Diversity Aboveground: Cannons in the Clouds

Feb 27, 2016

This week marked the release of Cannons in the Clouds by Daniel Woolley and Anne Gresham as a trade paperback. The story revolves around a teenager who wants to be more than a “trust fund brat” and falls right into the life of a fierce pirate captain whose reputation is known throughout the universe. Also, they’re both women.

Cannons in the Clouds almost has a steam-punk feel to it as large galleons fly through the sky are paired with modern booty shorts and notebooks with spiral binding. It’s not known whether this is secretly Earth after a post-apocalyptic war. The official title is Terra Pleo, capital of the Novian Empire.

The culture of the world is similar to the Victorian era. Women of lower status have more freedom. No one is surprised that Jenny Avery is a feared pirate captain and women are also allowed in their athletic games to fight against men. However, women of means and position are expected to act more demure and like a stereotypical female. Sela Windbourne finds this suffocating. Each afternoon she is tutored in “learning all the things a highborn lady needs to excel in society.” When she rails against these archaic rules, her mother pulls out the usual “I didn’t make them but I’ve had to live by them and so do you.” It’s not as though rules can’t be changed, right?

The poorer citizens aren’t liking the rules either. “Increasing unrest” is mentioned several times and it’s being inflamed by questionable media practices. At one point, Windbourne is falsely accused of setting a bomb and has to be helped by her best friend, Maya, who has sometimes has to be the voice of reason even among adults.

Sela and Maya

Sela and Maya

With the Windbournes, Avery, and Maya, the strong, complicated female characters naturally incorporated into the story are refreshing for a comic series. Most comics feel they can stop after one or two as though there’s an invisible quota.

The pacing isn’t too fast or too slow over the 138 pages but it does suffer from being a first volume. In the midst of building a world, setting up the plot and introducing characters, it can be hard to delve very deeply into any of it. However, there are a couple of more serious concerns. For one thing, the book is whiter than the Academy Awards nominee luncheon. With such wonderful representation of females, it makes the lack of darker skin tones stand out even more. Couldn’t some of the crowd scenes have People of Color at the very least?

It also appears not to have any LGBTQA+ representation. Historically, this could be explained by the Victorian era basis but when a book has flying ships, Gods who have ripped planets apart and islands in the clouds…why not have more diversity?

Cannons in the Clouds has a lot of potential for the future when Woolley and Gresham are better able to expound on their characters and world. Perhaps they might add more diversity. It’s going to be enjoyable to see what happens. For now, catch up on a very pleasant read:

http://www.cannonsintheclouds.com/

The book also gets brownie points for cameos from Peter Pan, The Simpsons and the Pirates of the Caribbean films.

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Chiara Tilesi and Spike Lee

Chiara Tilesi and Spike Lee in a 2005 collaboration.

A new production company was announced this week, We Can Do It Together. This company will focus on financing and producing new films by and about females. The inspiring films will also aim to change public perceptions about what it means to be female.

We Can Do It Together founder, Chiara Tilesi explained, ‘Film has always possessed the power to defy convention and change hearts and minds, and this power and potential must be harnessed to challenge the current archaic norms related to women within the entertainment industry. We feel that the way to make this a reality is to give women from around the world a concrete way to express themselves and an on-going structure that will ensure that these stories will be financed and distributed.’

The company is comprised of an Advisory Board and a Board of Directors. The Board of Directors contains Tilesi and various people from behind the scenes that haven’t garnered name recognition. It’s the Advisory Board that has garnered most of the attention. This body has women and men of all ages, ethnicities and experience including Queen Latifah, Zhang Ziyi, Amma Asante, Freida Pinto, MaÅ‚gorzata Szumowska, Haifaa Al-Mansour and Henry Louis Gates.

Unfortunately, making a film is only half the battle. It still needs a distributor or no one outside the production will ever see it and the press release doesn’t specify any companies they’re working with. Considering the names involved, that will be an asset in getting a deal but it’s most likely that the early releases will be straight to Netflix, On Demand or a very limited engagement.

The idea should sound similar to Issa Rae Productions where Rae helps other females and People of Color get their projects made. Reese Witherspoon, Drew Barrymore and others have also founded production companies for the same reason.

Tilesi acknowledged, ‘We hope in the future we won’t have a need for dedicated niche financing for films by and about women.”

Their economic model of government grants, corporate sponsors and private donations until the films can cover the company’s cost sounds very feasible. Perhaps others from groups underrepresented in the media will be inspired to start their own companies, too.

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Malala Yousafzai

He Named Me Malala will be shown Monday, February 29th on the National Geographic Channel at 8 PM EST. The documentary about Malala Yousafzai didn’t reach a wide range of theatres so the cable channel presentation is a chance for many more people to see it.

Yousafzai is a Nobel Peace Price recipient for her tireless crusade in favor of educating girls. Even after an attempted assassination by the Taliban has forced her and her family to move to London from her native Pakistan, she still speaks all over the world at just 18. She also envisioned the Malala Fund and with the help of others, it’s a reality. The group works to educate and empower all girls over the globe, not just those under the Taliban.

National Geographic has behind the scenes videos and how you can help the Malala Fund here:

http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/he-named-me-malala/

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Did you see Black-ish this week?

The sitcom tackled police brutality and the fear that many African-Americans face in the United States. In the episode, the teenage son wants to attend a demonstration protesting police brutality. His parents are worried about letting him go and his siblings want to understand what it’s all about.

https://youtu.be/eVECkAmcChg

The episode “Hope” can still be found On Demand, on Hulu, ABC.com and elsewhere. It will probably be the most powerful episode of a comedy this year…and better than the majority of dramas, too.

Next week will be about a forgotten trio of female superheroes, the Oscars aftermath and more.

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