Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The End of the Beginning (But Also Mostly Just the End of This)

Heya chickadees. You might have noticed that the blog has tapered off a bit in the past few weeks, despite my continued promises that I really would finish Hispanic Heritage Month with all those neat articles I had planned. You may have marked how that did not happen, and I know at least a few of you have wondered why. So, to dispel any worries or fears, I'm fine. Really. I'm not particularly depressed or sick or unhappy or in desperate trouble. The reason the blog hasn't been updating has been nothing to do with my real emotional state.

Well, not nothing.

Back in July when I put the blog on hiatus for the rest of the summer, I mentioned that I wasn't sure if I should or would come back. When I did come back in September, I said that I was so glad I'd decided to do so because I still had more to say. The truth is, though, that when I came back in September it was less because I had more to say and more because I didn't want this to be it. I didn't want to be done. As it turns out, though, I am done. I really don't have more to say. 

I found that as I was writing articles, I was essentially paraphrasing myself from one of the other literal nine hundred articles I've written. I could hardly motivate myself to keep going because, well, what more is there really to say? I like to think I've gotten my philosophy of pop culture consumption across to all of you pretty well and continuing to write when I have nothing to say felt like needless vamping.

Or, in other words, the reason I didn't want to stop blogging wasn't because I still had things to say, it was because I was afraid of who I'd be without this website. And that, it turns out, is a terrible reason to keep going.

So, as of now, Kiss My Wonder Woman is done. 

I don't mean that as a defeated tragic thing or even as an angry throwing in of the towel. I mean that Kiss My Wonder Woman is completed. I've said the things I need to say. Maybe someday I'll say other things somewhere else, but for now, I've said all my things. I don't have any things left. This work that I have done for almost exactly five years is, for lack of a better word, done.

It's easy for me to look at it and see it as not done, if we're being honest. I didn't finish Hispanic Heritage Month and I completely skipped out on Native American Heritage Month, which is kind of a bummer because I really do have ideas for articles and I had a whole thing planned. I never did get to a thousand articles or even finish out the year. I haven't recapped season four of Orphan Black or season two of Outlander. I never even got around to writing about 10 Things I Hate About You. But if I did those things, there would always be some arbitrary point ahead of me where I could stop. I stopped here because this is when I realized that I had to. I'm choosing to be satisfied with what I've done so far. I'm letting that be enough.

And, well, I know that it's not enough. I know that there's always more work to be done, and I hope genuinely and truly that some of you will want do that work. But for me this is the end, at least for now. I have loved writing this blog. I have loved talking to all of you every day about the amazing things we see and the horrible things that made us angry and the stories we all love. Thank you for that. I am satisfied with it.

It's a very strange thing to realize that you have to stop doing something objectively good because you've given it too much importance in your life, but I think ultimately it's better than letting that good thing consume everything else. I have loved this blog, and it has become a core foundation of my identity. That's why I have to stop: I need to know who I am without it.

As for what I'm going to do next, I have no idea! I'm taking a break from criticism wholesale. No more academic writing and a lot less freelance editing. I'm focusing on my fantastic new job for a lot of my time*, and I'm trying to get better about cooking for myself, seeing my friends, and generally being an adult human being.

But. A little bit of me pulling back from writing this blog is me deciding that the time has come to put my money where my mouth is. I have a fancy degree in creative writing that I mostly have used to poke holes in other people's stories. I want to take the chance, I am taking the chance, to sit down and write my own stories. For now I'm just doing it for me, to remember that writing can be fun, but eventually, I'd like to tell those stories for other people too. Because as I've said too many times to count at this point, the way the system gets better is for us to tell better stories. I don't get a pass on that.

It's hard. I've spent five years developing my critical faculties and those are not easily compatible with creative writing. But I think it's time for me to suck at writing in the hopes of eventually not sucking. It's time to actually tell a story, even if it feels scary or hard or lame. That's what I'll be doing with my sudden abundance of free time.

As for housekeeping, the site itself will stay up as it is now. I might go through and finally add the last of the movie reviews to the movie review list and things like that, but I won't be taking this page down or making any major changes. Kiss My Wonder Woman will be here for as long as I can afford the eleven dollars a year it costs to buy the domain. So, hopefully a while.

Like I said above, thank you all so much, chickadees, for being with me on this. Thank you for caring about stories and thank you for caring what I said about them too. I might not miss the deadlines or the hand cramps or the late nights or the weirdly stressful sensation of needing to finish a show so I could tell some internet strangers what I thought of it, but I will miss you. Thank you.

Thank you, and goodnight.

The pictures are completely unrelated, but they're very pretty and I took them in Iceland.**
*I'm not sure if I mentioned this, but I work at Big Sister Association of Greater Boston and it is a fantastic place to work and an even better place to volunteer. It's about giving young girls healthy mentoring relationships with women from their community and it's so wonderful.

**I took these photos on my phone. Which just goes to show that Iceland is insanely beautiful and phones are insanely powerful.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Strong Female Character Friday: April Ludgate-Dwyer (Parks & Rec)

If the spicy, fiery* Latina is the stereotype equivalent of a trashcan fire, April Ludgate-Dwyer is the smothering fire extinguisher foam putting it out. And I can say that because we all this is a metaphor April herself would love.

As we've been discussing on this month's look at the representation of Hispanic/Latinx characters in pop culture, Hispanic/Latina women are faced with a lot of frustrating, racist stereotypes out there in the world. Our televisions and movie screens overflow with oversexualized "mamacita" tropes while nuanced, fleshed out, complicated Latina characters rarely get to exist outside of indie cinema and TV stations where Hispanic audiences are the target (and largely only) audience.

So to break up all this infantalizing, insulting garbage frequently thrown at the Hispanic/Latinx community, this month we've been talking about characters who disrupt that narrative. The weird ones, the outliers, the male and female characters who push back against respectability politics, tired stereotypes, and hackneyed tropes. 

For Strong Female Character Friday we've looked at Isabelle Lightwood on Shadowhunters, a brilliant forensic scientist born into a long line of demonhunters, and America Chavez from Marvel's Comic Universe, an extradimensional superhero who happens to be queer, complicated, and unapologetic about her heritage or her sexuality. Today is the next chapter where we talk about April Ludgate-Dwyer, a weirdass weirdo who bites back at the idea of Latina femininity as one monolithic thing, and frequently just plain bites people literally. She's awesome.

April Ludgate-Dwyer (played by Aubrey Plaza) is the kind of character you can hardly believe exists when someone describes her to you. She has to be seen to be believed. Originally a relatively minor character in the first season of Parks and Recreation, the criminally underrated masterpiece sitcom about really really passionate people in local government, April rises to prominence throughout the second season, becoming by even the third season a competent foil for main character Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) as well as one of the main hearts of the show.

While it would be easy to attribute this rise to April's slowburn (and then really short fuse) romance with the shoeshine guy, Andy (Chris Pratt, both before and after he got super famous), it's more accurate to say that while Andy was falling in love with April we were too. For a character who loves to talk about how much she wanted all her coworkers to die in a fire, April turns out to be a singularly compassionate friend and a fantastic person. Most of the time. 

But the show doesn't give us April's character development by stifling her weirdest tendencies and having her end up with the cookiecutter life she so despises. Instead, Parks and Recreation commits to April's personality and history, bringing us a woman who can grow into maturity while still being the kind of person who puts on zombie makeup right before she goes into labor for the aesthetic.

Here's the deal: originally a lowly intern in the Parks Department of Pawnee, Indiana, April starts the show utterly disaffected and disinterested in the world around her. She has this internship because she needs it for college credit, and she needs the college credit because she's going to the local community college...mostly to get out of the house it seems. April is a character going nowhere fast and she doesn't seem all that bothered by this. 

And then something happens. Either the writing shifts or the light changes, and suddenly April has a couple of ambitions, small though they might be. First she gets a crush on Andy, which is hilarious to watch because it's like watching a really angry cat decide whether or not to maim a puppy, but really gives us an insight into her character. April might be misanthropic and sometimes cruel, but she really likes Andy, who is anything but. The question then becomes, Why?

The storyline could easily have fallen into boring territory there as April's earliest plots all center around her will they, won't they relationship with Andy, but the faint confusion of why precisely April likes him anyway keeps us grounded. Andy is the inspiration for April to get a full time job at City Hall (acting as Ron Swanson's assistant with the promise that she will be so grossly incompetent and hostile that he'll never have actually do government work), but he's never the sole reason we care about her. More, it's because we see this new, soft, earnest side of her in her pursuit of him (and believe me, she is the one doing the pursuing) that we come to realize how many dimensions April really has.

By season three, they're dating (it's not spoilers if it happens less than halfway through the show) and by episode ten of season three, they're married. April and Andy tie the knot in a hilarious moment of "screw it, we're young and in love and whatever", tricking all of their friends and family into coming to a fancy dinner party that turns into their wedding. 

While this episode is pure comic genius, particularly with Leslie and Ron (Rick Offerman) debating whether or not to let April and Andy go through with it, the real beauty of it is that it settles the question of their relationship once and for all. April and Andy get married, and then their relationship becomes the bedrock of the show, the most stable and functional marriage we see, a union of two people who are utterly bizarre but adore each others' weirdness.

Really, though, getting the wedding out of the way early actually means that the writers have room to explore April as a character without having to make all her plots revolve around whether or not she and Andy will get together. And because Andy acts as the little softening agent to remind us that April might love zombies and blood and videos of people being tripped but she also loves an earnest, simple man too, we never lose sight of the secret softness inside of April. Which makes her all the more compelling to watch.

No, instead of being a traditional sitcom love story, April's arc on Parks and Recreation is really about identity and growing up. For a woman who wants to rebel against society's expectations and the box she's put in, April has a hard time figuring out how she can be a responsible grownup and also the freak she knows she is inside.

That's a struggle I totally get. And it's also a struggle that we rarely see female characters of color, or characters of color in general, facing.

The seasons of Parks and Rec, though they focus on other characters more and really do follow Leslie Knope's rise in local and eventually national government, are also about April Ludgate-Dwyer growing up. She goes from intern to reluctant assistant, and when Leslie has to take a leave of absence to run for city council, April is the one stepping up to fill her role as Deputy Director of the Parks department. 

In season five, she becomes the Deputy Director of Animal Control, and when Leslie gets promoted to the National Parks Service in season six, she takes April with her. April might hate her job and people and everything, but she's also very good at it. More importantly, however, her slow and steady rise gives us a picture of Latina success that's oddly unusual onscreen: the woman who works hard and does a good job and gets promoted at an even and appropriate rate.

I hate how unusual that concept is, but it's true. April's rise is anything but meteoric, and yet she also doesn't struggle against storylines about how she keeps nobly striving and yet no one will ever give her a chance. I'm not saying that we can't or shouldn't have narratives about sexism and racism in the workplace, I'm just saying that it's oddly refreshing to have a character of color whose biggest problem at work is that she doesn't really like her job and has to do it anyway.

I'm getting off topic. The real story of April through the seasons isn't about Andy or her job, interesting as those storylines may be. Instead, it's about her coming into her own identity, becoming the woman she was meant to be, and realizing that she can be kind and weird and responsible all at the same time.

April Ludgate-Dwyer is, by the end of the series, the kind of woman you desperately want in your corner. Yes, she will talk extensively about the different kinds of fake blood and yes she will send you a Christmas card with a picture of a dumpster on it, but she'll also fly across the country to surprise you. She'll adopt thirty dogs when the animal shelter closes because she can't bear the idea of them being sent to a kill shelter or put back on the street. She'll earnestly and honestly express her feelings of respect and love, even if she refuses to make eye contact while she does it.

April's story is about a woman realizing that she's been defining herself by surface weirdness: by the obscure bands she likes and how she eats out of frisbees not bowls and hating everyone. 

It's about her looking at that and slowly, over time, replacing that surface level stuff with genuine depth of character. Sure she's still a deeply weird person, but she's less concerned with if everyone can tell just by looking at her. She's more concerned with whether or not she likes her life, and whether or not the people she loves are happy. And that's a really admirable message to send.

Look, at the end of the day, Parks and Recreation is an earnest show about the value of earnestness and public service and working hard and demanding respect and respecting others. It is, when you think about it, a deeply dorky show, and it shouldn't come as any surprise that the character who most resists this call to sincere dorkitude at the beginning has been completely won over by the end.

So. How does all of this relate to representations of Hispanic/Latina femininity? Well I hope that some of it is self-explanatory. April is established as a Latina woman from the very beginning, fully cognizant of that part of her identity and definitely comfortable with it (at one point she even goes to Venezuela and comes back with a boyfriend who only speaks Spanish). But she's also a goth weirdo, which is a personality type and character concept that the mainstream media rarely even considers as a possible intersection with Latina femininity, let alone a hilarious one.

If anything, what April gives us in terms of feminine representation for Hispanic/Latina characters is the right to be weird. The right to be whoever you are utterly without shame or regret. Actually, the right to rub it in people's faces and smirk as they look uncomfortable. April is a fully developed, complex, fantastically human character. Her racial background is part of her story, but it's also not the sum total of her background or her future. She tells us that it's okay to love your heritage and it's okay not to fit in and it's okay to push back against what people expect. 

And as far as stereotype busting goes, like I said in the first paragraph, April is a wet blanket on top of all those "spicy", "fiery" Latina tropes. She is sardonic, disaffected, and dispassionate. She loves her husband in an open and emotional way, but is never sexualized or even shown in any particular amount of undress. She is shown to be incredibly intelligent, but also never forced to be a respectable, proper young woman. April pushes back by just being herself, and it's exactly enough.

I think it's too easy to say that we should just make every character like April Ludgate-Dwyer. That wouldn't, in the end, be a pushback against Hispanic/Latinx stereotypes so much as an oversaturation of sarcastic, deadpan snarkers. But I do think that April is an instructive lesson to writers and developers in the television and film industries. If we learn anything from her, it's that we shouldn't be afraid of characters who sound too "out there" on paper. 

Instead, we should let characters just be whoever they are. 

*So apparently I have been spelling this word as "firey" my entire life and that is wrong. Whoops. As a professional proofreader, I should probably be deeply ashamed of this, but mostly I'm impressed at my own mental fortitude for assuming everyone else was wrong for almost thirty years.

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.