Group Chat Podcast: Taking Demands For Representation Too Far

This week's Group Chat podcast has a conversation about representation in Hollywood casting, along with a fake news quiz.

In today's episode:

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This week's Group Chat question: How do you decide what counts as accurate representation?

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The Group Chat — 00:26

Ahmed Ali Akbar: Here to help me sort out these ideas our culture Alison Willmore.

Alison Willmore: Hello.

AA: And entertainment reporter Sylvia Obell.

Sylvia Obell: Hey!

AA: Hey, how are you guys?

AW: Pretty good.

AA: So let's talk about this Jack Whitehall thing. People have always found queer characters in Disney, you know, there's like Ursula, LeFou in the live-action Beauty and the Beast.

SO: Scar.


SO: Absolutely!

AA: My personal favorite is Shang, who is in love with both Ping and Mulan. But this is the being seen as the first one that is openly gay. Does it take away from the accomplishment of you know, like portraying a gay character if a straight character is in the roll?

AW: I mean, I think that that has been an ongoing debate and I think is one that people feel a huge spectrum of feelings about, you know? But I think that what's important here is that it's the first Disney movie to have an openly gay character. And I think that there's a whole bunch of weight put on this idea that Disney, like this kind of huge feature in a lot of people's childhoods, is finally acknowledging this idea of queerness onscreen. And so that puts extra burdens on this character who may be, like, may be in the movie for, like, three seconds, we don't know anything about this character really, um, you know. I think in some ways you're dealing with this huge weight of history. And that is what makes it so complicated.

SO: Yeah. I think we're kind of like setting the rules as we go here. I think that's what's so hard about this question and just this issue that's being posed to studios now. Because I do agree that the importance is that we have these characters. These characters are being represented onscreen. I think that's first and foremost. I think it's great when you can have a person who's openly gay play a gay character. But I also do get that sometimes it may not work for scheduling or things we don't even know. Or even just the whole debate about, like, that and then wanting the best person for it... It's just it's so complicated and new.

AA: Yeah.

SO: And like, I just... It's such a hard conversation to have.

AA: So there's two things here that I think are interesting to note. One is this movie The Jungle Cruise is based off of a ride.

SO: Yeah.

AA: Like Pirates of the Caribbean... I don't think this Jungle Cruise stands up there who are waiting for these characters to come out...

AW: There’s a whole bunch of mythology there that people are feeling very protective over.

AA: I don't even think there's a book. Maybe there is, but it’s just like a ride when you go on a boat and like… So that's part 1. And part 2, that means that Disney is aware that people are looking for representation. Like whatever announcement it is, but — like, the reporting was a little muddy. I talked to Krystie Lee Yandoli, who covers some of the conversation here. It's a little muddy, where this thing, that it was the first openly gay character came from. So there is like some strategy that's also backfiring on the studios. Which is a really interesting feedback loop.

AW: I do not believe that Disney could not find a gay actor for this role. Like, if they wanted that they could have found a gay actor. I don't think it was important for them. And I think that if this is going to turn out to be the first openly gay character in a Disney movie... I mean, I don't know how much thought they've given to, like, the, yes, the weight of history here. I mean, I do want to point out: It's also, it's a long time coming.

AA: Yeah.

SO: Yeah. It’s definitely overdue and I can see how, it being a historical first role, could be emphasized by having that character. So like in that sense of being historical is meaningful and like necessary. I think I also, like, can't help but just think about all the movies, not even that long ago, that we never even thought they had this conversation about. Like even with Moonlight, for example. Most of the characters in Moonlight are not really gay men.

AA: Same thing with Call Me by Your Name, and, um…

SO: Love, Simon?

AA: Love, Simon. Yeah, sorry, I had the name jumbled in my head for a second.

AW: Yeah. I think that, part I think is always really difficult to talk about, is to be like how much do we think that we like this movie? Like people loved Call Me by Your Name, and so suddenly it became easier to forgive the fact that its two leads were not, did not identify as gay. I think that when you have something like this where we're looking at this from way out, you know, and we're looking at this come together. This movie has not been made yet...All we can talk about is, like, if this is going to be a landmark representation, what that means?

SO: Yeah, and I think that kind of speaks to the transparency of the process and if that's helping or hurting it, right? Like the fact that we... Like, if we would have known about Moonlight very early on and then we never got a chance to, you know, to have that moment… To have, you know, um, all of the actors... Those boys... They did such a great job, but you know, I just think that's always why I'm torn about even just how much say we... Because we're not... We're not Hollywood producers, we’re not casting agents, and we're not... We're not all critics. Alison is... But it's like, so sometimes it's like... I'm like, What do I know, to an extent.

AW: Well, I think that also, you know, we're getting to have this conversation now because it's no longer looked at... And it's, this was, you know, the case. It was accepted common knowledge not that long ago, that being an openly gay actor meant that you were not going to get work, you know, mainstream work. I think a lot of this is becoming like really accelerating as a conversation because there are... You are allowed to you know, like uh, Hollywood accepts that you can have a career and be openly gay now and you can be very visible about it.

AA: And so part of the actual thing of this... I'm glad you brought up transparency. I think that's like a really good word to talk about this, because this Ruby Rose thing too is also... If you follow the narrative, CW actually put out a casting call that this is a character, Batwoman, who is an out lesbian character and we want an out lesbian actor playing this character and when Ruby Rose was cast there was like a lot of backlash. That you know, my Batwoman is Jewish and lesbian. She's, like... There's so many lesbian actors who deserved a break, like, you know, Ruby Rose is gender-fluid or whatever... There's like all these, like, things that are sort of... So it's interesting how that transparency of, like, We want to do this right sort of backfired on CW. Sylvia, do you think this is just like a facet of stand culture right now that we're always going to be sort of like destroying things that we love? Or is there some, maybe there's some legitimacy to this too?

SO: I mean, I think it’s almost human nature to destroy things that you love. That’s a whole different conversation. But I do think that social media has even like enhanced this ability for stands, to put pressure on people, to make things not as good as they would have been. You know, like my mom always says like too many cooks in the kitchen is always an issue and I do think that like we are definitely in that time, where so many of us are like this, like I said before, it's absolutely not our jobs. But I mean I... So I do think it's important to fight for representation. And so I get our need to be vocal to that extent. But I do think when it comes to even, you know, sometimes people want to give advice about plotlines and characters...And it really takes a turn and it's like, I don't know. You know, because even with the Ruby Rose thing like you said now we're trying to draw a line between gender and sexuality and which version of the two is necessary in this way? And it's like so messy and complicated.

AW: Yeah, and I think that the whole issue of Ruby Rose not being Jewish aside... There was also this real feeling of like... Was she not the right kind of gay, you know? Like, you're not gay enough, like, straight people like you too much, all of this kind of like complicated baggage where I think what you really aware of is the fact that when there are so few of these roles still out there, that people need you to bring.. Like basically a whole communities worth of representation for like one character, which is impossible, right?

Like I mean the answer to that is we need more of these things so that not this amount of pressure gets put on like one person casting.

AA: And like you said it's sort of about quality as well. If people like a thing, like they think it's like high quality, then they might not care as much. And I think in this case which is sort of funny, it's like that she's not a good actor maybe? And have you seen the CW superhero shows.

You have people who are like... look good in super skintight superhero clothing, and I think universally people agree Ruby Rose is attractive. That's like how I even knew about her, you know I actually found out because people are thirsting after her basically.

SO: Yeah. She's super hot.

AW: We are fighting a lot about this idea of how much leeway there is between how... How much someone matches up to the many qualities of character might have and then how much we're like Oh, yeah, this is art and entertainment and we have suspension of disbelief and... It's acting right.

SO: Well like... So now like, only bad people could play bad people and good people... like, it's like, Actually no, she's not from California. She's from Connecticut... It's like, I don't know where the line starts.

AA: Part of what's interesting about this is also how personal it gets. When I look at this Batwoman thing. I'm like, well, this character actually didn't exist 10 years ago. I remember when she was introduced. She was, like, not even a character for 50 years or something like that.

And I think it was really cool that she was a queer character. I didn't even realize she was Jewish honestly, but there was probably a community of people for whom they really felt seen. And then I started thinking about Ms. Marvel, who is a Pakistani American immigrant who lives in New Jersey and is a superhero. And when they announced that like maybe Ms. Marvel would get a movie, some Pakistani American men, started like... Some of the celebrities like Kumail Nanjiani, Riz Ahmed, or Mindy Kaling, were like tweeting, We want to be involved, we want to write it... And people were pissed because they were like, How can you not do a Pakistani American woman? For once I was like, yeah, I think like Indians and Pakistani men are all over the place.

Like, where is the role for this? And I realized like how messy it can get. Because an Indian person could do the role well, like a non-Muslim person could probably do the role well, although they'll mess up the Arabic. So like what's that for you guys? Is there like a role in which you think about like where I need my specific experience where that would like sort of rile up your specific stan?

SO: Yeah. No, it's very interesting because... Like when you even mention that some of the earliest examples, what I can think of is like Jennifer Lopez playing Selena and that being interesting because she is Puerto Rican and that Mexican and you know, and then... And the black especially with Storm who was one of our first black women superheroes and it was Halle Berry who was lighter skin, but in the comic book Storm is supposed to be darker. And you know, they still never changed that to this day and um, I think most recently for me with Black Panther, as somebody who's Kenyan American and seeing like these African characters onscreen...Which is why I was really happy to see Lupita, who is also Kenyan, playing this character but I understand that like Chadwick is not African, you know, um, Danai and Daniel Kaluuya and Lupita are all from African descent, but it's like the rest of the cast, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker... And there was a whole conversation about their accents and even when Winston Duke who did an amazing job is not. So it was definitely one of those moments where I had to kind of be like, okay, yes, it would have been ideal if all of these people were African nationalities from different countries, but I also get that we needed the star power for this movie to do well and our representation to even happen. So for me it was, like, an easy balance in that case, but I definitely know that it was something that was heavily debated at the time.

AW: For me...So, as someone growing up half English and half Singaporean Chinese, I'd never really expected to get much my way of like seeing my particular experience onscreen, and then we happen to have Crazy Rich Asians coming out this week, which is actually specifically about Singapore and the Singapore Chinese community and also about like being Chinese American and this kind of... The difference between an American Asian experience and one that is in Asia itself. And it was accompanied by this really interesting kind of debate early on when Henry Golding who is the romantic lead and he's like a new actor, he's a television host, he was cast as the lead, uh, this character who's Chinese Singaporean. There was a lot of pushback because he's half white and he's half Malay, you know, and I think that there's a lot of interesting discussion there with regard to who gets to be Asian onscreen, and who gets to maybe be Chinese onscreen, you know, which is a whole other thing. The director Jon M. Chu was like very vocal about being like, "I'm gonna cast a wide net. I'm gonna look at actors of all different ages."

AA: Right.

AW: I mean as someone who is mixed, like, I definitely feel like... Yes, you're allowed to be Asian, and at the same time I don't think you can dismiss the idea that mixed actors have been again may be given more visibility. Especially I think men, have been you know, more... Given a bit more visibility because maybe they fit into this Hollywood idea…

AA: Specifically for Asians or just you think overall?

AW: I mean, I think that you can have this discussion like in the specifics of like different racial experiences, but like you don't want to be dismissive of the idea that like maybe being mixed is perceived as like giving you an advantage in some ways.

SO: Yeah. I also think there's like the whole thing about — with the lack of stories that are being told for these minorities, it's like we're limiting then the actors who can play it if we're doing that way, where it's like so few black movies are being made, especially at the level with Marvel, when it's a group of minorities who are all struggling to get roles in the first place, it's hard to then be upset about it. Like again with the Black Panther example, with these women were dark-skinned and we know how hard it is for dark-skinned black women to get these roles. So it was a moment where it's like, they're not African, but they are dark-skinned and we even know like that's hard for them. So there's always like this weird, like, who's to say like, you can do it, but you can do it when there's not enough for all of us.

AA: Right. I love the point you made about casting and the actors. You got to think about like how much of a hustle you got to, you got to get to…. Get a role which is a starring role. Like how many starring male roles are there like Crazy Rich Asians, you know? And there's a lot of pressure on these stories, you know that they have to be perfect in every way and a lot of the actors are just trying to make it, you know?

SO: Trying to get jobs.

AA: Yeah

AW: Right, and get asked to kind of like handle this conversation a lot. Which is why I think that it's the other part of the representation conversation. That is to be like, we don't want just people in these roles, but we know that they're going to be out there doing press for these roles and they're going to be out there, you know facing these questions. And I think that is part of it too like we want someone who can speak to being Muslim, you know, we want someone who can speak to the Asian American experience versus like an Asian experience. With all these things that like... We expect more from actors now with regard to…

SO: Yes, and it is hard because like, to your point, like Crazy Rich Asians. This is the first film with an all-Asian cast since when? You know, like…

AW: Since Joy Luck Club. 25 years.

SO: So like if all Asian actors have to wait 25 years for their specific country to be the lead of that story. Like, how is anybody supposed to have a career?

AA: Yeah. I mean, I feel that deeply as a Pakistani, because all the stars are Indian. I’m like I look at all the stories and I love them, but I'm just like, you know, like where are the Pakistani roles? But then like you get Kaling, Riz, and Kumail, all these guys in like these, you know small roles and I'm like, you know, you just take it when you can and everyone is just sort of playing that that game also of building a career. So, you know, I think part of what I, like, want to talk about here is hard to talk about this in generalities. But in each specific instance, I always think: Is the outrage productive? Where's this outrage coming from, and like, how can we channel it into something useful?

AW: Uh, I don't know. I mean, I think that in some ways this is a way for like people who feel like they've been unheard for so long, both with regard to representation and sometimes just with regard to fandom, you know in general, that you feel like you have this platform now, you know, you have to like creators hear you. You can affect what happens and I think that that is like a kind of heady thing for people to experience and there are positive and negatives to that.

SO: Yeah, I agree because I mean. Yes voice your opinion, but you know, no don't bully Ruby Rose off Twitter, period. I feel like we don't know when to draw the line and it's like also — Ruby Rose... Just again we talked about people not maybe knowing the difference between who has a say and who are getting that part. You know, that wasn't her decision to make. We should not be attacking her. If you really want to make a change you have to talk to the casting directors and the producers. Those people. But like the public doesn't just know that. The actors like you said are at the forefront of it, even though like that's not really their job.

AA: Yeah. And also I think a lot of times this stuff also is really loose with how power operates when it comes to race. Like it's a much different thing for, like, for instance, we were talking about The Hate U Give, there's like a lighter-skinned character compared to the darker-skinned character that is described in the book. But, like, you think about this Crazy Rich Asians thing. How often is like an Indigenous Malaysian person going to have a role? Like it's actually worse in a way to be in that position...Like he has less possibility of ever having that role represented because Chinese are so much more overrepresented in media. It's not a lot obviously, but it's still more. So like, obviously like, a Jewish lesbian character hasn't been shown that much but there's like a lot of representation of Jewish folks in media. So it's, like, complicated and it matters obviously. Like, it would be awesome if that was the case, but I think like it's like, you know, it's like applied universally. Like, everyone has to be the same but the power... Is different depending on who the character is.

SO: Yeah, and that was a good example of somebody who has faced this on both sides, right? Because in The Hate U Give she's being told you know that she was cast in a position where she was too light for, but in Hunger Games they were coming at her because people suddenly were surprised that she was black, and so she had to like— It's kind of like I could see her and being like, One minute I'm you know too dark and the next minute I'm not dark enough. But I feel for her as just a person. But you know, it's like where we...draw the lines there.

AW: Yeah, and I think we also we get into this weird feeling where you sometimes... You, like, think the internet is waiting for someone to like gracefully step aside, you know, to be like... That's what they want for Ruby Rose? Is for her to be like, You're right. I'm going to give someone else a chance. And you're like, she hasn’t had that many chances yet herself.

SO: You can have these millions of dollars. You can have them back. That was the house I was going to buy my mother, take it.

AA: There are so many lesbian superheroes for me to play… There are not that many.

SO: I will wait for this specific one who is gender-fluid — gender queer, I mean… I mean, so yes… There's moments when it is necessary but to your earlier point about culture taking it too far, I do think when we get to the nuances of it and this very grey area that sometimes you just got to, like, just let it go.

AW: Yeah. I think especially when people are like, Here's the person you should cast. And you're like, okay. You’re not the casting director.

AA: Um, so, Sylvia, I also want to ask you because you have a show now, Insecure, that's an aftershow. Um, like how do you feel like... Insecure is like also been a lot shaped by Black Twitter. Like it's been like positive on the show or like complicated it. How is that show dealt with that?

SO: You know, I think what many people love Insecure for and why we specifically felt like it would be a great show to create a Hella Opinions around it is just because Issa Rae has her thumb on the culture in such like an authentic way where she really gets it. And it was the first time specifically like black millennials who grew like, who are on social media and who like love Drake and Frank Ocean and, like, love, like, pregames and just all these things that we never really saw ourselves on TV... But the problem with that is that we get so attached to it because it feels so much like us more than even the other black shows that we see on TV, that then we're like, But where are the condoms? And it's like, When you ask for the condoms on Sex and the City? And not to say that we shouldn't but like it's because we're so attached to it that you feel like you're watching yourself and you want to be safe to yourself suddenly or like, you know, then now with this season in particular. It's like the removal of Lawrence's character played by J.R. Ellis and it's like….People have like created petitions, Facebook ads... 11,000 signatures, last time I checked on that petition and there was even a young man protesting outside of the New York surprise premiere "No Lawrence No Peace" and it was like he was locked up or something. Lawrence is not in jail. He was just an ex-boyfriend whose number is now deleted and it's like there will be more black men to represent you. And I think if somebody who even saw — because I've seen half of the season already and I'm not gonna give any spoilers, don't panic, but like, you know, the first episode has come out and Daniel's really taking the baton and that scenario.

So it's kind of like we're so used to only having one that when we think that person disappears, we think they're not going to be replaced, and I think that was really what straight black men, and all their issues, were going through it with Lawrence because they're like, But who's gonna represent my brand of fuckboy now? And it's like, Don't worry, men are trash, there is plenty of people who are gonna pick up the baton for you on the show.

We have a "Men are trash" segment Mondays at 9 p.m.

AA: Look at that transition! I was just going to ask you where people can watch.

SO: Yes, @BuzzFeedNews handle on Twitter we stream, and then BuzzFeed Entertainment on Facebook and on BuzzFeed News YouTube page also. We are everywhere.

AA: Great. All right, so I'm sure we're going to be having these conversations about casting for like the rest of our lives, but I'm really interested to see how this Ruby Rose thing plays out.

AW: Poor Ruby girl. Stay strong, sis.

Fake News You Can Use — 26:04

Katie Notopoulos: I'm here with Jane Lytvynenko and we are going to do the fake news quiz!

Jane Lytvynenko: Hi, Katie.

KN: Jane, what do you have for me today?

JL: Alright, three questions, as usual. Let's start it off. In France, street harassment is now illegal and carries a fine of 750 euros. Is that real or fake?

KT: Ooh, I love the idea of it, right? Like I don't like street harassment. I would like it to be a crime. Well, I guess street harassers like it! They like doing it for free, protected by, you know, the laws of the land. France has laws that are not exactly, like, in line with American free speech concepts, like the headscarf ban and it’s a crime there to deny the Holocaust, right? So could street harassment be illegal? Let me think. I want to say yes, it's real.

JL: Okay. Uh, you're correct. Congratulations.

KT: Oui oui oui.

JL: It is illegal and carries a fine on the spot of 750 euros. So essentially...if you harass a woman on the street, a police officer will give you a ticket right there.

KT: Wow, you know, they should make it so that the 750 euros goes immediately to the woman, you know? Yeah, right?

JL: You ready for the next challenge?

KS: Give me the next one.

JL: A 69-year-old grandma shot a masturbating cyclist who wanted to enter her home.

KS: There is a lot of good things going on here. Um. 69-year-old, nice. Grandma, nice. Masturbating cyclist. Now, what I like about this is the idea of someone masturbating while they're on a bicycle.

JL: A man masturbating on a bicycle, even.

KS: Cranking in your hog while you're riding a bike is like (a) not Road safe, okay? I hope he was wearing a helmet. (B) I'm just...for my mental image, it was a unicycle, to be honest.

JL: A masturbating unicyclist?

KS: I just— I only heard cyclists, I didn’t hear bicyclist. So, um, this has got to be fake.

JL: So it's real. So, this grandma Jean she opened fire on a man who, as she was taking out the garbage, sort of like stopped biking. It was a bicycle. I'm sorry, Katie. And sort of, like, unzipped his pants and started just going at it and then...Um, she went back into her home and he reached for the door and she realized she had two kids there. She had no time for this guy. Um, so she shot him. It's unclear whether she will be facing charges, but the man was arrested for exposing himself.

KS: Wow, so he lived to crank his hog another day? Hopefully he learned his lesson.

JL: But like hats off to grandma Jean.

KS: Yeah, don't mess with grandma Jean in Texas.

JL: Don't mess with grandma Jean in Texas. Alright, so you got one correct. You got one incorrect. Are you ready for the final round?

KS: Alright. Final round. I'm ready.

JL: Alright, this one is gonna be an audio question. It's the first we're gonna play the audio:

You'll never, never defeat the human spirit! Never! Never ever! And this is where we get tested. So rejoice the God almighty! Aaaagggghhhhhh.

KS: Now, if I know one thing, that is the voice of Mr. Alex Jones.

JL: It is Mr. Alex Jones, noted conspiracy theorist and man who said he forgot details about his children after eating a bowl of chili. Now, that was footage of him reacting to Facebook and YouTube terminating his channels. Now, is that real or fake?

KS: I mean, there's a lot of layers to that question. Um, I know that yes, his YouTube presence was removed. So it would make sense that he would be reacting unhappily. Considering it a test of you know free speech and God…

JL: The human spirit, you forgot.

KS: The human spirit. Was it real in the sense of that was his real emotions? Well, that's complicated. I don't know what's going on in the heart of Alex Jones, but I believe — I believe that yes, that was his reaction to the news that his YouTube channel was taken down.

JL: Katie, I'm so sorry. You're wrong. So this is fake. This is a video of him from 2016. Although really who can tell? And in this specific case he was actually angry about something to do with Hillary. It's unclear what, but somebody sent a tweet saying that it was recent and that got almost 12,000 likes, 3,000 retweets, but it's not. It's an outdated video.

KS: The outdated video. That's like a very, you know, a very tricky form of fake news because I feel like I see that kind of stuff a lot where it's like right thing, but wrong exact thing. Like the timing's off.

JL: Yeah, exactly.

KS: If you see something like that on Twitter where it's a video clip... Is there a way to tell if it's old?

JL: There's a few ways. One is you can take a screenshot of the thumbnail of the video and drop that into Google image search and then you'll see all the other contacts for it. The other thing you can do is download this really great plugin for Chrome, or another browser, called Invid. And essentially you just drop in the URL of the video and it cycles through possible thumbnails for you. It does reverse image search for you. And that's the way the debunking team here at the website — that's the way we verify video.

KS: I sort of assumed that you guys just had a photographic memory of every single Alex Jones video that you clearly have watched over the last two years.

JL: Katie, I have watched a lot of Alex Jones.

KS: Just sort of stored in a Rolodex in your mind. Then you just fully download there.

JL: So you got one out of three right. How do you feel?

KS: You know, I was really hoping to ace this. I feel like a little bit like I failed, but I think that through my failure I hope we all can learn.

JL: A lesson for us all. Thank you for having me.


This episode was produced by the PodSquad! That’s Megan Detrie, Alex Laughlin, Camila Salazar, and Julia Furlan. Our boss is Cindy Vanegas-Gesuale, and our music is by Chad Crouch.

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