It is that time of the year again, the super bowl of the film industry, the Oscars. It is when the stars and starlets of Hollywood come out to pat each other on the back and congratulate themselves for all the hard work they accomplished over the past year. We all watch as the names are called and the nominees sit fidgeting in their seats, a sea of nervous and expectant and very much white faces. For the second year in a row, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has nominated only white actors for the actor categories, and though we here at The NYRD are not big on award shows -mostly because we have never been nominated for anything- we feel it is time we explore this trend in more depth.

The Nominations for Best Statistic in a Historic Context
One in 10,000. When the Economist looked at the demographics of actors who are members of the Screen Actors Guild they found that roughly 30% of the SAG members are minority actors. so, if all the guild members were equally likely to receive Oscar nominations then each year -statistically speaking- minority Guild members would receive 12 out of the 40 available acting nominations. Yet, for 2016 and 2015 that was not the case, but just by shear numbers alone the odds of no single minority actor being nominated in back to back ceremonies, even during a 15-year period, are around 1 in 100,000. However, both you and that racists guy on the subway know that Oscar nominations are not handed out based on the statistical analysis of  sample groups.

The first black actor to win was Hattie McDaniel for Best Supporting Actress in 1939. She portrayed Mammy in Gone With the Wind, and accepted the award at a time when black people were not even allowed to be guests in the hotel that the Oscars were being held in. Yet, this milestone was not as historic as you might first think. McDaniel -herself the daughter of two former slaves- won for portraying a sassy black slave in a white-led picture. That was one of only few “acceptable” roles for black people to play in the 1930’s and 1940’s, let alone win an award for, but at least we have moved beyond that… right? Well, it was 27 years until Sidney Poitier won a Best Actor award, 73 years until a black woman, Halle Berry, won for Best Actress, and the most recent black actor to take home an award was Lupita Nyongo in 2014 for her stirring portrayal of… you guessed it… a slave woman. Only 15 African American actors have ever won an Oscar since the Academy began giving out awards in 1929.

Of course, the statistics get even more depressing when you move from black Americans to other racial minorities. African Americans make up about 12.6% of the American population, and since 2000 10% of Oscar nominations have gone to black actors. Latinos make up 16% of the American population and have only nabbed just 3% of nominations. Only 1% of actors with Asian backgrounds have received any nominations, and only 2% of actors from other heritage groups have ever been nominated. No one from those last two categories has ever won. It is even worse if you a woman or a member of the LGBTQ community.

Behind the Scenes
So why does this happen? Isn’t prejudice over in America? The answer to that, by the way, is a resounding, “No.” Like Hattie McDaniel, minorities are still finding themselves saddled with new but “acceptable” roles. They may no longer be the role of the sassy slave -even if some of them still are- but they exist. For African Americans it is the role of the rapper or the sports star. For Asians it is the role of the buffoon or the dragon lady. For Hispanics the role of the gang member or cleaning lady, and the list goes on and on. All of this happens, while white actors continue to get roles meant for minorities, such as casting Emma Stone as a Hawaiian, Ben Afleck as Latino, or Johnny Depp as Native American. Studios will tell you that these decisions are made for financial reasons. It can take over $100 million to get a movie off the ground and most studio executives are not be willing to risk that kind of cash on an unknown minority lead, which is sort of like saying you never want to risk trying asparagus because you’ve never tried asparagus before. It becomes a slow self-perpetuating problem.

Yet, surely Hollywood -the bastion of liberal America- has moved beyond institutional racism by 2016? The answer again, is a resounding “No.” Hollywood is much like any other industry in America, and despite the left-leaning views of its actors, the establishment is still very much entrenched in the racial notions of the past. The majority of the current membership of the Academy is still white and over 50, with an average age of about 63. Many of the people who are doing the nominating and decision making in Hollywood are still very much old, rich, male, and white. We here at The NYRD are not saying these gentlemen are overtly racist, but they are overtly stuck in their ways. Anything in the entertainment industry moves at glacial speed and change doubly so. When it comes to the movies themselves, they have become about opening box-office weekend profits, or chasing the current movie trend whether it be video game nostalgia, superheroes, or Chris Pratt. So studio executives will claim they are only following the trends set out by movie-goers, and that brings us to our next problem.

The Seat-Fillers
According to the LA Weekly, 61% of people in California who give their money to the entertainment industry are non-white, and yet even with such an overwhelming number of minority viewers and movie-goers Hollywood still chooses Jack Black to voice a kung-fu Panda while Lucy Liu and Jackie Chan have about five lines apiece in the same movie. So, what do we do as the viewing audience, protest? No, we go and see the movie anyway. We give our money to studios and say, “Ehh whatever, it’s just a cartoon. It’s just a movie.” It’s just a fictional representation internalized by society and subconsciously perpetuated everyday in America. Movies are not mindless entertainment, they are art imitating life imitating art.

Yet, we continue to support films that cast white leads as opposed to minorities. Even majorly minority movies, like Glory still prominently feature Ferris Bueller in the lead, because studios fear audience will not show up to see the movie otherwise, and in a way they are right. Selma has a 99% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and yet it was beat in the box office by -in no particular order- a terrible movie about a kid with spider-powers, a story about Matthew McConaughey in space, a story about giant robots destroying our collective childhoods, a story about Jennifer Lawrence looking for her pita bread, and the list goes on. Of IMDB’s top 50 movies for 2014, only one of them stars a minority lead, and its a wacky comedy. In fact, compare Selma, a historic account of the Civil Rights movement, to 2014’s American Sniper, a historic account of a Bradley Cooper killing brown people and you start to see some disheartening numbers. Selma made $66.8 million, American Sniper made $547.4 million. Most of us cannot vote in the Oscars, but we do vote with our feet and our wallets.

When a child in a minority group looks up at a movie screen and sees no one who looks like themselves, they may not necessarily think, “I’m the weird one,” but when they see that same whiteness spread out across several movies and TV shows, then at least part of them begins to see that as “normal.” It is a problem when the things we pay hard earned money to entertain us also gives us subtle messages that white is normal, and non-white is the “other;” or that white equals the hero while black equals the gang member, Middle Eastern equals the terrorist, or Indian equals the IT guy. This is a trend that is not entirely the fault of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but it most acutely represented by the Oscars. All we can say is that maybe it is a time we took a good hard look at both Hollywood and ourselves. Change needs to come from theater seat, because right now it is not coming from the nominator’s or the director’s seat.

This past week, the nerd community saw the release of one of the most anticipated trailers of the year, Star Wars Episode VII. Unfortunately, almost immediately afterwards we also saw some Twitter trolls start the offensive hashtag: BoycottStarWarsVII. The campaign was supposedly created to stop Star Wars from pushing a evil multicultural agenda of tolerance and acceptance, because there are some people out there who just aren’t fans of Lando Calrissian, or nuanced and informed discussion. Those people are morons, but in a world where important conversations about identity, gender, and racial divides are conducted with hashtags, at least they have given us this opportunity to have a dialogue about multiculturalism in geekdom. A big part of the problem is the way that people of diverse -and especially African American backgrounds- are not always perceived as being stereotypically nerdy, but nothing could further from the truth.

Missing the Target with Stormtroopers
Let’s face it. The outrage over a black stormtrooper or the outrage over a multicultural Star Wars cast is completely ridiculous. It is the same kind of outrage we saw over the casting of Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch, the creation of Miles Morales, or any one of a thousands or so similar incidents. It is possible that sometimes nerds don’t mean to be racist, and they get so caught up in canonical in-fighting that they fail to realize what they are doing. It is also possible some people are just terribly ignorant.

However, the nerd community does not share the fault alone, as the media does not do a good job of embracing the idea of a black-nerd, or “blerd.” When Hollywood thinks of geeks, they think male, white, Asian, or even Indian. -Basically the cast of the Big Bang.- Welcome to the struggle of the blerd, but why is that the case? There have been plenty of famous black nerds, Raj in What’s Happening, Carlton in Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and of course Steve “I am the goddamn nerd king” Urkel in Family Matters. Yet, Hollywood and geekdom in general still struggle with casting African American leads in science fiction, fantasy, and comic entertainment, partially because they fear the choice will put off those big juicy, money-spending, white male, geek crowds. Worse yet, when they finally do buckle and add a little variety, it is the members of that very same nerd community who are the first to rage or completely disregard such casting choices as nothing more than “political correctness,” and that has a lot do with our collective cultural stereotypes of the black community in general.

For this article, we are not looking to get into the complexities of black culture or how the media and white culture perceives black culture, or how black culture may perceive itself through the mirrored lens of the media. Mostly, because we don’t have the time, historical perspective, or proper doctoral degrees to really do the subject any justice. For now, let’s just say that living up to the media’s standards of being black in America means you often find yourself stuck along very rigid stereotype lines, and very few of the prescribed roles that the media assigns to African Americans involves being nerdy.

The Trials of Mace Windu
When a black character gets portrayed it is often along certain stock-lines such as a sports star, a rapper, or the bad ass. We love Mace Windu as one of the only good things about the prequels but he has an undeniable Samuel L. Jackson quality about him. Now that is not a bad thing, but not every black Jedi needs to be Shaft with a lightsaber. Why couldn’t Qui Gon Jinn or any other Jedi have been black too? Why do we only seem to get one representation at a time? By portraying African Americans so heavily along the roles of gang members, criminals, and even “the cool one” the media helps create the perception that these are really the only acceptable things young black men or women can be. So for years, the very idea of the black comic book nerd or the black science fiction nerd was forgotten. We’re not saying that they didn’t exist, just that they were not made visible by Hollywood for the viewing audience at large. In fact, when blerds were portrayed at all, many perceived those characters as “acting white,” because smart and uncool have not been the standard labels for young African Americans. So whenever we got the black nerd character, he was only ever portrayed as the person who was rejected by the show’s wider community. Both Carlton and Urkel started as comparison characters to the show’s “cooler” characters. In other words, they were not the characters that were “normal” or worth emulating. Even if they did eventually become some of the most popular characters on their respected shows.

Thankfully that perception is changing, slowly but surely. When you really open your eyes and take notice you see blerds everywhere, and it is amazing. People like Aisha Tyler, Damon Waynes Jr., Donald Glover and Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson have come to epitomize what it means to be black and nerdy. Characters such as Turk from Scrubs, Toofer from 30 Rock, Gus from Psych, and Troy from Community, helped to put forth new roles for African American nerds in Hollywood, even if their shows are now all canceled. No longer are these characters the punching bag or the annoying friend. They are funny, smart, and fun to be around. In the past decade it has started to become cool to like cartoons, comics, sci-fi,.and be a little weird. That has helped the blerd gain some prominence, but unfortunately even with these positive role models, studios, social media, and geekdom at large, still hesitate and debate over the merits of casting African Americans in starring roles.

Will Smith may have starred in Men in Black, Laurence Fishburne may have played Morpheus, Samuel L. Jackson may be Nick Fury, but the minute you cast an African American actor as a stormtrooper the Internet breaks. People will point to characters like Falcon, Zoe Washburne, Static Shock, Black Panther, Uhura, or Captain Benjamin Sisko as example of diversity in geekdom, and they would be right. However, those characters are just a good start, and not a justification for why we need an all white cast for Episode VII. Being a nerd should be about including all people and most importantly giving everyone a hero they can look up to and say, “He/she is like me. I can be a hero, a Jedi, a stormtrooper, a Galactic senator, or whatever I want to be,” because that has always been the magic and importance of our shared nerd heritage.

Gambling on Lando Calrissian
Many people will inevitably wonder why we need a separate label for a black nerd. Those will be the same people who will wonder aloud why February is Black History Month, or why “only” Black Lives Matter? What those people need to understand is that saying that Black Lives Matter is not the same as saying only black lives matter. It is a reminder that black lives matter too. Similarly, giving one the label of blerd does not mean they are separate from other nerds. As a race and as a minority African Americans have been poorly under-represented, or worst yet represented poorly through the lens of media stereotypes. The blerd label -much like the Black Lives Matters campaign- is way to remind us that African Americans are not just two-dimensional stereotypes. They are humans who are entitled to life, hopes, dreams, and the freedoms to swing a stick around their head and make lightsaber noises. We all need to remember that nerds and people come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors, and they all deserve respect.

Hollywood forgets that sometimes. It is easier to typecast people in certain roles, because it is accepted by the culture at large. Thus the fanboy backlash from casting an African American in a previously white role may sometimes force studios to temper otherwise multicultural and innovative choices. However, as easy as it would be to blame the media for the lack of ethnic diversity in the movies we love so much, it is not entirely their fault. They are far from perfect in fostering equal casting opportunities, but it starts with us, the fan community. As a famous leader once said. “The change you wish to see in the world, you must be, hmm.” Acceptance and equality start with each of us.

Blerd Lives Matter because all nerd lives and loves matter, regardless of color or creed. We need to encourage more diversity in our movies, television shows, comics, literature, and lives. As a community, we geeks and nerds need to start demanding a fair balance of positive racial representation, and more importantly we need to stop raging every time Hollywood makes a stormtrooper black. -It is a perfectly conical choice.- There will always be people out there with poorly conceived hashtags because they are filled with bigotry. Yet we cannot let them be the voice for our larger community. Geekdom is full of great and accepting people, and we have to make sure that the only minority we disregard is the minority of people who want to do nothing more than spread their message of fear, because that leads to anger, which leads to hate, which leads to a darker-side for us all.

Bruce Wayne is a racist, there is no easy way to say that. Now before you run to the comment section below, let us start by saying that we are not indicating that Batman participates in active racism. He does not go around and beat down African Americans in between solving the Riddler’s puzzles. No, we are talking about how Bruce Wayne has enjoyed a certain level of privilege all his life. As a member of the Wayne family he was born wealthy. Even as Batman he enjoys the fruits of his family’s position. Yet, more to the point he is a white male, and there are more than a few perks to falling under that classification.

A Two-Faced Perspective
A lot of people will want to immediately protest that last statement. After all, when a real conversation about race starts the majority of Americans tend to shut down or shut out the facts. Thus, a white kid living in poverty is not going to instinctively see the inherent bias in our system, because of his own personal struggles and perspective. We experience the world through our own lens, whether you are Gotham’s billionaire son, a British manservant, or the black guy who makes all of Batman’s technology. Statistics rarely convince detractors, but we are going to hit you with some of them right now anyway. According to a recent 2014 poll, 40% of white Americans still believe that race relations in America are ‘good,’ as opposed to 35% black Americans. This statistic is down over the previous year, because of obvious recent events, but it still shows that a portion of America is unaware of the divide that exists even today in our nation.

The problem is that most Americans think of racism as something that happened in black and white photos in their history books, and fail to recognize that it is still reflected in the inherent inequalities within the system we live in. Thus, even if the caped crusader is not be an active racist, he still enjoys a level of comfort and position built upon the backs of institutional racism and prejudice that stretch back before the Civil War. Racism exists, not always in the actions of one race toward another, but as a historical ghosts that echoes through the halls of our schools, jobs, Arkham Asylums, and even government. It even clouds our perceptions and subconsciously directs our actions and feelings, like some long remembered childhood trauma that happened one night in a dark alleyway outside a theater.

For instance, Marvel has been taking a lot of flak about its lack of diversity in casting. Among the major discussions happening is the absence of Miles Morales as the new Spider-Man. Instead, Marvel is once again going with the white male role of Peter Parker. It is great that people are clamoring to see the racial diverse Morales take the place of Peter Parker, but what is not so great is that there is no talk about doing the same for Batman. Spider-Man and Batman are being rebooted into larger universes, and both on the heels of previously solo franchises. So why don’t the arguments being made for the racially diverse version of Spider-Man apply for an African American Batman? Is it because DC has no idea what they are doing? Yes, but it might also be because Spider-Man is a poor kid from Queens while Batman is a rich socialite from Gotham City. Of those two, which do we naturally assume to be a minority?

The Riddle of Racism?
Racism, is a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement. More to the point, it is a belief that has informed the way our society has been constructed. An often used complaint among white culture is that Black Americans receive the entire month of February for their history, but white people do not receive a similar month. That is true, but it is also a very limited perspective born from a lack of historical context and the fact that our fleshy bodies only last about eighty years. As humans we have a very small window to view the world, so for some it can become harder to take a more universal approach. People who see things such as Black History Month or affirmative action, are only seeing a small part of the story, devoid of context. It is like watching Batman punch the Joker without having any prior knowledge of the two characters, and getting angry that, “a crazy man in the bat outfit is punching a defenseless clown.” The truth is that we need to recognize that most of our history has been written from the white male perspective, and that perspective has become part of our instinctive understanding of our culture and ourselves operate, and that is the underpinning of the problem.

The practice of colonialism meant that white Europeans spread their dominance over most parts of the world and actively usurped local history and accomplishments with those of their own race. It helped remind locals who was in charge and made them feel inferior so as to not challenge the rule of the colonizers. In America, white culture and history was made superior to that of blacks, first to justify the economical system of slavery than to further the prejudicial system and non-integration. In modern times, those systems, set in place so long ago, still exist today. Our lives, our actions, and our nation does not exist in a bubble that is separated from history. Those past systems still inform the way our culture and society works.

There are plenty of statistics that confirm this. According to the APA, Black children are 18 times more likely to be sentenced as adults than white children, and make up nearly 60 percent of children in prisons. Black college graduates are twice as likely as white college graduates to struggle to find a job. The sentencing project found that on the New Jersey Turnpike black drivers make up 15 percent of drivers and more than 40 percent of traffic stops and 73 percent of arrests, but that they break traffic laws at the same rate as whites.

Success is built on success. Bruce Wayne inherited his wealth from Thomas and Martha Wayne. White people have had the power since colonial times, and they have passed that power down to their sons and their grandsons. Laws and systems were put into place to strengthen the ability of white people to subtly profit over minorities. Neighborhoods arose as did ghettos, segregated by race, by wealth, and by choice. With those neighborhoods arose adequate and inadequate school systems, gang violence, and extracurricular activities. People grew up different, with different attitudes and different ideas about the world. Some felt repressed and came to believe that they deserved to be, because society confirmed it. Others rose to acquire wealth and prosperity, which they passed on to their children, even after they were gunned down in an alleyway. Bruce Wayne is not prejudiced, but he did benefit from a system of racism. After all, how many parents are gunned down in minority neighborhoods, and of those, how many of those children grow up with the means to become Batman?

A Bane to Real Discussion
This is an incredibly hard topic to talk about, especially lately. It polarizes people on both sides. White people do not want to be seen as racist, and so instinctively they will flat out deny the problem and often shift blame to others. In New York, Hispanics and blacks are three times more likely to be stopped and frisked by police. Many white people will look at that statistic and say, “those people should not be doing what they are doing or walking where they are walking or acting how they act and they won’t get stopped.” Or they say that those particular police officers were racist, but that is not the whole story, because passive racism can be just as pervasive and even more damaging. It is old ideas informing not our thoughts but our subconscious understandings, until they become so pervasive we accept them as normal.

The human mind makes associations, it was how we evolved to survive in the wild, but we are no longer a tribal society hunting elk for food. So those prejudices have come to inform our government, our businesses, and the way we treat one another. Yet, because we want to see ourselves as evolved and enlightened we tend to reject those actions or mark them as isolated incidents. In a sense we become Two-Face and our brain literally goes to war with itself over the concept of racism. When that happens we don’t flip a coin to solve it. Instead, many of us just shut down on the subject all together. We say, “it’s not our problem,” “or that we aren’t racists,” or that “we didn’t cause it.”

A Signal in the Sky
Bruce Wayne is a racist, but he is also Batman. The Dark Knight knows something that a lot of other people do not. Just because you are not directly responsible for something, does not mean that you are not responsible for cleaning it up. Bruce did not create the crime and the poverty and corruption of Gotham, but he understands that he is responsible to be part of the solution to it. He could just as easily go on living a privileged playboy lifestyle,  but instead he becomes Batman because he has a responsibility to use his wealth and power to help those around him make the world a better place.

For white people, you have never owned a slave, at least we assume you never did. You probably never participated in active discrimination, you may never even have made a racial joke, but you are still a racist, not because you did something but because you refuse to do anything. You did not create this problem, but you have the power, the position, and therefore the responsibility to help fix it, because it needs fixing.

Racism still exists. We have come a long way, but the journey is not done. Everyone born now, was born closer to that proverbial mountain top, and it is human nature for us to look back at the long and rocky road and say, “look how far we have come. We have succeeded,” but the truth is that we have not yet reached that fabled peak. There is still more to climb. There is still a lot of difficult road ahead, and we are all responsible for getting there. Racism is not an issue for just minorities, it is an issue for all us. No one who lives today started this problem, but, like Bruce Wayne, we are all responsible for cleaning up the streets of our own personal Gotham City. It is up to us, because we are all Bruce Wayne, and that means we are also all Batman.