“The Year of Blah Blah Blah” is such a useless label. Just because one sector has a good year does not mean the world is about to spin off its axis. Yes, when marginalized people seem to be having a good year, it is refreshing and inspires hope in a lot of us.
However, I look at this type of “progress” skeptically. I was so ecstatic to see the presence of so many people of color in the mainstream as well as indie pop culture this year. Yet, I have to step back and make sure I don’t get too excited before I start singing “A Change Is Gonna Come.” I’ve been disappointed before when things looked like they were turning around only to be hit with a reality that people of color still have to deal with foolishness when they become more visible.
Having said that, I still have to marvel at what 2013 brought in terms of pop culture. With Tumblr making me increasingly aware of fandoms, I see exactly how POC respond to representations of ourselves in film and television. And this year brought a few major pop culture moments for POC that got fandoms and cultural critics worked up in a lather.
My favorite pop culture moment this year: Pacific Rim. While the film was not perfect, it resonated with geeks of color in a way I hadn’t seen in quite some time. My favorite podcast, Nerdgasm Noire Network, devoted nearly an hour and a half to a discussion of the film with guest from the Cinemosity podcast and Racialicious.com. Geek Soul Brother included the review that finally put the film in perspective for me in a way that helped me understand why so many POC were excited about this film.
While Idris Elba was the only draw I needed (well Guillermo del Toro behind the camera helped), I did not know that Pacific Rim was drawing on an anime trope. Longtime anime fans knew this from the start, but I only learned shortly before the film was released. However, with a man of color as the director, another as the hero and a woman of color as the heroine, I definitely wanted to show the film some support.
I enjoyed the film and was glad to see some of the representations throughout it even though it does fall short. However, what I enjoyed more than that were the conversations taking place among geeks of color. Seriously, some clever folks came up with the theory that Attack the Block, another scifi film featuring people of color as the main cast, was the prequel to the film. The excitement did not die down after the film was released. Pacific Rim was THE film for the entire summer and the fandom still will not let the film die.
My second favorite pop culture moment of the year comes from television: Sleepy Hollow. The new take on the show resonates with geeks of color for many of the same reasons as Pacific Rim did. The show features well-rounded people of color including the show’s lead, a black woman named Abbie Mills. Sleepy Hollow actually made me live tweet shows for the first time because it is so much fun to watch and discuss the show with other fans like Black Girl Nerds.
Yet, Pacific Rim and Sleepy Hollow are only two of the reasons 2013 has been notable for people in pop culture. The end of the year Oscar bait season has brought even more visibility to black actors in the spotlight. Chewital Ejiofor, Idris Elba, Michael B. Jordan and Forest Whitaker have all given standout performances in the types of “prestige” films Hollywood loves this time of year. I’ve also been very excited about the growing visibility of Indian Americans like Aziz Ansari, the Kondabolu brothers and, yes, Mindy Kaling.
On another level, I’ve also been re-energized by so many black feminists/womanists in the blogosphere and on social media, especially Twitter. Some of their insight goes into pop culture, but the go so far beyond the pop culture realm to tackle other societal issues. These (mostly) women inspire so much hope and light in me and I feel the year would not have been complete without them.
My overall pessimism prevents me from thinking years like this will not only be the norm but also the start of something greater. However, I am more than willing to be proven wrong and find that we really are seeing permanent shifts in pop culture representation.