DISCUSSION: #POCbent and the Media

Discussion

Hello everyone!! So this last week I did something kind of interesting on Twitter…..I #POCbent it up. Now for those who don’t understand a word of what I said, let me break it down:

Over the last 500 years or so, there’s been an emergence of people wanting characters to be more diverse (and rightly so) and as much as I soooooo want that, I thought of the kind-of-flip side: what if characters already written were shown as POC in TV shows and movies?? I mean the Shadowhunters TV series did that with Isabelle, Simon, and Luke – played by Emeraude Tobia, Alberto Rosende, and Isaiah Mustafa, respectively – as have quite a few other book-to-show/movie adaptions, so why not do it for other books too? That thought was in mind as I, like probably a bunch of other people have, started thinking about all my favorite book characters and what would happen if they were POC hence the creation of #POCbent!

Note: I’m not gonna take credit for #POCbent as I’m 100% sure other people have done some variation of it before and/or may have called it POCbent. 

It’s kind of like genderbending when you take a character and imagine what they would be like as the opposite gender. With POCbent, though, there’s a range of possibilities as to what race, ethnicity etc they are which is kind of awesome! For me, because I’m Arab/Middle Eastern, quite a few of the people I chose are Arab/Middle Eastern. For someone else, quite a few of the people they choose might be another race/ethnicity. The only thing that I wanted to stay true was the vibe/personality of the character and their gender. Again, that’s not something that has to be done by everyone so if you want to go for this, certainly make it your own! If you want to see what I did, check out the following Twitter thread I made:

Quick side-note: I got all pictures from Pinterest

But That’s Not Canon!!!

Okay yes, having a white/non-POC character look POC in a tv show/movie is probably a bit annoying (is that the right word?) for people because it’s just not canon. Now for those who don’t know, “canon” is not something used to fire stuff at people (that’s a cannon) nor is it just a camera company, rather, in literature, it’s….

“Another word for official. Used quite often in fan fiction to differentiate between the official storyline in which the fan fiction is based on.” – Urban Dictionary
Basically, in terms of POCbent, it’s not official/real/true for the nonPOC characters in the book to be POC in the show/movie. Now what I have to say to that is, unless the character’s race/ethnicity is a huge part of the plotline and the character’s identity, why can’t a POC person be cast to play the character? I mean, personally, what matters to me is the person cast to play a character has to be able to embody them in terms of personality, dialogue, actions etc. Let’s go back to Shadowhunters for example:
In the movie version of the City of Bones, pretty much all of the cast was white and, in my opinion, they acted quite well. When Shadowhunters came around, more diversity was included in the cast and the acting was still quite well done. There was nothing taken away from the characters by casting them as POC because it was more about how a person played a character than anything else. Emeraude, Alberto, and Isaiah most likely didn’t get the parts because they were Latina/Latino or black, rather they got it because they happened to be the ones who played the characters the best and had the best chemistry with the rest of the cast.
So Then Why Can’t White People Play POC Characters??
Okay so there are several ways to answer this so I’ll do so half in a list, half not:
  • As  said, nonPOC already have their own space in media. In pretty much every genre of books, shows, and movies, there is a white person. For POC, though, we don’t really have that space; we’re still trying to create it for ourselves. It doesn’t mean people of colour are trying to push anyone out of a genre or anything, rather, we just want to make the genre bigger and more inclusive.
  • As said, “the stereotypes POC are stained with remain if a white person plays the character. We need to see colour as normal not a rarity.”
  • Many of POC’s stories are wrapped in their identity as a POC and their privilege (or lack thereof) because of it. Thus, it would just be wrong/uncomfortable, I guess, for someone to take your story and tell it themselves. Conversely, POC aren’t some superhuman-alien combination bc the colour of our skin is different than someone else’s. As Carlotta said, “Not every POC has a sob story, we are just human. Sure, some things may impact us differently but not every single thing we do is because of the color of our skin.” Basically, some of our stories are sob stories, others are happy stories. Some are about finding love, and this list goes on and on. We feel and go through things like pretty much any other person on this Earth so those stories of us being regular should be told too. We’re the girl/boy next door too. We’re the head cheerleader, the guy just trying to get by in school, the epic nerd, the party-er etc. If a white person plays those characters, then you’re just re-doing the last 500 years of media. We want our chance to be normal too.

Furthermore, there is the very likely possibility that in some way, shape or form, a race or cultural or religion etc will be whitewashed, appropriated or misrepresented. In terms of whitewashing, Ghost In The Shell comes to mind first. For those who don’t know about Ghost In The Shell, it is a Japanese manga that was turned into a movie and released this last March. The problem with it is that Scarlett Johansson (a white woman) played the role of the Japanese main character. Now whitewashing is when white actors are cast in the roles of non-white characters. Therefore, by Scarlett Johansson playing the role of a Japanese woman-robot, she was whitewashing.

In terms of cultural appropriation, I’ll explain via Coachella since it was just two weekends ago. Now, in Coachella, you’ll find many people who like to adorn themselves with jewelry and cool makeup and awesome/interesting clothes. In the midst of all of that are the (not Indian) people who wear a Bindi on their forehead, or they wear a feathered headpiece etc which is not right mainly because most people are just wearing a Bindi or feathered headpiece to simply wear it. They don’t understand the significance of the Bindi or headpiece. This, of course, can turn quickly into cultural appropriation, especially/specifically if you want to wear a Bindi but make fun of actual South Asian women for wearing it.

Now I’ll bring up Lindsay Lohan within this topic to offer a counterbalance. For the last year or so, Lindsay became interested in Islam and actually went to the Middle East to learn more about it. She started studying the Quran, learning about what it means to wear a hijab and just generally learned from Muslims. At one point, I believe, she was even gifted a headscarf and took to wearing it. That’s not cultural appropriation because Lindsay is actually taking the time to learn about Islam and understand it better.

Conclusion

I think the main point I’m trying to get across is that we need more diversity in books, movies, and shows. It would be a dream for there to be POC cast members playing POC characters, and I think it’d be cool to see diversity in the characters we see on-screen, especially for the characters whose race/ethnicity is not specifically identified in their respective book(s). A character that comes to mind is Hermione Granger whose race/ethnicity is not identified in any of the books, and is played by Emma Watson (who is white) in the movies and Noma Dumezweni (who is black) in the Cursed Child play.

Anyways, that’s it for the discussion….what do you think about #POCbent, and POC playing white characters and vice versa??? Let me know in the comments below!! Thank you, have a great day/night and tata for now!

“Show us a change with stories where people are cast into their specific roles, POC as themselves and white people as themselves. Give them the award that’s rightfully theirs without looking at the colour of their skin or the titles behind their names. Accept diverse stories that are written by POC writers without any ‘but we’ll change a bit about this character when it hits the market.’ Show (not some, some is not enough) tremendous support/effort that the space in the table does not exclusively belong to white people but also POC. And last but not least, hire more POC. Put them in the position with voices. Balance.”  @FY_Tapri

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