Last night while I was sketching out some character trajectories for a fiction project, I started popping off on Twitter–rambling mostly unto myself–about how Asuka Langley Soryu (featured in banner graphic of this blog) is one of my all-time favorite female characters of any media or genre. There’s a lot to unpack in that assertion, and much exposition required for those who aren’t familiar with Neon Genesis Evangelion, but the gist is: the bizarre and jarring turns of Asuka’s character development, and [SPOILERS] her ultimate derision of the (Japanese male) protagonist’s defining conflict, yield a uniquely searing redhead of poignant adolescence, bloodlust and feminism. Asuka is the product of many bold choices on Hideaki Anno’s part, in a notoriously cheeky plot, and in a genre where founding premises and direction face few creative bounds. e.g., a series in which at one point Shinji Ikari is swallowed by a marble Dirac sea.
That’s one end of the creative spectrum.
On the opposite end, the stultified extreme, our imaginations are not so spent, and we’re meant to nod (off) through 42, a by-the-numbers struggle reel about Jackie Robinson, which by osmosis we’ve all seen before: “You are not the only one with something at stake here!” etc etc.
And Remember the Titans.
And Red Tails.
And the like.
On Twitter this morning NPR’s Code-Switch team asked:
— NPR’s Code Switch (@NPRCodeSwitch) April 21, 2013
And I thought about this for a bit, and then I read Gene Demby’s associated piece:
And just like Red Tails, 42 won its opening weekend.
But does this this box-office-receipt activism actually work in getting more big-budget black-themed flicks made? The writer dream hampton voiced some skepticism about the rallying around Lucas’ Red Tails pitch by pointing out that Eddie Murphy, once one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, couldn’t get backing for his movies with black casts made even after he starred in two such movies (Coming to America and Harlem Nights) that grossed nearly $500 million combined. “Ignore Lucas’ thin hysteria too, the box office returns of Red Tails will mean little to the future of Black films or their budgets,” hampton wrote.
You also have to wonder if the push to support these competent but by-the-numbers historical stories and biopics — Ray, Glory Road, The Great Debaters, Remember the Titans, etc., to say nothing of this year’s forthcoming biopics on Nelson Mandela, Nina Simone and a long-serving black White House butler — might only result in demonstrating to movie studios that black audiences can only reliably be expected to turn out for $40 million book reports.
“Pricey” aside, formula-biopics and sepia throwbacks are hardly a gateway to any new creative terrain. The funny thing about asking whether Remember The Titans will help widen the black creative frontier in Hollywood is that Remember the Titans was released 13 years ago. If it took Remember the Titans and the like to nudge us toward Lucas’ Red Tails in 2012–to wit: “Red Tails sucked.”–then at best we’re being steered sideways. In any case, while one hugely successful black biopic may inspire Hollywood’s appetite for more, it persists that black and brown directors, producers, actors rarely slip from the gravity of such textbook fare, unless it’s to don a wig and snap sassy within the stale familiar scripting of our more light-hearted stereotypes.
Yet one day, if it’s not too much trouble, I’d rather be piloting Eva Unit-01.
In other words: Where are our Evangelions? Not ours, even. Rather, where are the massive and deliciously intricate plots that maybe happen to feature brown protagonists and baddies? I’m not saying they don’t exist at all, but that I can count the Denzels and Saldanas, the Spikes and Shondas on a couple hands doesn’t much sate the demand that I’m quite sure exists. Indeed, Donald Glover once whipped a popular revolt challenging the identity of Spiderman. And surely I’d pay to see Idris Elba take a live-action shot at Gendo Ikari.
Back when I was a teenager watching Eva, gasping rapt and lonesome in my bedroom, I rarely shared my love of the series with my friends. Anime just seemed so white; implausibly, indefensibly. But then, and still now, I guess everything is. Embarrassingly so, as art that does not require or invite my consumption, or even my existence. Cast adrift from the mainstream, black talent sucks its teeth, snaps its fingers, stage-whispers through apoplectic sermons, gets married, gets cheated on, gets divorced, alley-oops. Brown faces dot blockbuster backdrops, occasionally. Meanwhile white folks are all of this and then infinitely more, often lancing the surreal and staving whatever fantastic peril emerges from vast depths and heavens.
Between white and non-, we are long divided, and long delayed in what I’m convinced is the gravest civil rights cause of our time, the next great struggle: It’s time to integrate mecha pilot recruitment. If not in Tokyo-3, then at Lionsgate. Lest humanity perish by its insufficient ranks.