Yes, I am about to make this about race.
I’m making this about race because as a nerd who is a woman and who is also Black, finding someone who looks like you represented in the media you enjoy, particularly if that media is enjoyed by what is considered the mainstream, is like finding an oasis in the desert; this is doubly true if it’s a good character, fleshed out, complex, well-written. Like an oasis, at first you may question if what you’re seeing is real, then when you find that it is, you greedily gobble up as much of it as you can, letting it cleanse you and nourish you and get you through the next stretch of arid land.
When my sister turned me on to the Dark Tower series, I couldn’t get enough. While I feel I took emotional ownership of the entire ka-tet (even Oy) Odetta Holmes/Detta Walker/Susannah Odetta Holmes Dean resonated with me in a way that a fictional character never has. I appreciated Sai Stephen’s handling of her, showing her as a human being, warts and all. He wasn’t afraid to show her flaws, which in this day and age of uber political correctness and avoiding saying anything wrong about a Black person because it may be interpreted as racist, was entirely refreshing. That he chose to portray her flaws as some of her greatest strengths as well, well, I just felt like, ‘Wow, she is who I’ve been looking for all my life’. I’m not certain we’ve seen such unabashedly flawed, marvelously complex Black fictional female characters until just recently, with Shonda Rimes’ Olivia Pope and Annalise Keating, which, considering how long ago the Dark Tower series was written, makes me really hope that you, Gentle Reader, fully appreciate the oasis analogy.
If any of Stephen King’s works deserve to be depicted on screen, the Dark Tower series certainly ranks at the top of the list. We all know that a Hollywood representation is in development hell due to the scope of the project, and the cost would be astronomical. Chances are slim that we’ll see it in our lifetimes, if at all. That doesn’t make any of us who walk the path of the beam any less rabid for a theatrical iteration of this story, so when I saw a post on our Tumblr feed this morning regarding a fan-made short film, I got excited. Turns out, an indie filmmaker by the name of Shahab Zargari successfully funded a Kickstarter campaign to bring to life his vision of Roland training Susannah in the way of the gun.
While the project was successfully funded in summer 2014, the Tumblr post I saw advises fans to track the short’s ongoing progress by the #SusannahsLesson hashtag, which I did immediately. Down the rabbit hole I went, until I landed at their Kickstarter page. The main page was sparse on details, so I clicked the ‘Update’ tab, which is when I saw this:
A non-Black woman, in blackface, portraying a Black character? Really? O Discordia!
Full disclosure, this is upsetting to me. I don’t care that it’s an indie effort. I don’t care that perhaps it won’t be seen by a large audience because of that fact. I don’t care if the filmmakers are not aiming to be racist. Certainly since I just learned of this project today, I don’t know Mr. Zargari. Perhaps he’s the nicest, kindest man you could ever meet, and he donates to civil rights causes as much as possible. I don’t know, and I don’t care. I won’t give a history lesson here on why using blackface in film is hurtful and harmful, particularly when others have done it far better than I could ever try. I will say, though, that in 2015, it’s an irresponsible casting decision, even with the best of intentions. I don’t know where the filmmakers live, but I find it hard to believe that there were no capable Black actresses available. Perhaps Mr. Zargari would have had to increase his Kickstarter goal to be able to afford adding a Black actress to his cast, but considering that it finished overfunded tells me that he could’ve swung it. I’m just at a loss for any reason that justifies using a non-Black actress in blackface to portray Susannah Dean.
Some people who may view this post may accuse me of overreacting. It’s just an independent short film, right? Yes, it is. Even so, I ask you to try to put yourself in the shoes of a young Black girl nerd, for whom there is a dearth of mainstream fictional characters who are fierce, complex, flawed, amazing, and who look like her. I mean, a woman cannot live on Michonne alone. We take serious our heroes, and ask that you treat them AND us with respect, reverence, and care, or don’t treat us at all.