The Benign Racism Of Good People

There are more black British actors in heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your Idris Elba tweets.

Here are some things you may rely on: 1. The sun’ll come out tomorrow (go right ahead and bet your bottom dollar). 2. Someone, somewhere will helpfully assert that Islam is not a race, hence Islamophobia is “not real”. And 3. At least 76 good-hearted people will – independent of one another – nominate Idris Elba for some movie or TV role.

Luke Macgregor / Reuters

Over the last 15 years, there has been a marked surge in performative fandom. What used to be niche or “special interest” (read: known to a vast underground but pointedly unexplored by mainstream outlets) has slipped into the spaces it once never hoped to enter. People now talk about cosplaying and fan fiction – among other things – with an ease that brooks no argument and expects no query of legitimacy. Blame or praise the internet: Information is disseminated within seconds, and fandoms can organise like never before. The results are exciting, sometimes resulting in mass fan actions such as “save our show” campaigns, in which fans bombard studios with specific items from dead or dying projects (see Chuck and Jericho for a masterclass of the method) until their demands are met.

But the bedrock of fandom’s core interest is much more quiet and insular. Fans are enjoyers first and foremost, so a lot of fandom is preoccupied with discussing the object of obsession/interest. Forums, comment sections, and hashtags all have their parts to play in this regard — and fans do what fans have always done, i.e. they fancast their favourite movies and television shows long before, and long after, the studios do. It may be beyond our control that Tobey Maguire has been cast as Spider-Man, but who’s to stop us from imagining a world in which Peter Parker might be somebody entirely different?

The “somebody entirely different” option is one that fans really love. The earliest fancasting I ever engaged in was almost always like-for-like. So: What if Darkwing Duck were to be replaced by Donald Duck? Or what if Lark Voorhies (Lisa Turtle on Saved By The Bell) was also cast as Angela Moore on Boy Meets World? Inevitably, this simple exchange matured into something even wider – why not go the whole hog and race and genderbend TV and movies as well?


Miles Morales: a half-black, half-Puerto Rican Spider-Man, introduced in 2011.

In his essay about the recent centenary of the feature film and our reluctance to celebrate the anniversary, Godfrey Cheshire makes a salient point about race and cinema. “While it surely helped launch the American feature film industry,” Cheshire writes, “…the controversy and polemical fire generated by Birth Of A Nation proved a negative incentive for Hollywood producers, who in later decades scrupulously avoided racial themes and relegated African-American characters to background roles as mammies, butlers, and entertainers.” The bias against nonwhite performers and behind-the-scenes personnel has been present in cinema since the very beginning, baked into the industry’s very foundation. The repercussions are still being felt today. Fancasting that crosses race and gender lines opens up new possibilities for fans, and for the stories being told.

How thrilling it is then, to reimagine an infinite number of movies and TV shows in which so many talented (and often overlooked) actors of colour find themselves with roles previously reserved for only white actors. Imagine, as the Tumblr fan cast below does, a world in which our beloved Friends were black and Asian, rather than monochrome white. Or an alternate reality in which Fringe‘s Walter and Peter Bishop were Pakistani-American? Does it necessarily change the content of the final product? If yes, why? If no, then why not?

6. Which brings us to the issue of Idris Elba.

Suzanne Plunkett / Reuters

7. Specifically: Naming Idris Elba for every damn role in Western television and cinema.

The new James Bond? Have you considered Idris Elba? The next Doctor? I dunno, but I reckon it should be Idris Elba. A King Arthur film? Hey, what about casting Idris Elba? A Mary Seacole biopic? Guys, I know it’s left field, but have we thought about Idris Elba for the lead role?

I was reminded of this fancasting tic in the wake of Jon Stewart’s announcement that he was quitting The Daily Show after almost two decades. The nominations for his replacement came thick and fast, and alongside the usual suspects came the name of Jessica Williams, already a correspondent on the show, and a fan favourite.

9. Full disclosure: I joined in, as any good fan does.

If Jessica Williams wants it, I hope she gets the Daily Show presenting gig. She’s the best.

— bimadew (@Bim Adewunmi)

Turns out Jessica Williams didn’t want the job, flattering though she found the vote of confidence from fans. She tweeted as much.

But that didn’t stop one writer (who has since apologised) from diagnosing Williams with a case of Impostor Syndrome, the cure for which would likely come wrapped in a pep talk from the likes of Luvvie Ajayi and Ta-Nehisi Coates, among others. William – and others – did not appreciate it. And I get it.

Rob Latour / REX USA

What was a well-meant “I choose you, member of a historically overlooked and discriminated against group, to be a figurehead of change” became something a little less sweet-tasting. It happened with Issa Rae when the clamour about SNL’s black woman black hole became an issue a couple years back. It happened with #Donald4Spiderman. It’s happened with pre- and post-Oscar Lupita Nyong’o. It’s been happening with Idris Elba for years, even when he has articulated how “black James Bond” is really not up his street.

What is betrayed in these types of fancasting is a lack of imagination. An ignorance of anyone but whoever happens to be “so hot right now”. It’s understandable: We are wired to think of the highest profile; the person who features in the “Previously, on The X Show” reel at the front of our minds. And these are not necessarily bad things: It shows you’re maybe thinking about the underrepresentation of people of colour in the culture, and recognise that it needs to be addressed. And these actors are talented, charming, and capable performers. But it also suggests a shallowness of knowledge – the same actor(s), suggested for every role(s), over and over, regardless of suitability (on the grounds of age/physical appearance/comedy or drama chops/whatever, ad nauseam. It gets to be irritating.

It might not be the type of racism that kills, or shouts abuse in the streets, or discriminates against your name at the top of a CV or a rental application, but it shares the same seed. This is a more benign strain of the disease, relegated to a lower status because it involves pop culture, and its intentions are so fine. It’s subtle, but it’s subtly damaging. It’s also really goddamn lazy.

13. There are more black male actors than Idris Elba in this country; some younger, some older, some just as good, some better. They are worth considering for the real roles, as well as in fancasting exercises.

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Amber Rose And Jessica Williams Have Perfected The Clapback

It’s a skill that, when employed properly, can banish someone attempting to throw shade back to the Dark Ages. Use with caution.

1. There comes a time in everyone’s life when someone you know (or maybe someone you don’t) decides to step forward with a comment that is just plain out of line.

Paramount Pictures / Via

3. Maybe this tweet, text, or telegram was something bubbling up for a long time. Perhaps it was some fresh shade. Either way, you feel in your heart of hearts that it simply cannot be left unmatched. In fact, it must be shut all the way down.

5. Enter, the clapback.

Not to be confused with a garden-variety diss, a clapback is deemed by most as a targeted, often viciously acute comeback intended to place someone in much-needed check. Think of the clapback like a Pokémon’s counterattack that’s critically effective. One shade to rule them all.

The goal of the clapback is to Shut. It. Down.

6. Here’s the official guide to the art of the clapback:

7. 1. Someone attacks you.

“I was a stripper since I was 15 years old,” Amber Rose told Foxx. Please don’t worry about my sister who has a career & her shit (1)

— khloekardashian (@Khloé)

Here, we see Khloe Kardashian taking a side-jab at Amber Rose, who used to date her now-brother-in-law, Kanye West. The specifics of their beef are a bit complex, but know that Khloe has set herself up for a clapback by bringing up Amber’s past in a negative, slut-shaming connotation.

Why @msjwilly needs the biggest best Lean In group ever, via @TheBillfold

— shorterstory (@ester bloom)

And here, Ester Bloom, an editor of The Billfold, criticizes The Daily Show correspondent Jessica Williams for not “leaning in” and asserting herself as the rightful heir to Jon Stewart on The Comedy Central program. Bloom went so far as to say that all Williams needed was “a pep talk.”

12. 2. You gather your thoughts.

We’ve reached a crucial juncture. Here, you need to decide whether a clapback is truly needed. Has this person wronged you in a way that needs to be called out? Should this clapback be done publicly (read: on social media)? Are you prepared to clap back efficiently? Do some soul-searching. Once you clapback, you can’t take it back.

Parkwood Entertainment / Via

Sometimes you need to consult friends about a potential clapback. This is OK!

14. 3. You issue a response.

You’ve taken some time to think about how to properly respond. And then… you GO IN. This is your “Welcome to my parlor,” said the spider to the fly moment. You drag until there’s nothing but rug burns.

@khloekardashian I’m happy u brought up the fact that I was a stripper at 15….

— DaRealAmberRose (@Amber Rose)

Note the introduction to the clapback. Amber is “happy” that Khloe brought up her past as a stripper. Because NOW she is about to read Khloe her rights.

@khloekardashian I’ll be that lil whore to support my family like ur older sister is a whore 2 support hers. We’re even 💋 #MuvaGivesFacts

— DaRealAmberRose (@Amber Rose)

An expert clapback states your case…

I am a black woman and I am a feminist and I am so many things. I am truly honored that people love my work. But I am not yours.

— msjwilly (@Jessica R. Williams)

…and then rips your attacker to shreds.

No offense, but Lean the Fuck away from me for the next couple of days. I need a minute.

— msjwilly (@Jessica R. Williams)

Young Money

23. 4. Bask in the glory of your clapback.

If executed properly, there’s a chance your opponent will recognize their wrongs and back down. Who knows: you might even end up teaching someone something new! But don’t completely put your guard down. They might attempt a clapback of their own.

Just going to say this & then keep listening & learning: I was wrong. I’m sorry. I was flip & presumptuous, & I offended someone I respect.

— shorterstory (@ester bloom)

@khloekardashian girl just @ me. I really don’t want to read u to filth darling. But I will. Sit down.

— DaRealAmberRose (@Amber Rose)

Either way, your spectators will notice and honor your accomplishments. You’ve done it, Mama Rose. You clapped back.

I aspire to have a clapback game as tight as @DaRealAmberRose. Don’t 👠come ðŸ‘for 👠me 👠unless 👠I 👠send 👠for 👠you ðŸ‘!

— janetmock (@Janet Mock)

Jessica Williams’ clapback was exquisite, y’all. I need a figurative cigarette, a post-clapback aperitif, SOMETHING. *eats nutella*

— theferocity (@Saeed Jones)

Parkwood Entertainment / Via

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