The pall of intersectionality: “Must everything be everything?”

Yesterday reader Vaal asked me what I thought of the new movie “Black Panther”, which has an all-black cast and an African-American director. The film has cleaned up, nabbing a box office of $361 million worldwide in the first few days after release—nearly doubling the entire production cost! It already is a huge success. Vaal expressed a bit of concern whether this would reinforce black identity politics, but in general agreed with my response; this is what I said:

I haven’t seen the movie, nor read much about it or the Internet reaction, but if it gives black kids role models and makes them feel less marginalized, so much the better. That’s different from “identity tactics”, which are to try to censor others who aren’t in your group; it seems to be just a boost in self-esteem. I don’t see any downside of that. Everyone feels part of a group, and if you’re downtrodden and your group gets celebrated, that seems great to me.

I won’t see the movie, as I don’t like superhero or action films (or even space films). I did see “Wonder Woman”, but it was on a plane and I turned it off halfway. Nevertheless, I wish “Black Panther” well.

The movie, of course, is touted for its black director and cast, giving kids role models from their group. And, as I said, that’s great. But it wasn’t enough for some people. Grania called my attention to a pair of tweets, the first calling out the movie for its “lack of LGBT representation”:

And then actress Ellen Barkin’s weary response; she’s clearly tired of ubiquitous “intersectionality”. 

But was there more than just a single tweet criticizing the movie for its lack of LGBT representation? Checking the internet, I found that indeed there was. Here’s a link to an article at i09 (Gizmodo):

The article mentions one cut scene in which two women dance around each other lasciviously, suggesting perhaps an impending sexual interaction. And that flirtation was in the comic, too, though involving different characters. (There was no explicit mention of gayness or homosexual activity in the deleted scene). The author of the io9 article beefs:

This isn’t the first time that Marvel Studios have missed a readily-available opportunity to finally bring some queer representation to the big screen, but it’s particularly odd given how right there and on the page this particular story is when you look to the comics.

Though Aneka is not Okoye, characters become remixed and reimagined all the time when they’re adapted for films. A romance between Okoye and Ayo is the sort of thing that easily could have been included in Black Panther with something as simple as a longing look and a bit of flirting kiss, but it looks like we’re going to have to wait even longer for the MCU’s films to catch up with the times.

But wait! There’s more!

I’m not sure what this would have accomplished. Would it empower gay black children? Or gay people in general?

Here’s an article (actually, a video) from The Advocate, a gay magazine (click on screenshot to see it):

They criticize the director for cutting the scene and co-writer Joe Robert Cole’s “vague answer” about why the scene was omitted (he noted that it wasn’t a major part of the story arc, and only vaguely remember the comic-book scene).

But wait! There’s more.

Ellen Barkin’s petulant comment pinpoints the problem with intersectionality. You can’t just make a movie about one oppressed minority: you have to put in other oppressed minorities so that they, too, get their day in the sun. It also bothers me that, while I like “Black Panther” and its intended empowerment of black children, we now have to scrutinize all movies for their ideological content, making sure that every group is represented positively and all groups get represented.  It’s fine to give movies political content, and yes, we need movies with gay characters, too, but not every movie has to have a message about oppression or be called out for its absence—or for “cultural appropriation”. After all, every movie that doesn’t deal with oppressed minorities is “missing an opportunity” to do that.

We now even have “sensitivity readers” for children’s books, ensuring that the correct political sheen is given to those books. If something is potentially harmful, I don’t have much of a problem with that, but it’s also led to censorship is some cases (the NYT article in the preceding link gives some, and I discuss one invidious case here).

So good for “Black Panther”, but let’s not make every movie about politics, or screen all art to make sure it conveys the right political message. That way lies the dire and deadening art of Soviet Russia, full of propaganda but lacking soul. And if a movie does tout one marginalized group, it doesn’t have to tout them all at once. The Pecksniffs need to back off.

Here’s when things get nasty—when name-calling substitutes for discussion, an unfortunate byproduct of the intersectionalist hierarchy:



  1. Posted February 19, 2018 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    “The character Ayo, portrayed in the film, is in a queer relationship with another side story character, Aneka.”

    So by this person’s admission there was a LBGTQ character in the film. So he is complaining that they didn’t specifically mention it? That kind of thinking opens itself up to all sorts of parody, where characters start bringing up all sorts of plot-irrelevant and trivial points.

    “So Ayo, how are your mothers doing in their quest to stop speciesism in vegans?”

    • eric
      Posted February 19, 2018 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      Oh noes, you made the Ancient One a white woman! [Real complaint] ‘In Amazing Adventures #54 Blurg says he’s atheist, but you didn’t incclude that!’ [Fake illustrative example]

      Fans of the traditional comic book material have always had their favorite characters rewritten/abused by Hollywood in exactly the same way. And it will continue to happen in the future, I’m sure. In fact I’m guessing it happens every single time Marvel puts out a movie.

      • Craw
        Posted February 19, 2018 at 9:58 am | Permalink

        Not just comic books! Movies differ from books all the time.

        • mikeyc
          Posted February 19, 2018 at 10:29 am | Permalink

          Sometimes they bear no resemblance.

    • Posted February 19, 2018 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

      Of course. When a gay character is in a movie their role in the movie must be about their gayness. It is essential that they be tokenized; rendered into a one-dimensional track.

      • Paul S
        Posted February 19, 2018 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

        The Imitation Game
        ~Alan Turing / Benedict Cumberbatch

        Doctor Who
        ~Captain Jack / John Barrowman
        ~Bill Potts / Pearl Mackie

        I’m sure there are others, but usually, yes.

  2. DrBrydon
    Posted February 19, 2018 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Rightest deviationism.

  3. Craw
    Posted February 19, 2018 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Petulant isn’t the word I’d use for Barkin’s tweet. Exasperated, acute, pointed.

  4. Posted February 19, 2018 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    Insane. A very enjoyable movie (minus the need to fight for leadership of Wakanda…can’t they just have a Lincoln-Douglas debate). There’s plenty in the movie for people to be proud of: black and women’s issues are quite prevalent. And that’s a good thing.

  5. Mike
    Posted February 19, 2018 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    There is no link for the “(see here)” regarding “ensuring that the correct political sheen is given to those books.”

  6. Posted February 19, 2018 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Seeing those tw**ts gave me a flashback to my wasted hours of reading the Pharyngula blog and the shrieking festival of microscopic outrage in its comments section.

  7. glen1davidson
    Posted February 19, 2018 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    If the lesbian was in, the question would be, “Where is the trans?”

    It’s just about controlling the narrative.

    Glen Davidson

  8. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 19, 2018 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    I try to see every new movie of general interest, either at the art house or cineplex, and I try to do it cold, with as little advance information as possible. (I’ll often read the critical reviews and analyses afterward.) The exception is comic-book, or super-hero, or fantasy movies. Those I’ll skip, unless a favorite critic, or a friend whose taste in movies I respect, says there’s something special in it that a movie buff should see. The buzz around Black Panther has gotten to that point, so I think I’ll go see it. Maybe tonight.

    • Posted February 19, 2018 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      Has no one read Kurt Andersen’s new book Fantasyland? If so, get it and read it now. This film is another example of the unreal world Americans live in, a world that goes back hundreds of years. If you doubt it, check out the revenues from Disneyworld, from theme parks, Sea World, fake colonial towns like Williamsburg, Virginia, Renaissance fairs, costume balls and all the fake-to-the-core reinventions of a fake past. Then there was Robin Hood, Superman, Capt. Marvel, and all the other comic strip characters… plus Star Wars, Lord of the Rings…you get the idea. This is the reality of unreal thinkers.
      For Black Panther to be a black hero demonstrates the pathetically low level of
      intellectual and artistic thought in this country. Small wonder that Donald Trump was elected president. Our brains and educational systems have become mush. Delusion upon delusion. Have the Russians put some brain poison in our water? No, they didn’t have to.

      • mikeyc
        Posted February 19, 2018 at 10:48 am | Permalink

        Jeeez. Someone spill your popcorn?

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted February 19, 2018 at 10:48 am | Permalink

        “Have the Russians put some brain poison in our water?”

        As Gen. Jack Ripper said, it’s a Rooskie conspiracy to sap and impurify our precious bodily fluids via water fluoridation.

      • BJ
        Posted February 19, 2018 at 11:05 am | Permalink

        You’re right. Only Americans consume fantasy.

        By the way, Robin Hood is from English folklore. Uh oh. I guess the English live in a fantasy world, too.

        It’s a wonder someone like Donald Trump wasn’t elected sooner, considering that many of these things have been around and popular for decades or even centuries. Or in the many other countries that love fantasy (especially the English) and theme parks. How baffling.

        • eric
          Posted February 19, 2018 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

          Robin Hood is from English folklore.

          Tolkein was British, and stole from Scandinavian myths in developing his material. Other huge influences in fantasy include Hans Christian Anderson and Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s compilations of folk tales. The genre’s so totally American!

          • Geoff Toscano
            Posted February 19, 2018 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

            An interesting snippet I came across regarding Grimms fairy tales was that the original versions they wrote, having collected them touring Germany for local folklore, had many instances of evil, nasty mothers. Readers complained, saying that mothers would never treat their children in the ways described, so they changed mother to ‘step’ mother. Apparently many of the more gruesome original details, such as cannibalism, were also changed.

      • BJ
        Posted February 19, 2018 at 11:05 am | Permalink

        You’re right. Only Americans consume fantasy.

        By the way, Robin Hood is from English folklore. Uh oh. I guess the English live in a fantasy world, too.

        It’s a wonder someone like Donald Trump wasn’t elected sooner, considering that many of these things have been around and popular for decades or even centuries. Or in the many other countries that love fantasy (especially the English) and theme parks. How baffling.

      • eric
        Posted February 19, 2018 at 11:53 am | Permalink

        fake colonial towns like Williamsburg, Virginia

        I grant you there’s probably a lot of added touristy schtick that isn’t original to its history, but you are aware that Williamsburg really did exist as a quite prominent town in the colonial period, right? It was the capital of the Virginia colony from the early 1700s until a little after the start of the Revolutionary war. A tourist trap, it is; Disneyland, it ain’t.

      • Posted March 2, 2018 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

        Russians have their own creators of unreal worlds, e.g. novelist Victor Pelevin.
        Unreal worlds are enjoyable and, I think, useful. Our brains have apparently evolved to use and need them.

  9. Posted February 19, 2018 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    I think I’m with Ellen Barkin.

    It would have taken five seconds of screentime to have Nakia ask Ayo “how’s the girlfriend” and Ayo answer “Aneka is good.”

    If all you have to do is mention the minority in some way, you could try just having a bit of dialogue that covers all bases:

    “Hey Sally, how’s your partner?”

    “Oh Kate’s doing fine. How is Bob after his gender reassignment?”

    However, to me that looks like paying lip service and the majority of people in the LBGTQ communities would probably find it offensive (I speculate) and achieving the opposite effect to the intent. If you’re going to treat the issue, you should treat it properly.

    • BJ
      Posted February 19, 2018 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      If a movie doesn’t do what you suggested, it’s lacking representation. If it does do what you suggested, it’s “adding token characters who have no depth.” If you do both things for every favored minority group — I say favored because there are certain groups which are not, like one that starts with a J — then the movie becomes unwieldy to the point of impossibility, which is why it’s never done. There is always a complaint to be made because certain people don’t actually want to be placated.

  10. Paul S
    Posted February 19, 2018 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    A superhero movie that grossed over $360m doesn’t need to worry about offending ~5% of the population because of something it didn’t include. I’m wondering how many of the offended are superhero comic book fans.

  11. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 19, 2018 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    I love Ellen Barkin — for a whole lotta reasons, but most especially for her Oscar-worthy performance as a guy’s guy reincarnated in a woman’s body (and, ooh-la-la, what a woman’s body — sorry) in Blake Edwards’s Switch.

    • BJ
      Posted February 19, 2018 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      Ellen Barkin in Sea of Love.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted February 19, 2018 at 11:15 am | Permalink

        One of my favorites is her little-seen cult classic Siesta. Gal can wear a little red dress. And a great score by Miles Davis.

    • Posted February 19, 2018 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      I agree. My favorite is “Sea of Love” which has Al Pacino, Ellen Barkin, and John Goodman!

    • mikeyc
      Posted February 19, 2018 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      She was good as Penny Pretty too. She was excellent in sardonic comedic roles.

    • darrelle
      Posted February 20, 2018 at 9:19 am | Permalink

      Come on. We all know in our hearts that her best role was in The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension!

      Probably the best film in US cinematic history.

      (I may have just poked a hole through my cheek, but I do really like that movie!)

  12. Randall Schenck
    Posted February 19, 2018 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    There are many things to take serious these days and then there are others. How does one get all twisted up with the content of a comic book SiFi movie. The question in the heading does need an answer for the confused.

  13. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 19, 2018 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    … one cut scene in which two women dance around each other lasciviously, suggesting perhaps an impending sexual interaction.

    Shades of Tony Curtis and Sir Laurence in the Roman bath scene of Kubrick’s Spartacus.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted February 19, 2018 at 10:34 am | Permalink


      • BJ
        Posted February 19, 2018 at 10:58 am | Permalink

        Fascinating! I’ve never seen that before. My DVD doesn’t have the deleted scenes and the Criterion version is still on my to-buy list.

  14. Geoff Toscano
    Posted February 19, 2018 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    I went to see the Shape of Water last night, and I wonder what the comments might be about a mute (not deaf) white cleaning lady, whose best friends are a black female colleague and an older gentleman with homosexual tendencies. She then enters a sexual relationship with a, presumably, male reptile of unknown provenance, that has seemingly magical powers……..oh the identity politics of it all!

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted February 19, 2018 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      I wonder, was the movie worth a look. I know it got a bunch of nominations but then, so did the Three Billboards in Missouri.

      • BJ
        Posted February 19, 2018 at 11:02 am | Permalink

        You didn’t like Three Billboards? I haven’t seen it yet, but I adore In Bruges.

        If I really want to see something, I just wait to rent it digitally , or buy it on disc if I’m pretty sure I’ll want to own it. I hate going to the movie theater these days. Haven’t been there in years.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted February 19, 2018 at 11:27 am | Permalink

          I see a lot of films on disk and digital, too. But there’s no substitute for sitting in a darkened theater staring up at the big silver screen.

          • BJ
            Posted February 19, 2018 at 11:32 am | Permalink

            I have a theater in my home, but it’s still not quite the same. Unfortunately, the biggest differences to me are hearing other audience members talk, hearing the crunch of snacks, and seeing the glow of cell phone screens. I’m easily annoyed 🙂

            • Ken Kukec
              Posted February 19, 2018 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

              I’ve had some big. big screens and high-tech surround sounds, too. But nothing beats the theater. I like to sit third-row center, and pray the seats in front remain empty, so there’s nothing between me and the action on the screen, like Hemingway watching the bullfights from the seats sobrepuerta.

              It’s the way God and Vilmos Zsigmond intended movies to be seen.

              • BJ
                Posted February 19, 2018 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

                If I had an Alamo Drafthouse nearby, I would go there. They apparently kick out people who talk or use their cell phones!

        • Geoff Toscano
          Posted February 19, 2018 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

          I took out a monthly direct debit years ago that gives me free entry to Cineworld. I’ve never quite got round to cancelling it so see many new releases.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted February 19, 2018 at 11:07 am | Permalink

        That’s ’cause Three Billboards is flat-out the best film of the year, buddy.

        I liked director Martin McDonough’s first two outings a lot, especially In Bruges, but with Three Billboards he moves up into Coen brothers’ territory, and not just because it features Coens’ veterans Woody Harrelson and Francis McDormand (who’s also a Coen spouse) and a score by longtime Coens’ collaborator Carter Burwell.

        And, just to clarify, the full title is Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

        • mikeyc
          Posted February 19, 2018 at 11:11 am | Permalink

          I’m with you on Three Billboards. To me, it’s the best in a long time, though I haven’t seen Shape of Water yet.

      • Geoff Toscano
        Posted February 19, 2018 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

        I really enjoyed it. It can be enjoyed at different levels, but I just watched it as an unusual love story with a particularly unpleasant, somewhat one dimensional, baddy.

        Then again I enjoyed Three Billboards…

        • BJ
          Posted February 19, 2018 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

          I’m really looking forward to seeing Mr. Del Toro’s film. It seems like a return to his style in Pan’s Labyrinth, which I love. Am I correct in this?

  15. Posted February 19, 2018 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    I haven’t seen Black Panther but will. I am concerned about it being inspirational to black people. After all, it’s a fantasy!

  16. Vaal
    Posted February 19, 2018 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    I agree with the sentiments of Ellen Barkin’s comment. And Jerry’s analysis of why the very nature of intersectionality as a power structure that keeps everyone’s grievances attached, so to deal with one grievance means dealing with all the attached grievances.
    Geeze, can’t black people have their moment?
    (And, certainly hopefully more than a “moment”).

    And, although it’s not strictly the same point, it reminds me a bit of some of the response to the @metoo phenomenon, where *some* men reacted by “what about men? Do you know how we have it hard too? Let me list the ways…”

    But I generally agree with the pushback against that “yes, men may face problems too…but let’s let women have their moment, shall we?”

    Anyway, I find it thrilling to read about all the positive feelings The Black Panther has evoked in black audiences – all the “pilgrimages,” dressing up, the feeling of community, the drives for buying huge numbers of tickets for kids and families who have a hard time affording a trip to the movies, etc. Great stuff!

  17. Posted February 19, 2018 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    The obligatory reminder that Twitter / Tumblr / Freethought Blogs / “Social Justice” / Everyday Feminism etc intersectionality is not what Kimberlé Crenshaw originally described.

    She found that “oppression” can stack up in specific ways for black women, because anti-racists won’t address domestic violence in black communities, and feminists won’t care either, because they are mostly whites and then also often anti-racist and thus afraid to address such problems. This gets exacerbated another time through poverty.

    Likewise, in law context, she asserted that black women can be discriminated against on both accounts, their skin and gender, but have no recourse that takes both into account, it’s typically one or the other.

    Despite that her approach is identitarian, and rests on the rotten foundation of postmodern critical race theory, it’s not without merit, and in summa has a similar thrust as (ironically) Richard Dawkins “Dear Muslima” — which I pointed out a few times, but bears repeating.

  18. Ralph
    Posted February 19, 2018 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    I think there is an angle from which the commentary about lack of LGBT representation might be valid. Homophobia (and machismo and “toxic masculinity”) is a major problem in black culture, see for example see this article from the director of Moonlight:

    So, if the makers of this movie were pandering to expectations higher levels of homophobia in their target market, that is something that it might be right to call out. I have no idea how one might justify such an allegation short of explicit testimony from an insider.

    • Ralph
      Posted February 19, 2018 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

      To add: ironically, I suspect that many LGBT activists would be reluctant to identify this issue explicitly, for fear that commenting on the level of homophobia in black culture might mark them as racist. We’ve seen the irony of LGBT groups demonizing Israel whilst allying themselves with extremist Muslim groups that would not tolerate their existence.

    • John McAuley
      Posted February 19, 2018 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

      If you want some examples of African homophobia then look at the comments here:

      You can see why Marvel and Disney won’t go there.

      Some (many?) Africans claim that homosexuality doesn’t exist in Africa and that it is a perversion that the whites are trying to introduce / have introduced into Africa.

  19. kelskye
    Posted February 19, 2018 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    Everything must be everything because otherwise moralists wouldn’t be able to condescendingly write about what is missing.

    The more I see this complaint, the more it feels like virtue signalling. Of course every film doesn’t need to be everything to everyone, we have a diversity of culture and films that have different representation are made en masse. But that’s never enough, and will never be enough.

  20. Posted February 19, 2018 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

    I personally don’t care if LGBTQ is brought up. Not every movie can be about every minority and every possible permutation of their combinations. Sure, they can show the bodyguards having a same-sex relationship, but there are also plenty of movies in the future to show that (e.g. the Avengers: Infinity War).

    [spoilers ahead for Black Panther]
    I like how they tied in the historical oppression of black people into the main villain’s motivation though. I think the villain was really well done.

  21. jay
    Posted February 20, 2018 at 5:57 am | Permalink

    The Peter Rabbit film got attacked because the rabbits threw blueberries at the farmer whose allergies forced him to stop chasing.

    Film makers, authors and others need to simply say enough is enough. Stop pandering to the whiners whether they’re religious fundamentalists, LGBT activists or health food screwballs.

    NEVER take advice from someone who uses the word ‘marginalized’

  22. Posted February 28, 2018 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Cultural appropriation! Only Wakandans should have the right to an opinion on Wakanda’s culture.

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