On Air
0:00
0:00
Open In Popup
MPR News

Roundtable: Self-proclaimed nerds on whitewashing and what to watch on the big and small screens

Share story

A still from 'Luke Cage'
Rosario Dawson and Mike Colter star in Netflix's "Luke Cage."
Courtesy of Netflix

Science fiction and fantasy fans have long complained about the lack of diversity in their favorite films and TV shows — in race and gender. These days, the industry appears to be listening. 

Marvel Studios certainly is, creating shows like "Luke Cage" and "Jessica Jones," and bringing characters like the Black Panther to the Avengers franchise. 

But still, issues of whitewashing abound — see this year's "Doctor Strange" casting controversy — and there are times when shows just get it wrong. 

Three self-described "nerds of color" joined MPR News host Marianne Combs to talk about the missteps — and the steps forward — they see across genres. They are fans of sci-fi and fantasy and are not afraid to examine the shows they love with a culturally critical eye:

• Shannon Gibney is a professor of English and Diaspora Studies at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. She's also the author of the young adult novel "See No Color."

• Bao Phi is a poet and program director at the Loft Literary Center. He may or may not have been wearing a Superman costume in the studio.

• Jonathan Palmer is executive director of the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center in St. Paul.

All three guests offered reading and viewing suggestions for anyone else looking to nerd out. And, for further reading. the website Nerds of Color is another resource for people interested in the topic — people from around the country contribute essays on movies, TV shows and video games.

Click on the audio player above to hear the full conversation. 

Shannon Gibney's picks

Shannon Gibney's picks
Shannon Gibney's picks include the new film "Arrival," which is based on a short story by Ted Chiang.
Courtesy of publishers and studios

1) Watch it: "Arrival"

When gigantic spaceships touch down on earth, a linguistics professor must help establish communication with the alien visitors. The film is based on a short story, "Story of Your Life," by Ted Chiang.

2) Watch it: "Game of Thrones" season six

The sixth season of HBO's adaptation of George R.R. Martin's wildly popular fantasy series catches up with the high drama of Westeros and the dangers beyond the Wall.

3) Read it: "Brown Girl in the Ring" by Nalo Hopkinson

In a chaotic near-future, Toronto has collapsed into chaos and everyone who has the means to flee has done so. A young woman, Ti-Jeanne, struggles to survive and understand her surroundings, even as the dangers of the city escalate.

Bao Phi's picks

Bao Phi's picks
Bao Phi's picks include "Train to Busan," a Korean zombie film, and a heavy dose of Octavia Butler -- both the author herself and an anthology in her honor.
Courtesy of publishers and studios

1) Watch it: "Train to Busan"

This Korean zombie film crushed box office records in South Korea when it opened last year, according to Variety.

2) Read it: "Parable of the Sower" by Octavia Butler

"Parable" is set in a chaotic future where the government has collapsed. The story follows a young woman born with "hyperempathy" — the ability to feel what others around her feel. 

3) Read it: "Octavia's Brood," edited by Walidah Imarisha and Adrienne Maree Brown

This collection of short stories by contemporary authors pays homage to Butler, an often-overlooked master of speculative fiction.

Jonathan Palmer's picks

Jonathan Palmer's picks
Jonathan Palmer's picks include two of Marvel's recent releases: the "Luke Cage" Netflix series and the reboot of the Black Panther comic series. Palmer also recommends the 1985 cult classic, "The Last Dragon."
Courtesy of publishers and studios

1) Watch it: "Luke Cage"

Netflix adapted Marvel's "Luke Cage" comic series last year. After a prison experiment gone wrong, Cage gains super strength, but tries to live an anonymous life in Harlem.

https://youtu.be/ytkjQvSk2VA

2) Read it: The "Black Panther" comic book series by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates is best-known for his award-winning book, "Between the World and Me," but he took on Marvel's reboot of the Black Panther character: a superhero king from the fictional African country of Wakanda.

3) Watch it: "The Last Dragon"

This martial arts comedy became a cult classic after it hit theaters in 1985.