This past week, a hot topic in geek fandom has been X-Men: Apocalypse. No, not the movie itself, but the marketing of the film. One of the advertising billboards of the film displayed an image of Apocalypse choking Mystique and has caused quite an uproar among many people, which eventually led to FOX publicly apologizing for it's display. This topic has led to split opinions. Many felt offended that FOX would release such an image as advertisement in the first place, many of these people being women, while many others, mostly men, have felt this issue was entirely stupid and trivial.
For months I've seen this ad and I remember thinking to myself the first time I saw it, "Wow, that's a striking ad." Personally, I felt it was very powerful. Given my knowledge of X-Men, I thought it was a strong image to advertise simply because I saw it as Apocalypse, the new threat to the X-Men, overpowering the current Face of the X-Men, Mystique. While Wolverine has undoubtedly been the face of the original X-film trilogy, Mystique has been the face for this new set of films. She stood for mutant rights in more ways than Wolverine has ever done in the first films and she has been portrayed as an insane bad-ass, since the first trilogy.
While I thought nothing of it, I recall seeing a female friend of mine post a picture on Facebook she took of the ad and captioned it, "When you want to market your film but you also hate women." I looked at the status thinking, "Wait, wha?" My original reaction had me sighing, thinking, "Oh boy. Heeere we go." But soon after, more and more reactions from women came about as Rose McGowan released her thoughts on the image that blew the lid off this issue even further.
While I didn't initially see what the issue with the billboards was, I stopped to think about the image in a completely different context: instead of Apocalypse, a villain, choking out Mystique, the face of X-Men to showcase his threat... I thought of it as an image of a man choking the life out of a woman to advertise the film. Now thinking of the serious problems of domestic violence and violence against women, especially given that I help out with an organization that helps bring awareness to victims of domestic violence (Hunks4Hope), it would be extremely distasteful to see an image of a woman - lets say she isn't blue - being beat up by a man as a form of selling a film. It is unfortunate that many people fail to at least TRY to understand instead of being offended that others are offended about something. I personally felt a little annoyed at myself for originally being rather flippant of a woman's reaction and feelings towards this.
Around the same time this was happening, the quality of my content as the writer of (Heard It Thru) The Griotvine was being questioned by another female friend of mine in the Black Indie circle. The manner in which it happened both opened my eyes and infuriated me, for different reasons. Initially, I was annoyed at how this was brought to my attention, and felt it could have been been communicated to me in a more tactful way, especially given our connection and friendship.
The overall message made me pause, though, and made me think about something that I needed to be more mindful of, like the situation of Mystique being choked to sell a film: my male privilege.
Comics have always been seen as a Boy's Playing Field. Along with the fight for better racial representation, the battle for better female representation has been an ongoing battle when it comes to geek culture. The ratio between male superhero books versus female superhero books has always been embarrassing and continues to be embarrassing. A lot of the excuses Hollywood uses to downplay and release female led films are also something that irritates me. After much chagrin about Black Widow not getting her own film while so many other male Marvel Avengers have a solo playing field of their own, it's finally been revealed that there's a rumored Black Widow film in the works while Carol Danvers Captain Marvel is currently being cast for a Phase 3 release. It only took about a decade of Marvel films for a woman to finally get her own film. After much bullshit excuses in the past about a Wonder Woman film not working, Wonder Woman's appearance in this year's Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice was widely believed to have been the best thing about the film, despite the film's less-than-stellar reviews.
I've been a champion of diversity since I was younger, and this can be seen with what I write on here and my push to display creators of color and creators of LGBTQ communities. While I know how I feel when it comes to the release of my content and my research for more things to feature on the Griotvine, one thing that I know has been lacking, even before this issue was brought up to me, was my presentation of content created by women. Among my features, I have only covered two female creators of note in the past, Micheline Hess and Nikki Michelle. The rest of my interviews have in fact been men, and while on the surface that could be viewed as problematic, it was not intentional. Despite that fact however, I can't say my mindfulness of this problem has been on point or A1.
In my work as a comics journalist, I contact many creators and, in a lot of instances, carefully planned interviews fall through and don't happen. On top of that, I have a very random schedule when it comes to releasing content. I know I could do a better job in many instances and one way is for sure in being more mindful of my power to showcase more women in my column.
This isn't the first time my content was questioned but it did open my eyes. We as men can keep making excuses as to why something like equal representation of women in comics isn't happening, but we are so used to reaping the benefits of our male privilege that we don't often stop to ask ourselves something important: How must it feel for many women creators to not have their hard work be seen by the comic reading public, day in and day out? Many times we men see women's issues as something that may be ridiculous and trivial and don't take things into full consideration and full context.
It is usually our privilege that hinders us from seeing an issue first hand. And while at times it may seem like we are unable to help it, we need to do better in accepting that there are problems, and stop trying to silence people for feeling the way that they do.
I know for me how frustrating it is when a white fanboy posts something extremely irritating pertaining to racial or sexual diversity while undermining our struggle and feelings. Many with a certain privilege do so even when it isn't intentional. In fact, it's because of ignorance. But the best thing to do is pause, take a step back, listen, and try to be empathetic. We as individuals shouldn't have the right to tell another person that they have no place to be offended if something actually offends them. If a certain group of people finds something offensive, then it is an offense. It may not be offensive to us, or the people with a particular privilege, but that doesn't mean it isn't problematic, or that we can't try to be understanding and show support.
*Special thanks to Micheline Hess