Tuesday, June 23, 2020

America the Beautiful: One Nation

Today, we'd like to take a moment to address current events including the Black Lives Matter movement. In this time of great calamity, please keep an open mind and consider the perspectives of others—especially African Americans who need to be heard right now. Be the hero America needs and stand up against racism and for what is right for all people. Thank you.

Rick writes:

The Great American Experiment.

Land of the free. Home of the brave. The Arsenal of Democracy. The Shining City on the Hill. Lady Liberty.

As I write these words, The United States of America is undergoing unprecedented times, from political polarization, pandemic, economic upheaval, and strife in the form of protests against systemic racism.

It is kind of mind numbing.

Yet, America is always lurching in fits and starts into the future. It is my hope that each of us will take stock of our own hearts. Ben and I started writing emails back and forth about adapting Captain America from comics into film. We wrote hundreds of emails which we collected into the Myth Discussion Series. We covered a lot of ground from the founding of the nation, the Spanish Flu of 1918, patriotism, the meaning of freedom and liberty and more.

Captain America was originally created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby and published months before the attack on Pearl Harbor propelled the U.S. off the sidelines and into WWII. Cap famously punched Hitler on the iconic cover to the first issue. It was both a personal and political statement by the creators who strongly disagreed with isolationist U.S. policy while the fascist Nazi war machine slaughtered innocents in Europe. It was a strong moral response and call to action that struck a chord. I wonder how that Captain America would feel and respond to our current times??

Part of what propelled Cap in the comics was both his sense of right and wrong combined with a need to combat forces opposed to liberty and justice. He was supposed to be a fantasy symbol of masculine, take action American ideals. The obvious gap between the high ideals and messy everyday reality would be the fuel for the character.

Would Cap support Black Lives Matter? Yes. I have no doubt that the creators Simon and Kirby were interested in basic human rights for all - and not just some. It is apparent in their body of work. Kirby, in particular, later went on to co-create a gigantic chunk of the Marvel universe including The Black Panther. He honestly felt that powerful stories could be told using diverse characters because in the end all stories derive from the common human experience.

Writing and drawing fantasy characters with simple ideals is not enough however. While the current flashpoint is police brutality against black Americans, the list of injustices has piled up in all areas of American life including employment, banking, education, health care, property ownership, the entire legal system, and much more for decade after decade and century after century. Society as a whole has been evil in its consistency. Real people, in the real world are being crushed, devalued, and killed because white America has refused to give up its collective racist fears. I think this disconnect would keep Captain America up at night. The promise of America demands that each of us examine our own hearts and minds so that the ugly poison of racism can finally be purged. Do it now. Don't wait.

Black Lives Matter.
Liberty and Justice for all.
Do not look away.

Rick Arthur, artist/writer
Los Angeles
June 15, 2020

Ben writes:

We hold these truths to be self-evident

The way comics pioneer Dwayne McDuffie (1962 – 2011) tells the tale I’ll never forget. He said in an interview that growing up, he didn’t see himself represented in comic books. Black characters for many years, he said, were drawn as subhuman and that modern readers would probably think they were meant to be “gremlins” and not human. (I can confirm this, I had no idea.) He said it wouldn’t be until Black Panther when he saw himself reflected in the media as a hero and was an epiphany for him— something that would eventually lead him to found Milestone Comics as an adult.

Perpetuating stereotypes in media is one-way racism can still exist in our culture. But, media can also be used to combat this by promoting the reality that all people are capable of heroism. Before Dwayne, there was only one color used for all black characters in comics. This may sound like a subtle thing, but perhaps think of the old adage, was it not painting all dark-skinned people with the same brush? Dwayne created a new palette with many shades to reflect the many shades humans have in real life.

Milestone Comics did not set out to make comics without white people either in their books or behind the scenes, but to include all races. They did want to create new black characters for sure, but this was because they were, and still are, underrepresented. Does this remind you of the Black Lives Matter versus All Lives? The premise behind All Lives is that racism no longer exists. This is quantifiably untrue. But, the concept gained popularity in the 1980’s and was promoted by several white supremacists groups and political leaders. The misconception is still propagated today and with fervor using many of the same methods as the Fascism that Cap fought in Nazi Germany, which began as a Nationalist worker’s rights movement.

Dehumanizing people for their religion, their flag, or how they look is the key to creating a wedge in your mind— to create an “other”, a method of oversimplifying a complex people into a homogenous enemy. I’m sure Joe Simon and Jack Kirby saw this and they saw it in this country. Oh yes, Nazi sympathetic groups, calling themselves “pro-American”, existed here in the US and they embraced the anti-other rhetoric and held rallies, wearing Nazi-esce uniforms, and waving Nazi flags next to the Stars and Stripes. (I can easily see two young Jewish men reading about Isadore Greenbaum rushing the stage at one of the largest rallies in New York City’s Madison Square Garden, unable to stand the vile speeches any longer. Could Greenbaum have helped inspire Captain America socking Hitler in the jaw? There is no evidence of this, but I’m betting it was part of the zeitgeist of the time.) I say this not to draw attention away from Black Lives Matter, but to illustrate that even in this country, racism and fascism are not distant threats. Racism has been written into our laws, compromises with the traitorous Confederacy, and is built into our institutions and needs to be rooted out. Cap would do no less.

Dwayne McDuffie died in 2011, but his legacy lives on in two major projects being maintained and being built by his widow, fellow writer Charlotte (Fullerton) McDuffie: The Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity in Comics, now in its sixth year, and The Dwayne McDuffie Foundation.

The Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity in Comics (aka "The DMAD") is a prestigious annual award recognizing comic book creators, writers, and artists whose work, like Dwayne’s, promotes diverse human inclusiveness on the page or behind the scenes. https://dwaynemcduffie.com/

The Dwayne McDuffie Foundation is currently raising funds to continue Dwayne's legacy by establishing a non-profit organization to award academic scholarships for diverse students. The fund will also continue to keep Dwayne’s vision alive by managing and maintaining an archival website for research purposes, and applying on behalf of Dwayne’s fans for his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. https://www.gofundme.com/f/DwayneMcDuffieFund

I encourage you to support both of these endeavors, to submit works you believe in, support Black Lives Matter, help students, and search out other ways to support and promote inclusiveness. This includes voting in your local primaries and in our national elections in November! Let's end racism for good.

Thank you for reading and please be safe.

Ben Alpi
film director, writer
Los Angeles
June 20, 2020

...You and I, we are pressed into these solitudes
Color and culture, language and race
Just variations on a theme
Islands in a much larger stream

For you and me — Race is not a competition
For you and me — Race is not a definition
For you and me — We agree

Reaching for the alien shore...

"Alien Shore" from Counterparts by RUSH.
Lyrics Neil Peart RIP.