Jason Sperber is a stay-at-home-dad of 2 daughters, a writer, and a professional ice cream taster in Bakersfield, California. Once upon a time, he was an OG dadblogger at daddy in a strange land and co-founded Rice Daddies, the seminal group blog by Asian American dads. He is a co-founding writer of, and is the resident hapa Trekkie at, The Nerds Of Color. Follow him on Twitter at @dad_strangeland and on Instagram at @jasonsperber.
This was supposed to be a different kind of article.
Two weeks ago, The Nerds of Color youth correspondents and their parental units were invited to attend the premiere screening party for Disney Jr.’s landmark new animated series, Mira Royal Detective (premiering on Disney Jr. today in the United States and India) and interview the cast of voice actors from the South Asian diaspora on the red (or rather blue) carpet at Disney’s Burbank studios. It was a celebration of diversity and community, of difference and commonality, full of music and laughter, of children of all colors and artists and craftspeople from all parts of Hollywood joining together to marvel that this milestone of representation was finally on-screen.
As a multiracial Asian American parent raising multiracial Asian American daughters in a media landscape much different from the one in which I grew up, I often think about how the images and role models, both fictional and real, to which they have access may shape their imaginations, aspirations, and ideas of what is possible. The decades-long discourse around diversity, and the lack thereof, in children’s literature and media, often starts with the idea of the importance of mirrors in which children can see themselves, their worlds, and their life experiences reflected back to them, especially in the form of textual and multimedia representations both performed and created by people like them. But more and more, as my children get older and become able to both converse with texts as fans and critics and become creators and producers of texts in their own right, I find myself thinking about the need to go beyond reflective mirrors or even windows through which different possibilities may be glimpsed. We need doorways through which we can step to create new realities. This may seem a slight distinction, but it’s one whose importance I’m learning from my children day by day.
A lot of people of color of my generation who are passionate about diversity and representation in the media tend to point to the media we consumed as children as the reason why — to the absences, omissions, and misrepresentations, and to the token presences we latched onto like lifelines. Today, our childhood experiences are ever-present motivators in our lives as fans, consumers, and creators in our own right, trying to redress past wrongs by ensuring the existence of the mirrors, windows, and doorways we were denied years before.
As a father watching contemporary media aimed at kids, tweens, and teens with my own tween and teen daughters, I’m slowly getting the hopeful feeling that their future will be different — or, if it isn’t, there will be hell to pay. That’s not to say that there isn’t vast room for improvement — we haven’t solved it, not by a long shot — but the energy, the diversity, the mere and sheer presence in the media world with which my children interact and which they take for granted as normal is so far from what we grew up with, and so close to what we wish the media landscape at large looked like, that I can’t help but be a little optimistic.
What if, instead of humans not believing in Bigfoot or the Abominable Snowman, it was the other way around? That’s the surface premise of Warner Brothers Animation’s Smallfoot, opening September 28, and if the humor inherent in that flip-the-script premise, plus amazing computer animation, a star-studded voice cast, and a bunch of songs by Broadway veterans, weren’t enough to make this the rare family film that family members of all ages can actually enjoy together, it gets a little deep, too.
As a geek parent, I, for the most part, have been unsuccessful in passing on my enthusiasms to my teen and tween daughters. Sure, my eldest is now a confirmed Potterhead, but only years after her mother and I bequeathed her our books, which she refused to read because they were ours. She discovered and fell in love with Stranger Things on her own, too, which I guess is what works with her — if we’d told her to watch it, maybe she wouldn’t have listened. Her younger sister is a bit more open to my suggestions, and loves anything with magic and the fantastic, and she happily displays my gifts of Pop! figures of strong female characters on her shelf. However, she scares very, very easily, so attempts to watch Star Wars movies, for example, are interrupted by frequents runs out of the room or outright refusals, no matter how much likes likes the characters.
First things first: Pan — opening in U.S. theaters this weekend — is a colorful, action-packed PG-13 reimagining of the origins of Peter Pan and his relationships with and to Captain Hook, Tiger Lily, and Neverland as we know them through J.M. Barrie’s play and novel and their myriad subsequent Broadway, Disney, and Hollywood (re)interpretations.
My daughters, ages 11 and 6, enjoyed the film, and the 6-year-old, who often asks to leave the theater during intense or “scary” action sequences, made it through with only a bit of parental ear-covering during loud bits. The world-building and -design and the effects were beautiful and well-done, with visual call-backs to many fantasy, science fiction, and action films that parents will recognize fondly (the Mad Max films and Avatar being just an example) and original effects like giant bubbles of water containing aquatic life floating in the sky that I will remember for a while. But it’s the twists, and the questions and consequences they bring up, that I want to talk about now. So from here on in, SPOILERS AHEAD.
I’m sure that by now you’ve seen the video in which young Jathan Muhar answers the perennial graduation-time question of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” with an answer to warm any NOC’s heart. He wanted to be Batman. [Ed.note:I guess kindergarteners are a superstitious, cowardly lot. Also, somebody should warn the kid’s parents to never walk down any dark alleys at night. Just sayin’.]
In one short day, it’s been everywhere from Break.com to Gawker to The Huffington Post to the Facebook page of the Ellen DeGeneres Show. But I saw it before it went viral — I saw it live because my 5-year-old daughter was a classmate of his, graduating with him this past Wednesday.
I took my 9- and 5-year-old daughters to see The LEGO Movie on the second day it was out, and all three of us loved it. It is a true family film, one that can be enjoyed by different age groups at different levels — kids will love the humor, the action, that song they won’t stop singing once they get home, and, hey, it’s LEGO, while their parents will appreciate all the references to the kits and playsets of their childhoods, the inside jokes (ones that stick in my mind include the bearded fantasy wizard confusion, needy Green Lantern, Morgan Freeman and Liam Neeson playing parodies of their archetypal screen personas, and, of course, Batman and his song), and the amazingly detailed art and animation. It is also more subversive and heartwarming than you’d expect an hour-and-a-half-long corporate toy commercial could ever be.
In honor of The Nerds of Color’s first Halloween, this week’s School of Hard NOCs features our own little NOCs in Training in Halloween costumes past and present. We’ll forgo any identifying information to protect the innocent (inasmuch as we can do so while acknowledging that we are both dressing our children in geeky costumes and posting their pictures in said costumes online), but astute readers can probably figure out which younglings belong to which NOC.
To whet your appetite, we wanted share our favorite Halloween-themed commercial that proves the old adage that the NOC family that dresses in themed costumes and trick-or-treats together stays awesome together; click on the “more” link below that to see our own kids (both human and non-) in costume. From our families to yours, Happy Halloween!
The Nerds of Color collective is proud to be host to such an amazing group of talented creators, for not only are we fans, but among us are writers, artists, and musicians who distill their love for genre culture into new creations, continuing the dialogue and moving the culture forward. Today, as we close out #LitWeekNOC, our week-long look at issues of diversity in written speculative fiction, we want to recognize our talented colleagues. So go read these books!
The flip side of the discussion of opening up the speculative fiction genres to more writers of color telling stories about characters of color is the phenomenon of white writers employing characters of color. Such works are not automatically or inherently problematic when done sensitively and skillfully; indeed, the diversification of the worlds of white creators to reflect the real diversity of our own is necessary. Speculative fiction abounds with examples both bad, like the racial allegories of Tolkien‘s Middle Earth, and good, like Le Guin’s Earthsea series, Stephenson’s Snow Crash, or Gaiman’s Anansi Boys.
As the father of two daughters of color, finding reading material and other media that both reflect back at them and reflect the wider, diverse world of which they are a part is important to me. The discussion around what kind of stories get told about what kind of characters and who gets to tell them is, sadly, not relegated to the realm of speculative fiction literature or literary fiction. The dismal state of affairs in the world of children’s literature was recently put in stark relief by the good people at Lee and Low Books, whose tagline is “About Everyone. For Everyone.”
While this blog regularly gives voice(s) to the perspectives of self-proclaimed nerds of color on speculative media cinematic, televisual, animated, illustrated, and digitally interactive, we can’t forget that the pop-cultural expanse of fantastic worlds and stories we subsume under the rubrics of science fiction and fantasy, or speculative fiction more inclusively, or even nerd or geek culture more broadly, have their roots in the written. And so, this week on The Nerds of Color, we celebrate the written word. Literature. Books.
Fox’s Sleepy Hollow premiered on Monday, the first new speculative fiction show of the fall television season. We discussed our anticipation of the supernatural buddy cop drama on the second episode of Hard N.O.C. Life, focusing on the rarity of its black female lead. Here, with some minor spoilers, are my first impressions.
It seems that Spock and his mixed-species brethren and sistren haven’t served as multiracial muses only to me and fellow NOCClaire. Even during the last year of its original television run, just a year after the landmark Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court case legalized all interracial marriage across the United States, Vulcan/human hybrid Spock spoke so much to a biracial black/white teenager in Los Angeles that she wrote to him, via a teen magazine, for advice, so moving that actor Leonard Nimoy wrote her back with a message of self-acceptance.
With Star Trek Week on The Nerds of Color coming to an end after an amazing week of posts both celebratory, critical, and somewhere in between, I wanted to introduce you to two artists of multiracial heritage who use Spock as a way to explore mixed-race identity in their work.
It was probably not a coincidence that my adolescent Trekkiehood (and no, I’m not uptight over the whole -ie vs. -er thing) coincided with the beginnings of the interrogation and articulation of the politics of multiracial identity that has preoccupied my academic and extracurricular life since then (and I’m 39 now).
I’d already spent a good number of my childhood Saturday afternoons watching Classic Trek reruns on Channel 13 when Star Trek: The Next Generation started airing at the same time that I started junior high. I don’t think I was quite sure why, exactly, I was so into it, but I was. My friends and I would spend science class talking about the previous night’s episode or passing around the latest NextGen comic book. I filled my bookshelf with TOS and TNG novels from Pocket Books, plus all the oversized manuals and behind-the-scenes-looks and field guides filled with art and graphic design. I hung a framed poster from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (a.k.a. The One With The Whales) over my bed and taped a pair of those shades they give you after the eye doctor dilates your eyes to slide into your glasses over Spock’s eyes.
I wore an original series command uniform made by my mom of soft gold velour to school on Halloween at least once if not twice (and somehow avoided getting beaten up). I received TNG action figures as gifts and pinned them to my cork board, keeping them mint-in-box. I went with friends from school to the monthly LA comic-con, first at the Ambassador, then at the Shrine, to browse the dealers’ room and see special guests (the “Save Max Headroom” flyer I got signed by Matt Frewer, Jeffrey Tambor, and George Coe hung on my bedroom wall for a long time after that show’s demise). We graduated to Creation cons devoted to our beloved Trek, and took the bus to the Westin Bonaventure downtown or got my dad to drop us off at the LAX Hilton, where I won a mug in a Pocket Books trivia contest and we saw a surprise preview screening of “The Best of Both Worlds, Part I” introduced by The Great Bird of the Galaxy himself in what was to be one of his last con appearances. I was a teenaged Trekkie, and I was not ashamed.