Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Good Latino, Bad Latino

This weekend I attended the National Association of Latino Independent Producers's annual conference in Long Beach, California. Events like these are always a mixed bag for me. It's always a pleasure to reconnect with some wonderful people and meet new ones who believe that entertainment can be both fun, well-crafted and though-provoking. On the other hand, it's disheartening to feel that as a community we've hit a wall on some critical discussions (if we're truly having them at all.)

Case in point. I went to a panel called "Good Latino/Bad Latino: Do Latinos in Power Have to Hire and Portray Us Well?" My dear friend and business partner Elisha Miranda (who authored the YA novel The Sista Hood under the pen name E-Fierce) was on that panel. Call me biased, but she was the only one to address the issue. She said without reservation, yes, those of us who are arrive in a position of influence have an obligation to create opportunities for others, evolve with our craft and offer diverse and complex representation of our community.

But the panel quickly moved away from discussing the responsibility of media makers to our peers and audience to making excuses for why Latinos consumers should support anything and everything even if we don't like it. So if a TV show that is chockfull of steretoypes or is just poorly written flops, it doesn't became the creator's fault for serving up bland fare. It becomes the audience's fault for not tolerating mediocre and perhaps even damaging content. The argument was that if we don't support anything and everything a Latino produces, "we'll" never get ahead.

The way I see it, the only one who gets ahead is the person producing the problematic content and does so at the expense of his or her own people.

Now I'm not the last word on this issue, but I walked away from that panel feeling that we're not even trying to have an open and thorough discussion about this. In my opinion, support and accountabilty are two sides of the same coin. I feel for any artist - be it a filmmaker, author, recording artist, etc. -- to demand "support from the community" yet want to evade accountability for the images he or she offers is highly disingenous.

I once got a letter from a fan of my Black Artemis novels named Candace in Ontario. She started her letter with much love and praise for my work. Then she wrote:

One concern I have is that so far all of your heroines are beautiful. As disadvantaged as some of them are, don't you believe that beauty is an advantage in itself or at the very least a double edged sword? Do you think that there is a feminine ideal within hip-hop? If so, how does that affect women who don't fit that ideal. Please don't take this the wrong way. I'm not telling you what to write, but will you ever address the issue of feminine beauty in a male-dominated subculture and the trials of those who may not fit the ideal vs. those who do?

I didn't at all see this as a reader telling me what to write. And I certainly didn't take it wrong. On the contrary, I celebrated her feedback. I saw it as a supporter holding me accountable for the images I present, as she should. Shoo, Candace called me out, and rightfully so, LOL! (And because she expressed her concerns so honestly yet diplomatically, I wasn't able to conveniently dismiss the fairness of her critique by getting into a convenient snit about not liking the way she "came at" me. (Just a side lesson for all who might need it, present company included. C'mon... don't act like you've NEVER gone there.) So there's something to be said about opening yourself critique as well as being able to deliver critique from an affirming place.

So if an artist or entertainer wants his or her community to "support," s/he should be willing to "represent." Don't ask me to cop your joint, if when I say, "You know, I found your movie interesting, but, geez, all the villains were dark-skinned' or 'In your next book, you may want to depict the female characters as something other than dime pieces," your response is going to be, "Look, I just want to do my thing."

Yes, you are within your rights to do your thing. But if I feel that your "thing" involves dissing me, I'm within my rights to withhold payment for your misrepresentation. After all, I didn't order that.

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