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Normalize NOT Giving Media a “Fair Chance” if It’s Already Failed From the Start

You can stop at the trailer, I promise.

Winx Saga, Sia's Music, Stonewall

So you say the trailer to [insert latest thing] was released and it failed to impress you? Well, what if I told you that you could just … not invest your time in that thing even if people are telling you to give it a fair chance? What if I told you that the 1 minute 30 seconds you gave it was enough? Hell, what if I told you that you don’t even have to do THAT, you can just say no, period?

Sounds easy enough, right? But some people get really upset if you decide to not engage in media that they think you should take part in, especially when it’s a work that features a marginalized character (or characters). As soon as you add in the fact that the story centers on someone who isn’t a straight, white, able-bodied man, the pressure to watch it increases ten-fold. Reasons for this include:

  1. You HAVE to support the work because it has [insert marginalized group] in it
  2. If this marginalized work fails, it’s YOUR fault, which means you don’t want marginalized stories after all

The conclusion, ten times out of ten, is that in order to form a “proper” opinion you have to give the thing a shot, otherwise, you’re being unfair to the creator who’s trying to get this marginalized story out there.

What all of these points miss is that, yes, representation matters, but the representation should be, well, good. A lot of times, the pushback before the thing is released is because, right off the bat, production is starting off on the wrong foot. The job of casting announcements, of trailers, of all the components before release day is to get the audience invested. If those things fail then it’s not on the audience to still give it a chance, it’s on production to do better.

I want to look at a couple of releases to illustrate what I mean.

The first is Winx Club. Sorry, I mean Fate: The Winx Saga. Let me just say from the get-go that I never watched Nickelodeon’s animated Winx Club series, so I’m not coming at this as a diehard fan. I am, however, coming at this as someone who can look at what Winx Club was and see that the Netflix live-action adaptation is the exact opposite.

There’s no brightly colored magical girl vibe with the Netflix take and it’s hard to fathom why they felt the need for this grimdark attempt beyond the irritating assumption of “if it’s bright and happy and girly then no one will watch it.” The same thing happened with the Jem and the Holograms movie back in 2015. It’s like these studios forget what worked for these properties in the first place, or rather, they assume it won’t work for modern, older audiences because, I dunno, they think we’re all a bunch of grumpy assholes?

It’s mindboggling with Fate: The Winx Saga because I SWEAR we collectively spent an entire year trying to cling to any kind of light we could find.

But wait, I say as I wonder what happened to the glitter filter, there’s more, as reported in this piece by our Princess Weekes:

Also disappointing is the whitewashing of Musa and the erasure of Flora. Straffi wanted the series to be more diverse, and Flora was designed with Jennifer Lopez in mind, and Musa with Lucy Lui. When the show went to America and there was discussion of the lack of Black characters (and one racist moment in the first season), the character of Aisha was introduced.

From what I can see from the casting, the character of Flora has been removed, and Musa’s actress, Elisha Applebaum, does not appear to be East Asian. Aisha, thankfully, is included and is a dark-skinned woman, but this means that rather than an even split of racial and ethnic diversity among the core six, there is now only one major character of color in the cast.

While it’s true Flora could show up in the next season, Musa not being East Asian is kinda set in stone, not to mention how we now have a first season series with ONE character of color for racial diversity, and honestly, I’ve grown tired of the one Black girl being the diversity ticket in these series.

So for me, this was plenty of reason to not watch the show. That hasn’t been the case for everyone, though, as folks were still championing giving the series a fair shake. But … why? If you want to watch it that’s fine, but why are you trying to get me to watch it? What’s going to change about the things I dislike if I sit and watch an entire season? The whitewashing is still going to be there. The single POC is still going to be there. The grimdark magic is still going to be there instead of the bedazzled transformations that the magical girl genre is known for. This entire thing is the polar opposite to a show with a cheeky theme song that loops the phrase we are the Winx, what else is there to say?

Still, some people will encourage viewership because it’s an all-girl cast, which brings this idea that if it doesn’t do well then viewers don’t want female-driven stories. But I’m not rolling my eyes at Netflix’s take on Winx Club because it’s an all-girl squad, I’m frustrated because of the casting decisions and the underlying message of “this would only be taken seriously if we made it edgy instead of glamour girl.” That’s honestly been going on for ages, the notion that all things deemed “girly” are weak, and the magical girl genre has been a strong AND popular contender against that.

And yet the conclusion ends up being that folks don’t want stories that focus on a particular group (this time adolescent girls) instead of admitting that folks just want better stories for that group.

This brings me to my second example: Music.

Music, the Sia-directed movie which I’ve covered a number of times, was released in Australia on January 14th and will be released here on February 12th, and trust me when I say that it’s not hard to see all the rightful knocks against it from the community it’s trying to represent.

The autistic community has said over and over again that this portrayal is not only misguided, but harmful. Music has been criticized for a number of reasons: the casting, Sia’s reasoning behind the casting (flip-flopping between “I tried with an autistic person and it was too cruel” and “I just wanted to work with Maddie”), and Sia’s hostile reaction to the very community this movie is supposedly representing.

What’s recently come to light now that the movie’s been released in Australia is even more cause for concern. There’s a scene where Kazu (Kate Hudson’s character) decides to deal with Music’s (Maddie Ziegler’s character) meltdown by restraining her. This is the absolute wrong thing to do, as discussed by the ASAN (Autistic Self Advocacy Network):

Restraint and seclusion can be life-threatening and are often incredibly traumatic. They are disproportionately used on students with disabilities and students of color. Restraint and seclusion are part of the systematic marginalization and removal of children of color, children with disabilities, and especially children of color with disabilities from school. This is also called the ‘school-to-prison pipeline.’

What makes this portrayal in the movie dangerous is that whether folks want to admit it or not, viewers oftentimes look at fiction as truth in regards to marginalized communities. What they see on screen is how they assume a particular community is, or in Music’s case, how to deal with a member of that community. A lot of viewers don’t walk away from a movie like this and go, “Let me do further research on autism,” they say, “That must be how it is.”

All of these reasons are why many in the autistic community are pleading with us to not give this movie the benefit of the doubt, but since it has Sia’s name on it, fans are insisting that it needs to be watched to form a “proper” opinion of it.

I’m not autistic, but I am someone who inhabits particular communities that have dealt with negative fictional portrayals by folks outside the community for … well… ever. But even if I wasn’t a fat Black queer woman who knows how my fictional portrayals can shape society’s view of me, I’m capable of seeing an overwhelming response of “please don’t support this” by the very community directly involved in this work and decide to listen to them instead of the woman who went from telling them to fuck off to saying she cast her lead out of nepotism.

Also, watching the movie may give those involved the idea that creating it was a good idea. We already know that they aren’t listening to criticism. They’ll see the views and assume a job well done based on the revenue they make, NOT on what the audience has to say.

So … why watch it at all? As soon as the trailer was released the autistic community told me everything I needed to know.

And so did Sia’s flippant response to them.

I want to take a step back and talk about a movie from 2015: Roland Emmerich’s Stonewall. Back then, I heard about this movie via social media, and wow did they utterly destroy it. Why? Because it made up a gay white male character as the one who kicked off the riots. The response was swift and loud, leading to the Advocate naming protestors of the movie as one of their LGBT Person of the Year finalists:

A disappointed public decried that the real, historical LGBT people of color (especially trans and gender-nonconforming “street kids”) who truly led the charge in the uprising were substituted in Emmerich’s Stonewall for a fictional white cisgender protagonist who throws the proverbial first brick.

While the chorus of outrage included LGBT folks of all ages and identities, the most biting critique came from the Stonewall veterans who lived through the police brutality and fought to birth the modern LGBT rights movement.

“It’s so disappointing,” said Stonewall veteran and trangender pioneer Miss Major in an interview with Autostraddle. “Young people today aren’t stupid. They can read the history, they know that this is not the way it happened.”

Major was correct. Growing calls to boycott the film contributed to a dismal opening weekend, when it took in just $187,674 at the box office. And while this year’s Stonewall protesters may not have clashed with police as did their ancestors, they ensured the moment is remembered by history as it should be.

Back then, from the trailer, we knew that this was not something to invest in. And, well, it worked, as the movie completely bombed and faded off in the distance. Emmerich’s response was less than ideal, proving that we were right to call out how bad this whole thing was before going to see it according to this write up by James Michael Nichols for HuffPost:

In The Guardian interview, Emmerich is, once again, dredging up old criticism of the film ― and thereby offending an entire community while doing so.

“My movie was exactly what they said it wasn’t,” he told The Guardian. “It was politically correct. It had black, transgender people in there. We just got killed by one voice on the internet who saw a trailer and said, this is whitewashing Stonewall. Stonewall was a white event, let’s be honest. But nobody wanted to hear that any more.”

Not only is this inaccurate, but somehow Emmerich is still managing to engage in whitewashing queer history almost a year after his film flopped.

Even worse, “Stonewall” wasn’t just a whitewashed mess. Emmerich also went on record to say that he chose a “straight-acting” character in order to appeal to straight audiences ― an inherently problematic idea within the queer community.

I want more instances like the Stonewall movie where a community says “no” and people listen instead of trying to get them to invest in it anyway.

Actually, I take that back, what I really want is for creators to try harder so marginalized communities don’t have to plead with folks to not invest in problematic media that’s mistelling their stories.

I think, what I really want, is threads like this one:

The entire thread not only gives detail as to why Loop is a good example of autistic representation, but it also features reviews from autistic viewers and goes into detail on how the creators took the time to work with the ASAN, work with a non-verbal autistic teen (who voices the character), and make sure the actress was comfortable throughout the process, going so far as to work in her own home instead of having her go to the studio.

I’m not saying this is the end all be all absolute perfect portrayal (that’s not for me to decide anyway), but I am saying that by seeing the measures that were taken and seeing what members of the community had to say about the short film, it encouraged me to give it a watch.

What I want, in the future, is more of a willingness to listen to marginalized communities when they tell you that the media they’re being portrayed in is missing the mark, instead of an attempt to gaslight them into participating in it anyway. That, to me, would truly be a fair chance.

(images: Netflix, Vertical Entertainment, Centropolis Entertainment)

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Briana (she/her - bisexual) is trying her best to cosplay as a responsible adult. Her writing tends to focus on the importance of representation, whether it’s through her multiple book series or the pieces she writes. After de-transforming from her magical girl state, she indulges in an ever-growing pile of manga, marathons too much anime, and dedicates an embarrassing amount of time to her Animal Crossing pumpkin patch (it's Halloween forever, deal with it Nook)