Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Six Questions To Ask About A Story: #4

Here's the next installment in the Fire Escape's summer series of six questions to ask about a book.

Question Four: Who are the people affecting change in the story?

The book or flick might be set in another country or feature characters who aren't white, but are the problems solved by a Great White Knight or Messianic Foreigner?

Or, once again, as we wondered when we asked Question #1, is there a Magic Negro who saves the day?

Cartoon Source: Black Commentator


  1. Oh, whoa. I missed questions 1-3, need to go right on back to those.

    These are all DEFINITELY things I notice in reading YA fiction that includes multicultural characters. Thanks for sharing these -- can't wait to see all 10, because though I believe it's easy for me to avoid using these myself, I want to be mindful that I don't!

    Much like the cartoonist Alison Bechdel asks herself three questions before seeing any movie (1. does it have at least two women, 2. do they talk to each other, 3. about something other than boys or babies.), we're going to have to be discerning readers AND writers.

  2. By Bechdel's standards, then, BATMAN: DARK KNIGHT should be avoided -- two women with speaking parts in the whole flick and they don't talk to each other. Plus, a magical negro who saves the day on the ferry.

  3. Right. Note To Self: Forget the Batman Flick...

  4. I don't know about FORGETTING a story that fumbles. Can we still receive all that's right with it even as we discern the storyteller's mistakes?

  5. Anonymous1:06 PM

    awwh, I thought the criminal (magical negro) was great! Although I must admit I hadn't really thought about the fact that he was, I focussed more on his narrative role in the whole exploration of humanity and good and evil and stuff. I guess I just don't always think about what 'racial' group people belong to. For that matter I didn't really focus on the lack of women either, and I think that is partly because of the fact that in terms of main characters there are only a handful of people anyway. Also because the majority of people who weren't batman (and alfred) were police and (I know that this is a complex issue) there is always to an extent a tension between showing things as they are and as they could be. There was a woman who was a judge, a woman who was a lawyer (and batman's childhood sweetheart, and the girlfriend of the DA), Gordon's wife, a woman who was a compromised cop, and a woman with a very small speaking part on the ferry, and a woman with a small speaking part who was a ballet dancer and dinner date for Bruce (who spoke in a conversation where another woman was present and also speaking, and not about boys or babies, does that count?). I'm not saying batman is an affirmative action flick where woman are represented as equally powerful and good as men, but I think it really could have been worse. I think there are probably more issues to be found in movies where there is less in the way of explosions. Batman I would suggest is more interested in looking at human nature, good and evil, chaos and order, fear and courage, universal human traits and issues rather than divides between men and women. I think to an extent batman probably represents men and women as more the same than different, even though there isn't a female superhero. I'll admit that it does pretty poorly on the whole race issue though (the only person that springs to mind is the aforementioned 'magic negro').

  6. Anonymous1:07 PM

    woah, looks like I wrote war and peace there. oops.

  7. Thanks, anonymous Tolstoy, I appreciate your thoughts. I don't think being critical when it comes to issues like class, race, religion, and gender means you can't enjoy a book or a movie. In fact, the 'magic negro' in Batman was one of my favorite scenes, too. Thanks for your comment!