Latina, but that's about it. Gina Torres in Firefly? There's not a lot here, is what I'm saying.

To have a main character in Star Wars be openly and proudly Hispanic, then, is a big deal. An even bigger deal, though, is how they work his racial identity into the story. See, when Oscar Isaac was cast, because the role was relatively small, the writers didn't put much effort into his backstory. Isaac, who is Guatemalan, was allowed to come up with a lot of it on his own. This is significant, because it led to Poe Dameron's entire history as a legacy member of the Resistance. You see, Star Wars: A New Hope, the one with the original Death Star, shot the rebel base parts in Guatemala. Isaac and his family had joked for years that this meant they lived on the same world as the rebel base: Yavin IV.

And that meant that when Oscar Isaac was coming up with a backstory for Poe Dameron, he said that Poe grew up on Yavin IV as part of the rebellion.

This might be a little roundabout, but I hope you see what this does. By claiming the rebel base as his characer's home territory and by firmly linking it to his own Latin American roots, Isaac effectively claims the rebellion and the rebel base for people of color. He populates it with Poe's family, he gives us a history of this place that is not white or Eurocentric. It's still an imaginary world, but it's an imaginary world that doesn't belong just to white audiences. And that's huge.

On top of that, Poe's character development only gets deeper and more interesting as time goes on. We now know that while Poe is a rebel legacy, he's also a legacy pilot. His mother, Shara Bey, was one of the best pilots of the rebellion until she died when he was young. He has lived with her memory and honor and also legacy for his whole life, which adds shade and nuance to his skill at flying and also his daredevil tendencies.

Or how about how Poe seems to gravitate to strong female role models? There are a lot of jokes about how Poe has probably accidentally called General Organa "Mom" at least once, but these jokes also hint at the larger dynamic going on here. Just like the prequels and the original films all center around a trio of characters whose stories will interlock and interplay and affect the galaxy, these new movies do too, and the characters are clear analogues of characters from the original.

I mean, it's no hard leap to say that Rey (Daisy Ridley) is the new Luke Skywalker, but it's also not hard when you think about it to see that Finn is the new Han Solo. He's the one haunted by his past, trying to run from what he can't control about his life, but ultimately turning around and helping the resistance even though he thinks it's a terrible idea. 

Which leaves Poe as Leia. Strategic, compassionate, but also dang passionate, Poe reflects Leia's ability to govern and to lead. He might not explicitly be in charge of their forces, but I don't doubt at all that Leia is grooming this man for leadership. He has future General written all over him, and between his amazing personality, his genuine appreciation and affection for people, and his talent as a commander and pilot, I don't doubt he'll do well.

Poe is a great man, but he's also a good one. And that makes him a fantastically interesting character to examine in relation to our cultural stereotypes about Hispanic/Latino masculinity.

Now, I do not purport to be an expert on masculinity or Hispanic/Latino culture, but I can say that mainstream white American media has some pretty clear ideas of what Hispanic and Latino men are "supposed" to look and act like. First off, there's an implication of class. Rarely do we get depictions of Hispanic men who are wealthy or successful or respected. We also rarely get to see stories about Hispanic men who are on the straight and narrow and never have not been. 

If anything, the portrayal of Poe is subversive if only for how normal his character is. He's just some guy who is really good at his job and really sweet. This flies in the face of normal Hispanic and Latino representation.

Hispanic and Latino men rarely get the opportunity to be soft on screen. And I don't mean wussy or childish, I mean soft like a gentle hug and a kind word. I mean Poe Dameron. The guy seems incapable of thinking the worst of anyone, even his bitterest enemy. He's spent his whole life fighting stormtroopers, his mother died fighting this war, and yet at the first sign of friendship he is willing to literally give his life to save a man he just met.

That's not a masculinity you see every day at all, let alone one you see depicted as a reasonable representation of Hispanic/Latino men.

Poe is subversive and important precisely because he is so good. He is so good. He is basically goodness itself wrapped up in a slightly snarky package, and that's a character we rarely see associated with Hispanic/Latino culture. Even better, though, is that he's allowed to be that good and to live. They changed the story so he could go on and stay good and keep fighting the good fight. That's phenomenal, and I want a hundred more like him.

We talk a lot on here about how representations can have real world consequences. How the constant depiction of Hispanic and Latino men as drug dealers and gangbangers and illiterate immigrants is damaging to them and to our society as a whole. But we rarely get the chance to talk about the opposite. We rarely get the chance to discuss how a soft masculinity, a masculinity that cares and forgives and claims and nurtures, being associated with Hispanic/Latino culture can heal our society just a little bit.

I love Poe Dameron. I really really do. But even more than I love him as a character, I love what he says about masculinity. I love that he's strong, he's never less than masculine, but he's still soft. He's still kind. He's still so fundamentally good. I want more of that, full stop. But I especially want more characters like him who expand our world. Who give us a Star Wars where everyone matters to the resistance and no one is left behind. Who would give his life for his friends or even his enemies. Who is all of this and more, and also living fully in his identity as a Hispanic/Latino man.

More please.

*Those scenes where he faces off against Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) are great and funny and tragic and all things interesting from a storytelling standpoint, but I deeply wonder if Poe knows who this guy is. I mean, as a child of the rebellion, I think it's a safe bet that Poe would have known Ben Solo growing up, or at least known of him. Does he know that Kylo Ren is Ben Solo? Does he know that his possible childhood friend is a merciless killing machine? Does he think that Kylo Ren killed a boy he used to know? What does Poe think?! I need to know this.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Strong Female Character Friday: Isabelle Lightwood (Shadowhunters)

I heard Isabelle Lightwood has two Fendi purses and a silver Lexus. I heard Isabelle Lightwood does car commercials in Japan. One time Isabelle Lightwood punched me in the face. It was awesome. Her hair's so big because it's full of secrets.

I can keep going.

Look, Mean Girls allusions aside, I think it's really worth our while today to talk about a character who doesn't look on the surface like an ideal representation of Hispanic/Latina femininity, but who is, when we dig down deeper, a really fantastic complex image of what it can mean to be Hispanic/Latina in the world today. I want to talk about Isabelle Lightwood, and while I completely agree that the show she's on, Shadowhunters, is silly at best, I think there's still a lot to be said for what Izzy means for the representation of Hispanic/Latina women on TV.

But before we can get into that, let's talk a little bit about Shadowhunters the TV show. Now, as some of you may recall, I'm not the biggest fan of Shadowhunters' source material, which makes it an interesting choice for "show I got super into while I was hanging out in Iceland because it's on Netflix over there and I was bored sometimes". I found the Mortal Instruments book series by Cassandra Clare to be insufficiently compelling to get me past the first book, and while I liked the movie adaptation well enough, it was really just okay. So I'll admit to not having had high hopes for the TV adaptation.

Picture my surprise, then, when I idly clicked on it while whiling away the hours on my vacation this summer and discovered that while Shadowhunters might be cheesy and low budget and melodramatic and silly, it's exactly my flavor of silly and melodramatic and low budget and cheesy. I loved it. I love it. It's super silly but man alive am I gone on this show.

And no small part of that was how they portrayed the character of Isabelle Lightwood, a supporting lead in the book and movie who takes center stage in the show and blows everyone the freak away. Isabelle Lightwood is great. Even better, though, is that the powers that be behind Shadowhunters went out on a limb and cast an actress of color in the role, despite the character being originally white.

So we're going to talk about her.

Shadowhunters is a show about alarmingly attractive young adults who fight supernatural monsters, in a nutshell. It follows Clary Fray (Katherine McNamara), a totally normal dorky art student living with her mom in New York, when all of a sudden she turns eighteen and starts seeing monsters and strange symbols behind every door. 

Her best friend, Simon (Alberto Rosende), thinks she's going insane, but really Clary is catching glimpses of the real world, the world so real that most people don't know it exists. And she can only see it because, unknown to her, she's actually a Shadowhunter, a supernatural evilfighter from a long line of supernatural evilfighters.

Clary somehow manages to go from complete unawareness of the supernatural to being neck deep in it in the course of three hours, coming home from her first sighting to find her mother and family friend dead or kidnapped, her apartment burned down, and herself surrounded by pissed of Shadowhunters who want to know who the hell she is anyway. It's not long before Clary is living at the Shadowhunter headquarters, dragging Simon into the mystery, and trying to figure out who "Valentine" is and why he kidnapped her mom. You know, like you do.

Isabelle (Emeraude Toubia) fits into this as one of the Shadowhunters Clary meets. While Clary has this whole "will they or won't they" going on with Isabelle's adopted brother Jace (Dominic Sherwood), Isabelle and her biological brother Alec (Matthew Daddario) are concerned with bigger fish. Like the growing level of unrest in the downworlder (supernatural) community. Like their parents and political machinations back in their home realm. Like the possibility that Valentine, who was basically Shadowhunter Hitler, isn't nearly as gone as people would like to think he is.

So Isabelle is a major character here, and as the season wears on, she becomes more and more central. While at first the show, like the books, centered on Clary's struggles and emotional journey, after a while it moved on and began to center on Isabelle and Alec. Which is a solid narrative choice, since the two of them are way more interesting characters, but also because they make for a more unique story. 

We've all seen dozens of fish out of water tales, but what about a story about the fish who are already in the water and good at the water but suddenly the water is getting churned up by a hurricane?

That's Isabelle and Alec.

Born the oldest children of a proud and noble Shadowhunter family, Isabelle and Alec have always had the world riding on their shoulders. Alec more than Isabelle, to be fair, but Isabelle in her own way has always born the brunt of her family's expectations. She's just chosen, more often than not, to rebel and fight back, while Alec has chosen quiet compliance and the pursuit of perfection. In making these two the center of the show, Shadowhunters gets the chance to really dig into Shadowhunter politics and culture, as well as play with some fascinating family dynamics. But that's an article for another time.

The other awesome consequence of Isabelle becoming a more important figure on the show as the season goes on is that Shadowhunters becomes the rare mainstream television show to center around a Hispanic/Latina character, and even more interestingly, a mixed race Hispanic/Latina character.

While it's not explicit in the character (and more on that in a minute), Emeraude Toubia, the actress playing Isabelle, is herself of Mexican and Lebanese heritage. Not only that, but she is extremely proud of her heritage and considers it an important part of her identity. And contrary to the usual way casting goes on these shows (like what we see with the casting of Bob Morley as Bellamy on The 100), Shadowhunters doubled down on their casting by finding a Mexican American actress to play the Lightwoods' mother (Nicola Correia-Damude).

Even before we get to talking about Isabelle as a character, she's already an important figure in Hispanic/Latina representation. While the show never explicitly addresses the ethnic background of the Lightwood family, and while Matthew Daddario who plays her brother is firmly European/white, the casting of women of color in prominent roles in the Lightwood family is a huge step forward for a show like this, and worth celebrating all on its own.*

Even better, though, is that casting isn't the only thing we're celebrating.

Like I said at the beginning, Isabelle Lightwood is the kind of character who actually looks like bad representation if you don't look too closely. What I mean is that if you only give her a cursory glance, she looks like she's falling into the worst stereotypes about Hispanic/Latina women that the writers could find. Oversexed. Violent. Bitchy. Obsessed with her looks. Temperamental. "Firey."

A more nuanced understanding of the character reveals, however, that Isabelle Lightwood might be all of these things, sure, but she's also a really fantastically drawn character who lives into the stereotypes and is so much more than their sum. Here's the deal:

A character who spends most of the first half of the season running around in glorified lingerie, Isabelle seems like she's falling into every trope about "seductive Latinas". But instead, her character is revealed to have a complex relationship with her own sexuality and how it's understood by others. We come to find that a lot of her acting out is a reaction against the pressure from her family to perform and put on a good front. Another amount is a reaction to her brother, who is so far in the closet Aslan is giving him a funny look. Isabelle owns her sexuality because Alec can't. That kind of thing.

But even that misses the interesting interplay of a character who likes how she looks and likes how she dresses and likes having sex and doesn't feel the need to apologize for it. While this sort of female character usually comes off as a male fantasy, Toubia so inhabits her character that I believe Isabelle is the acting subject of her sexuality. I believe that she's really really into sex and that she likes dressing provocatively and that she doesn't care what people think, until she does, and that's okay. 

All of this is great representation.

And it goes further. Yes, Isabelle is violent. Then again, it's literally her job to be violent. She comes from a long line of monster hunters. It's not like she was going to go into human resource management. By positing Isabelle's violence as largely a facet of her job, the show defangs the idea that Latina women are inherently violent. 

Even when we go to an alternate realm where Isabelle is still involved in "violent" activities, they're hardly the type we usually associate with stereotypes of Hispanic/Latina women. In that realm, she's a kickboxer and she practices at a gym semiprofessionally. Pushing back on those stereotypes.

Or how about this for an interesting character development: Far from being the "stupid Latina" stereotype we so often see in movies and TV, Isabelle is actually widely understood in the world of the show to be a prodigy and a genius. She is called multiple times "the best forensic scientist in New York", and she lives up to the hype. Sure, her lab coat is specially tailored to be formfitting and cute, but she's still a brilliant scientist who never apologizes for being the best.

Again, this is also true in the alternate realm as well. Only there, Isabelle is a talented and respected computer programmer who helped spearhead software developments that are remaking the world. So everywhere we go, Isabelle is a sexual agent who is physically active and badass but not unnecessarily violent and who happens to be a genius in STEM fields.

Not so much the typical Hispanic/Latina character once you dig past the surface, is she?

And that's the beauty of her character. She's so fully realized that you forget there were even stereotypes to consider. Her relationship with Alec is so complex and loving and real that even the show figured it was the most important part of the story. Her choices and emotional arc are central to the narrative of the show. There is no Shadowhunters without Isabelle Lightwood, and that's amazing to me.

You probably guessed it, but yesterday marked the beginning of Hispanic/Latino Heritage Month, and like we've been doing all year, that means we're going to spend the next four weeks talking about Hispanic and Latino representation in pop culture: good, bad, and everything in between.

I thought that Isabelle Lightwood was a perfect place to start because of the mass of contradictions we have to confront in order to even look at her character. And we've really only scratched the surface here. 

There's even more wealth to be found in examining the dynamics of a moneyed, respected Hispanic family adopting a white orphan. There's so much richness in the interplay between Isabelle and her mother. There's the fact that Isabelle's two love interests in season one are both men of color. There's the subversion of class and money expectations when it comes to the entire Lightwood family. There's a lot going on.

I wanted to start here because this is what we're really looking for this month. Not the characters who tell us stories we already know about Hispanic/Latino culture in the United States, but ones who forge new paths. Hispanic and Latino characters in fantasy and science fiction, in historical dramas and comic books. I want to take the next four weeks to look past the surface of representations of Hispanic/Latino femininity and masculinity to really get at what's underneath.

I think it's worth a look.

Also she is a cutie. Fight me.
*Incidentally, this is arguably one of the most casually diverse shows in young adult television right now. It also features Isaiah Mustafa and Harry Shum, Jr. in key roles and continually brings in interesting actors of color to play big roles, small roles, and everything in between. Major snaps.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

'The Raven King' and the Secret of What We All Really Want: Friends

Okay, so admittedly that title is kind of obvious. There aren't a whole lot of people out there who are going to deny that the thing we all want in life, or at least one of the things we want very much, is friends. But I'm not talking here about nice people who you can get coffee with once every few months and whose pictures you usually like on Facebook. I'm talking about how, deep down, we all seem to really long for transformational friendships. For the kind of friendships where you're a little bit in love with them all, where you can't just not imagine your life without them, but you can't imagine who you would be without them. In, like, a good way.

Well, that's actually worth mentioning: these friendships can be good or bad. That drive inside us to find lifelong companions can also lead us to invest in toxic relationships that ultimately hurt us a lot more than they give us joy. The fear of being lonely can lead us to do some really unhealthy crap. But I'm not really talking about the bad kind of transformational friendships today. No, I want to talk about the good kind.

Before I go any further though, I have to cop to something: I've actually talked about friendship and this series, The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater, before. Almost exactly a year ago, in fact. And while I don't disagree with anything I said in that article, I was never really satisfied with it either. I never said all the things I was trying to. So I'm going to take a stab at it, and maybe I won't get it all out this time either, but I'll be closer at least.


Today we're talking about The Raven King, fourth and final book in The Raven Cycle, and how it gets at the core of what we all really really want. We want friends. I've talked about this a lot before, actually, especially in relation to how this concept is at the core of the popularity of the Fast and Furious movies (a theory that I stand by), but it's the kind of topic that never really gets old. We are human and we are social and we desire friends. It's that simple.

And then again, like I said before, it's also not that simple, because I know for me it's never quite been enough to just have some friends and hang out every weeks and chat about our lives or have the odd deep conversation late at night. That's never left me satisfied. 

Instead, I find myself desperately wanting more, going too fast or too hard into friendships, or else finding my heart wandering elsewhere where I think I'll get the souldeep transformation I desire.

When I have found these kinds of friendships, they just make me hold even more tightly onto them because they're totally that good and worth holding onto. Because when you find these friends, these soulmate level, ride or die, feels like you were fated to meet friends, you feel completely known, good and bad, on a level you weren't entirely aware was possible.

It's scary and exhilarating and worth it.

The Raven Cycle is a series all about this sort of friendship, and The Raven King is where the story reaches its crescendo. So before I keep waxing all lyrical, let's get a quick background in the actual plot of the series:

Blue Sargent is a normal girl living in a normal town with her normal family. Well, if by "normal girl" you mean "girl who is prophesied to kill her true love with a kiss", and "normal town" means "homing beacon for the weirdest magical crap this side of the Mississippi", and "normal family" is taken as "matriarchal society of psychics". If you take those meanings as read, then Blue Sargent is completely normal.

The series starts with Raven Boys, where Blue is befriended (begrudgingly on her part) by a couple of boys from the private school in town, Aglionby Academy. The boys are on a magical quest to wake an ancient Welsh king from his magical slumber, and they're pretty sure he's sleeping somewhere on the ley line that runs through Henrietta, their town. Blue falls head over heels for her friendship with them, intoxicated with the joy of being one of the pack, of their quirks and complexities, and the sensation of knowing exactly who she is when she's with them. It's easy to see why she likes it.

The first book is largely about the boys and Blue discovering the breadth of the mysteries in Henrietta. They don't find the Welsh king, they don't really discover much of anything at all (aside from this one really really big twist), and it mostly sets the stage for the rest of the story, but it's a good beginning.

Because as much of a simple setup book as Raven Boys is, it's also a book that shows you precisely how all of these characters in the friendship need to be transformed. 

It's as much about getting the breadth of their personalities and flaws as it is getting the breadth of the story, and that means that by the time we get to book two, we are in. We are invested. These are our kids and we love them.

Or at least that's how it was for me. I really like this series.

The second book, Dream Thieves, goes in a slightly different direction, exploring how far the bonds that have formed between these characters can be pushed before they break. It's still about deep deep friendship, but now it's exploring what it's like for those friendships to slip a little, to falter at their first big challenges. Every character has come out of Raven Boys altered (some very literally, like scholarship student Adam, who struggles with his abusive family even while making a deal with a magical forest to be its eyes and hands), and Dream Thieves is about their attempts to figure out what their new states mean for their friendships as a whole.

I suppose it's also worth mentioning that each book is really about one character in particular, though not always the character you expect it to be. Raven Boys is about Adam, or maybe Blue, but probably Adam. Dream Thieves is about Ronan, the prototypical bad boy who is secretly an incredibly powerful magical being who can dream things into reality but who still struggles with his anger issues and his unrequited (sort of) feelings for Adam. Blue Lily, Lily Blue is about Blue, or about Adam, but probably Blue. And The Raven King is utterly Gansey's book, a whole volume devoted to the rich kid, king in the making, destined to die, effortlessly charming and also obnoxious figure who binds all the other characters together. Anyway.

Dream Thieves stretches the friendship and Blue Lily, Lily Blue tests it. By this point all the characters have grown into their new powers and understandings of themselves, but they're still trying to piece themselves back together in the new context, and Blue Lily, Lily Blue is about them working to be the kind of friends they know they're supposed to be. It's also about them failing a fair bit and getting it wrong and fighting and still desperately loving each other.

Which, when you get down to it, is a big part of why I love these books. Yes, they're about transformational friendships and love (platonic) that can last a lifetime and the kind of people you go to war for, but they also don't mince words about how annoying those people can be sometimes. Like, you can love someone and not be able to even imagine who you would be without them and still want to punch them in the face for popping their gum while you're trying to concentrate. I appreciate Maggie Stiefvater for acknowledging both sides of that. Transformational relationships might be magical and amazing and important, but they're also like any other kind of relationship in that they require a lot of work and a lot of patience to get through to the wonderful bits.

The Raven King, then, is where these friends fall back together like piano keys lining up for a perfect chord. It's where everyone is finally who they are supposed to be, where all the prophecies come true (but never how you think), and where they finally find and wake that magical king sleeping on the ley line, but it's definitely not how you expect.

The books have a lot going on in them, but the core is always the friendships, the relationships, the way that these four characters fall into and out of each other. They're about how the people you meet can radically change what you expected from yourself in wonderful and glorious ways, but also how you have to take responsibility for the way you change them in return. They're good books and if you haven't already, you should definitely read them.

So that's the secret of what we all want, at least according to me. I think we all want friends. I think we all want to be known, to have the feeling that we have been seen down to our very marrow and the person who saw us isn't judging or condemning what's in there, just seeing it and loving us anyway. I think we all want a friendship that's like falling in love but simpler, just the desire to be the person this person already thinks you can be.

I know I want that. I've had it and I want it still. More. Again.

There's this Nietzsche quote I love (yes, how horribly pretentious of me) that I think gets to the heart of what I'm saying here: "But all joy wants eternity, wants deep, deep, deep eternity!"* I think this is fundamentally true. When we desire friendship that transforms us, friendship that penetrates to the soul, what we're really looking for is a relationship that feels eternal. You know, one of those friendships that doesn't feel like it ever really started and doesn't feel like it could ever really end. You still have to work to keep it up, because those friendships are like any other and can fizzle out or fall to pieces, but it's got that brush of magic to it. It's a little taste of eternity in another person.

Aw hell, I've gotten all sappy here. Well, at least it's in a good cause. Look, I think friendship is woefully underappreciated in our society, and I think it's time we changed that. It's time we pushed back against that idea that friendship is somehow less than romantic and familial love. It's not less, it's just different. And it's beautiful for what it is.

The Raven King is about a friendship where everyone in it would die for everyone else in it, but more importantly where they would all live for each other and help each other live. I call it transformational friendship because by the end of this series, all our heroes are radically different than they were when they started. But not just different, they are more themselves. 

They have been seen and known and tested and loved, and in the end they're so much more the people they always were. That's the kind of friendship I think we're all after, and it's fantastic to see it articulated so clearly.

I think in the end what I want to say is really just this: The Raven Cycle gives us the shape of what friendship can look like, and without that shape it's really hard to find it on our own. I love these books mostly because I love reading them and I fell a little in love with all the characters along the way, but I also love them for putting words to the longing I already had. For helping me map out the hunger in my heart for friends who will make me more me. It might be horribly pretentious and sappy and goopy to say it, but I like this series because it gives me a picture of what it can mean to be loved, and I needed that.

So read The Raven Cycle. Read The Raven King. And look for the people who will follow you into a dark tunnel in the middle of the night to look for a Welsh king who's been dead for hundreds of years. I promise you they're out there, and they're worth finding.

*It's from Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and the whole poem is really amazing and worth looking up.

Monday, September 12, 2016

'Equity' - Finally a Movie that Lets Women Really Really Like Money

Money and I have always had a bit of a tense relationship. Maybe it's because I've never had very much of it. Maybe it's because I've never known quite what to do with it when I did have it. Maybe because I've spent so long being slowly crushed under the heels of people who do have it that I've grown to resent it and distrust its presence in my life.

However you look at it, I'm not great at money.

Oh sure I can save and balance my checkbook and budget and live below my means and get by on even a startlingly low income, but I'm not great at money in a larger sense. It makes me uncomfortable. The first time I got a paycheck for more than a thousand dollars, I held it so tightly in my hand that it crumpled and the bank teller could barely read it. I'm not comfortable around money and I'm old school New England enough to not really like talking about it, and Wall Street baffles and enrages me, so suffice to say that when a friend begged me to watch the new movie Equity because she was sure I would love it, I was skeptical. Deeply, deeply skeptical.

The reason for that is this is a movie whose relationship with money is pretty antithetical to mine. It loves money. It enjoys money. The movie itself feels rich (even if it was made for an impressively low budget). It appreciates money and what it can buy. It likes seeing the dollar signs tick upwards and it doesn't feel bad about wanting to get its profit reports right away. 

This is a movie that is not at all like me and my feeling of deep shame when I want to sneak a peek at my paystub during my lunch break on payday. This is a movie that has rubbed two hundreds together and smelled them just because it could.

Okay. Sorry. Getting kind of creepy here. But you know what I mean.

Equity is a new feature film that's slowly coming into wide release this fall, a film all about what it means to be a woman on Wall Street. I mean, it's not really explicitly about that, there are other plot points here, but that's the main thrust. This is a movie about three women, all of whom lead completely different and independently complex lives, butting heads, teaming up, and tearing each other down all over money. And it's great.

I really mean that. Whatever my discomfort with the subject matter going in, by the end of the movie I was a complete convert to this story. It's a fantastic script, the shooting is beautiful, the acting is superb, and it deserves lots and lots of awards, if for no other reason that it got me to care really deeply about the stock market for two hours.

The movie, which was written by women (Amy Fox, Sarah Megan Thomas, and Alysia Reiner), directed by a woman (Meera Menon), and stars women (Anna Gunn, Sarah Megan Thomas, and Alysia Reiner), is technically about how the lives of three women intersect over one particular tech company going public with their IPO. Don't ask me for more technical details than that, because I retained nothing of the actual mechanics of it, but that's the basic setup.

The three women are all powerful and complicated in their own special ways. Central to the story, and really our hero all throughout, is Naomi (Gunn), a middleaged Wall Streeter who's had to watch promotion after promotion pass her by because it "wasn't her time". 

Deciding that it damn well better be her time now, she aggressively pursues the account to bring tech company Cachet public, figuring that if she can open it high, make a lot of money, and be seen as a "rainmaker" by the executive board, she might finally get the place in the sun she's been after.

Right behind her, though, is her VP, Erin (Thomas), a hypercompetitive gogetter* who keeps pushing at Naomi to give her the raise and promotion she admittedly does deserve. She's frustrated with Naomi for not going to bat with her, and yet a bit sympathetic to how Naomi is constantly criticized for being to brash and not nice or fun. Erin's wild ambition comes to an impasse, however, when she discovers she's pregnant and has to figure out how to deal with having a baby she very much wants with the husband she very much loves...without giving up the job she also loves or showing any weakness in an industry famous for punishing women who dare to have lives outside the office.

And then there's Sam (Reiner), the go for broke federal prosecutor bound and determined to figure out who at Naomi's company is leaking insider information. Sam and Naomi know each other from way back (they were friends in college), but Sam has changed a lot since then. She's both more ruthless and less. She's married and happily settled with her wife (Tracie Thoms) and their two kids, but she's also the single most conniving and ethically loose one of them all, willing to cut any corner or toe any line if it means proving that one of these finance people broke the law.

As you might expect, these three women and this public opening make for a pretty intense story.

The story goes roughly like this: Naomi needs a big win if she's going to convince the board that she's worth bringing to the big kids' table. She decides to make her next win a public offering from Cachet, a sexy internet startup that's all about cybersecurity and being an "unhackable" social network. Erin is along for the ride while Naomi talks her way into being project lead, but as Naomi falters in getting her message across to Ed (Samuel Roukin), Cachet's Silicon Valley bro of a CEO, Erin takes the lead and becomes Ed's preferred handler, a blow for Naomi's credibility at work.

Meanwhile, Sam is convinced that someone at Naomi's company is passing on insider trading to a hedge fund manager, and she's pretty dang sure it's Michael (James Purefoy), Naomi's boyfriend. So she goes after Naomi to wheedle information out of her, then proceeds to tilt full speed at Naomi and the public offering like Don Quixote at a windmill, convinced that she's finally going to be the one to take these guys down.

Naomi doesn't appreciate Sam's aggressive investigation or Erin's subtle coopting of her client, but she's more concerned with her growing fears that Cachet is not as secure as it claims. A source in the company tells her that Cachet actually can be and has been hacked, which is instant death for an internet startup selling itself as the only secure social network. Only her career is riding on this. And Michael actually might be selling inside information after all. So, no pressure.

The movie is a tightly told web of perspectives and angles, all centered on these three women. But thematically speaking, it's all about how these particular women relate to money. Naomi openly admits how much she likes it. In fact, she gives a character defining speech about how much she loves money only minutes into the movie. 

She's a woman who grew up poor, who struggled her way through college, and who initially took a job on Wall Street to take care of her family. But she's also a woman who likes having her own money, who never married because, as she puts it, men don't like women who buy their own diamonds. She likes money, finds it comforting and safe, and loves to see the numbers climb higher when she does her job right.

For Erin, money means winning. The more money, the more she's winning, and Erin is a woman who really likes to win. There's an adorable and also terrifying moment early in the film when Erin gets up early to catch a flight to a pitch with Naomi, and her husband (Nick Gehlfuss) jokingly says that he'd hate to have to compete against her for anything. Erin, without missing a beat, snaps back with, "Because you'd lose." Stone cold and completely sure of herself. Yes, it's a cute moment, but it's also a little scary because we see who Erin really is. She hates losing. She won't lose. No matter what. And for her, money is winning.

Then again we have Sam, a woman who made her life outside the corporate world, working as a lawyer prosecuting bad guys. She jokes that she's a cautionary tale to young professionals, a walking warning that you can go to law school and still wind up poor. Granted, she's not really poor so much as she's not rich. But you can see the strain of money on Sam's life and on her choices. 

As much as she believes in fighting the good fight and taking these guys down, she also has a family to provide for. Her wife works at a nonprofit and kids aren't cheap. Twins are even less cheap. Sam's relationship to money is complex, as well it should be. She hates what it does to people but she desperately wishes she had some. I get that, I really do.

So yes. Equity is a movie about women and how they feel about money and it's a movie that finally allows women to really really like money without punishing them for it. That's a big step forward, when you think about it. A big and important step.

Look, whatever my personal feelings about money and the viability of anarchoMarxism, it's safe to say that the media has not historically been kind to female characters who openly admit to liking money. The majority of "money positive" female characters we've seen have been golddiggers and sex workers and loveless crones. 

Women who like money, we're told, are women who are in some way unnatural. They're bad and immoral and perversions of themselves. Women shouldn't like money, the movies tell us, because women who like money are bad people. The only women allowed to be rich and also good are women who married into it or inherited it, leaving us to understand that only men can accumulate wealth without also accumulating sin.

It's not a great paradigm, is it? So as much as money still makes me uncomfortable, I can't help but see the value in a movie that unapologetically examines the relationships between three very different women and a whole lot of money. I love that they're all morally ambiguous, that none of them is ever really the bad guy or the good guy. 

I love that they're antiheroes not in the boring Walter White sense but in the more complicated sense that none of them fits neatly into any category of hero or villain. And I love that when it all comes down, they're all comfortable admitting to how much they really do like money.

Equity is a very good movie. By any metric by which you can measure a film (screenwriting, cinematography, directing, acting, editing), the movie is fantastic. Which is why it's very interesting to see mainstream critics ignoring and even hating on this film. Why? What issue could they possibly take with it?

Well, I think when it comes down to it, an entire movie about how women can earn huge amounts of money completely independently from men, can tell stories where men are side characters at best, and then can make and finance those stories without any male involvement to speak of**, that movie makes some men uncomfortable.

As well it probably should.

But don't let them put you off. Equity is a good freaking movie. You might hate money, but you should go see this movie anyway. It passes the Bechdel test. It passes the Mako Mori test. Two of its main characters are middleaged women with active and healthy sex lives, one of whom is a lesbian in an interracial marriage. It deals openly with pregnancy politics, the wage gap, and age and sex discrimination at work. 

The only place where it really falters is in the lack of major nonwhite characters (Tracie Thoms is the only character of color with a significant role in the film). This is a good movie with interesting themes and a fantastic script about topics that interest the internet very much. Come on, guys. You know you're all over this.

Fundamentally, though, I don't want you to see the movie because I listed a bunch of progressive talking points it hits. I want you to see it because it's good. It's a good movie that hits those talking points simply because it's trying to accurately represent life as it really is for the women who actually work on Wall Street. And I know this because I got to sit in on a Q&A with executive producer Candy Straight, a Wall Streeter herself, and she said that.

I mean, she said a lot of things, like how interesting it was to shoot low budget and what she thinks happens to Naomi after the film and how important it was to them to have an ambiguous ending and the reason Naomi has a pet fish instead of a dog or something, but among those was the fact that much of this story is based on real things that have happened to real women.

And that's important to remember.

I'm all for movies that challenge our societal structure and the norms of Wall Street and our financial system existing at all, but I also recognize that there is a distinct lack of representation for the status quo as it really is. This is the first movie anyone can really think of, the first mainstream movie at least, that is entirely about women on Wall Street. And if you think back over the big Wall Street movies of the past thirty years, you'll remember with me that the majority of the women in those movies are trophy wives and hookers, so this is a big step forward.

We deserve our own heroes and our own antiheroes. Naomi is a little bit of both, and that's great. Awesome even. We need characters like her if we're going to convince the world of the simple truth that women are not better than men, not more highminded and unconcerned with money, not more inherently moral or good. Women are people just like men are, and some people, it turns out, really really really like money.

It's that simple.

Money might make me uncomfortable, but I want those sunglasses. Like, a lot.
*The dash/hyphen key on my keyboard is broken and it's killing me inside a little. I know this laptop is seven years old, but still. Ouch.

**Equity was produced and funded by a lot of people, men and women, but it was primarily funded, at least in the early stages, by a group of Wall Street women who wanted very much to finally see their stories told on the big screen.