[Stitch Elsewhere] “Bright” Review @ Strange Horizons

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Bright’s entire premise is weak and so’s its reliance on an allegory for racism that fuels its major plot points. In Los Angeles, Orcs are at the bottom of the metaphorical food chain, with many members of the species ostracized and subjugated by humans and elves alike. (While there are other supernatural beings around in one-off scenes, they largely don’t figure into Bright’s black and white worldbuilding.) Orcs in LA, who are largely coded as analogous to Black people via clothing, imagery, and behavior, are collectively being punished for choosing the wrong side in a war two thousand years before the film began. Other characters—such as Ike Barinholtz’s Pollard—use the fact that their ancestors slaughtered and were slaughtered by Orcs in Europe during that war as an excuse for their anger.

At no point does Bright actually combat the racism inherent in the assumption that a race deserves to be oppressed for the “crimes” of its past members. In Los Angeles at least, as mentioned above (we only know about the treatment of Orcs there and in Miami, apparently the only places writer Max Landis has ever heard of), Orcs are second-class citizens who live in poor neighborhoods away from humans. Relationships—of any kind—between humans and Orcs are viewed as offensive, and Will Smith’s Daryl Ward is harassed by (white) police officers whom he worked with over having an Orc as his partner (even though Ward has never asked for a partner and other humans refused to work with Ward for reasons that aren’t explained).

Look, I’m not saying that I’m an urban fantasy expert or anything like that, but I know quality work in the genre when I see them. And Bright isn’t one. Bright takes some of the worst tropes in the buddy cop and urban fantasy genres, adds a stinking heap of a racism allegory, and then serves it up as an attempt at being subversive and cool. (Also, Max Landis is a mediocre writer at best and Bright is not his best. Also also: I hate him.)

If you like my Urban Fantasy 101 article series, check out my review of Bright: a film that basically doesn’t do many things (anything?) right at all. Urban fantasy is one of my favorite genres because of the sheer potential present in the genre. You can do anything within it. So why did Bright choose to regurgitate tired tropes and muddle the message of its own worldbuilding?

You can check out my review of Bright @ Strange Horizons!

Urban Fantasy 101: Sexual Assault in the Genre – Part One

Content warnings: this installment of Urban Fantasy 101 will be dealing with sexual assault in the genre. This means that I will be quoting and talking about sexual assault with vivid and graphic language largely pulled from the books that I’m covering. This includes descriptions of assault and threats.


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Urban Fantasy 101: Mythology Soup

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If you take an introductory anthropology or religion class, chances are that your professor will at some point bring up Joseph Campbell’s theory of the monomyth, boiling it down to “every culture shares these aspects of myth and all stories in mythology share archetypes that are common across time and space”.

And since the person telling you this is supposed to be an expert of course, you don’t/can’t question them.

However, the idea of the monomyth as it applies to myth (and the mythological creatures we see in urban fantasy series) tends to be incredibly Western-centric and therefore, the monomyth as Campbell developed it and as authors have adapted it, doesn’t apply to every single myth out there.

Case in point? The supposed universality of the vampire. Read More »

Urban Fantasy 101 – Southern Pride and Prejudice

Note: This installment of Urban Fantasy 101 deals with racism and slavery and was written in April for a grad school assignment.


 

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People – writers and otherwise – romanticize a lot of weird (and beyond problematic) shit.

From novels about Thomas Jefferson’s clearly inappropriate and abusive relationship with his young slave Sally Hemmings (who was his wife’s younger half-sister, by the way) to the way that every year we get a handful of media telling the tale of members of hate groups (like the Klan or Nazis) falling in love with the people they have been oppressing, sometimes it feels like you can’t sneeze without spitting on media that tackles history from a point of view that feels like it does more romanticizing than criticizing.

So for this installment of Urban Fantasy 101, I’ll be tackling the way that Southern Pride plays out in the genre and how writers need to stop romanticizing a period of history that couldn’t have existed without enslaving Black people.

I’ll be talking about authors trying to showcase what they love about Southern culture and how that often goes hand in hand with failing at being respectful to the Black people who were brought to the United States against their will and whose subjugation was integral to the development of “Southern pride”.

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Urban Fantasy 101 – Weird Ass Werewolf Tropes

Content warnings: This installment of Urban Fantasy 101 contains references to or descriptions of racism, homophobia, heterocentrism, sexual assault, childhood abuse, domestic abuse, other forms of discrimination. There are also tons of footnotes.


urban-fantasy-101-weird ass werewolf tropesWerewolves are everywhere in the urban fantasy genre.

Most major series – film and otherwise – count lycanthropes as a staple creature and always throw in some funky in-world backstory to make the furry beasts fit into their worlds.

There are werewolves in Harry Potter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lost Girl. The Underworld franchise – which is like Romeo and Juliet taking to a logical werewolf-y extreme – had its fifth installment (Underworld: Blood Wars) come out in January 2017.Teen Wolf, MTV’s adaptation of the Michael J. Fox film, is only now wrapping up its final season while the television adaptation of Kelley Armstrong’s Bitten just ended its final season in April 2016.

The paranormal romance genre (the flipside of the more “action oriented” urban fantasy genre where romance is supposedly supposed to be incidental to the plot) is so full of lycanthropy that you can’t shake a stick without hitting a werewolf.

Honestly, it’s more surprising to find an urban fantasy series without werewolves.

Which makes sense because werewolves are cool.Read More »

Urban Fantasy 101 – Allegory Overuse (ft. Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake series and JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series)

Content warnings: this installment of Urban Fantasy 101 contains very brief mentions historical acts of oppression (largely in vague terms), sexual assault and pedophilia in Laurel K Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, as well as more indepth references to anti-Black and anti-Native racism in the same series.


Allegory Overuse

There’s nothing wrong with a good allegory.

At all.

Unfortunately, there’s this thing that happens where writers use an allegory that mimics or calls back to real world oppression that constantly rubs me the wrong way

Keep in mind that I actually don’t mind the use of allegories in fiction. In fact, I think they can be useful. Some of my favorite works of speculative fiction focus on supernatural figures dealing with oppression due to what they are, after all.

However, many writers who use allegories then kind of overuse them at the expense of portraying nuanced representations of actual or “real world” oppression.

Whatever your reasoning, chances are that if you’re a paranormal romance, urban (or general) fantasy, or science fiction author, you’ve used an allegory that mimics or calls back to an instance of real world oppression.

However, there’s definitely a lot to be said about the very many authors who think that that supernatural form of race-based oppression is the only thing they have to do. They don’t think deeper.Read More »

Urban Fantasy 101 – It’s A Heteronormative World Out There

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Notes: Content warnings for brief (but nondescriptive) mentions of sexual assault, mentions of homophobia in the text and a linked article), and just general heterocentrism/heterosexism.


One of the recurring tropes common to the urban fantasy genre is the idea that certain species have one “opposite sex” soulmate that is absolutely perfect for them and when they meet (or, more commonly, bang) for the first time, all of the pieces slot into place and their biology shifts so that they can have babies.

This focus on soulmates (often just “mates”) in urban fantasy has so much wasted potential behind it.

Instead of opening the concept of “mating” up to queer characters or characters in polyamorous relationships, these universes typically center mating and relationships on heterosexual and monogamous couples (with the occasional “these two werebears are my mates and also brothers as not to squick bigots who want to read polyamory but not that kind of polyamory” thrown in just to be frustrating).

I’m going to use specific examples here with Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunter series (of course) and Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Mist and Fury (which is just regular fantasy, but still more recent than most of the stuff I usually reference). I’ll also be talking about some other book series and author examples (both positive and negative).Read More »

Urban Fantasy 101: Single White Vampire

This month in Urban Fantasy 101, we talk about the single white vampire myth and how urban fantasy authors (erroneously) equate vampires with whiteness.


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Why are so many vampires in Urban Fantasy fiction French (and white)?

I have issues with the way that popular vampire mythology and fiction remains singularly focused on white, European, male vampires.

I know that Anne Rice popularized the notion with her white French vampires back in the day, but that’s not an excuse or an explanation for the lingering trend or the genre’s reliance on putting French vampires all over the place – especially where no French vampire has ever belonged.Read More »

URBAN FANTASY 101 – GENTRY-FICATION

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In 2010, Black people from across the diaspora made up just over 32% of Chicago’s population.

But I bet you couldn’t tell that from reading Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files or Chloe Neill’s Chicagoland Vampires series where there are zero main characters who are Black and few recurring characters who are explicitly “of color” in the respective series.Read More »

Urban Fantasy 101 – Issues of Immortal Morality-

Welcome to Urban Fantasy 101, where we look at Dos and Donts along with discussions about good and tropes when writing Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance stories. Later on there’ll be themed book reclists (AKA – Required Reading) and eventually we’ll even include guest posts from/interviews with published authors writing diversity into these genres.


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It’s been a couple of years since I read the last Southern Vampire Mysteries book from Charlaine Harris or watched the show, but one thing that really made the series difficult to consume (aside from well… a lot of other stuff with regard to sexual content) was how the vampire Bill Compton was originally a soldier in the side of the Confederate Army.

I don’t know about you, but I find it extremely difficult to sympathize with or even like a character that fought on the side of the Confederacy. It doesn’t matter what he does in the present day story or even if they’re a current crusader for justice. They were a part of something horrible in history and chances are, that they weren’t forced into it.

I still remember watching those first few episodes of True Blood and just frowning at the way that the townspeople in Bon Temps were fawning all over Bill. I felt so uncomfortable. It wasn’t only the fact that he was a vampire in their tiny town that had them losing their minds, but that he was old enough to have fought in the Civil War – on the side of the Confederacy.Read More »