Foodworkers Shortage Page 2
Op-Ed: UMBC Quarantine
SEPTEMBER 29, 2021 | VOL. 56 | ISSUE 2
THE RE-TRIEV-ER Page 4
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WHERE DO I GO TO PRAY? Muslim Student Association raises accessibility concerns BY AMIRA COOPER Probationary Writer
The new Center for Well-Being at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County is designed to meet students’ physical, emotional and spiritual health needs. The latter is mainly fulfilled by Initiative for Identity, Inclusion & Belonging’s Gathering Space for Spiritual Well-Being, which replaced the Interfaith Center. However, the Muslim Student Association has raised concerns about the lack of accessible prayer spaces on campus as a result of this change. Senior political science major Ruqaiyah Dasti, the MSA’s Sisters Vice President, is mainly concerned with the Muslim obligation to pray five times a day. “The biggest thing for me really is the fact that Muslims need a space to pray,” she said. “I mean we have students coming in every single day asking a single question: ‘Where do I go pray?’” Junior information systems major Hassan Ansari, President of MSA, said that he is pushing for improvements because he believes in the importance of congregation, and because he feels obligated to as MSA’s leader. “The lack of prayer spaces on campus is a violation of our rights as students,” he said. “It’s a heartbreaking thing to encounter.” Dasti continued, saying that the Muslim struggle of being accepted and feeling comfortable is compounded by the “scramble” to find suitable prayer spaces. “Walking around and seeing students praying behind bookshelves and in parking lots and stairwells was a painful sight,” agreed another student, who preferred to remain anonymous. Dasti described the Interfaith Center as having been a unique campus space that facilitated community building, brotherhood and sisterhood. She also added that it was a “second home to many Muslims and other religious students,” and was a place of comfort and safety. “It is the people who experienced the IFC that are feeling a sense of immense loss,” she said. Dasti, Ansari and the anonymous student are not only focused on the lack of prayer spaces, but also of the need to respect prayer times. The Center previously had some restrictive times that didn’t adhere to the needs of
Muslim students, so they have requested 24/7 or at least 18-hour access so all prayer needs could be accounted for. There have also been requests to extend the space to accommodate large religious populations. Some of the concerns that MSA and other religious student organizations raised have been addressed in changes to the Center for Well-Being. “We’ve committed to working with different student organizations to make sure that the prayer space is available,” said Dr. Nancy Young, Vice President for Student Affairs. “We are also starting to work on this sense of loss of community.” Changes such as extended times in the Center for Well-Being on the weekdays and even the weekends have been made. However, Young acknowledged that this would not be an “ultimate” solution. She did cite it as an important step to improve, listen and work together as a community. Ansari remains “cautiously optimistic,” but he hopes that moving forward these changes will become permanent and that maybe more changes will come as well. However, he is currently happy with how the Center and administrators are working together with students to improve their campus life. MSA encouraged other UMBC students to help with the change process by educating themselves, raising awareness of the situation and showing solidarity. Ansari stated that letting administrators know that other students “stand with Muslim students” is especially critical in the efforts to get more accommodations. “A lot of religious organizations are hurting right now because of the lack of space and the amount of change we endured during this time,” he said. “We saw the IFC as our home.” On Twitter, the hashtag thread #letthempray was used to raise awareness of the situation initially. Currently, it can also be used for students to educate themselves about the experiences of Muslim UMBC students regarding the spaces in which they had to pray in and their thoughts on this situation. “Stay informed and stay updated,” said Dasti. “We will see what the following days bring, but we hope to see some positive change.”
Graphic by Madeline Arbutus.
University of Maryland, Baltimore County | Student Newspaper | Est. 1966
September 29, 2021 @retrieverumbc
Dining Services staff shortages continue at UMBC BY EVELYN YUEN Probationary Writer During the past year, most dining services at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County were closed because of COVID-19 restrictions. As the university has returned to pre-pandemic residential capacities and students are back for in-person classes this fall, Dining Services staff are experiencing unprecedented stress due to worker shortages. That stress culminated when True Grit’s closed for Late Night on Sept. 14 and 15 as a result of worker shortages. “Literally that one night with the one chef, I wanted to grab an apron and help,” sophomore biology major Tochi Nwachinemere said. Dining Services staff ranges from cooks preparing ingredients in the kitchen to cashiers taking copious orders to cleaners on the ground mopping up any messes. The staffing shortages leave the remain-
ing workers overwhelmed, and students frustrated. While students may be more understanding than typical customers, as many have worked in fast-food and other retail services themselves, their patience in a 15-minute long line can only last so long. Late Night at True Grit’s Dining Hall exemplifies the tension. Often, peak meal hours coincide with the least number of workers, resulting in crowding and lines that hardly move. One night, sophomore environmental science major Celine Brundridge witnessed two students in line almost get into a fight. Although Brundidge said the exact trigger was unknown, she believes it is reasonable to factor in underlying frustration due to the static line. True Grit’s grill cook Timothy Williams suggested that students consider making slight changes to their dining schedules. By heading to the dining hall an hour earlier or later than their usual time, and avoiding peak dining hours, staff will likely be less overwhelmed.
Brundridge and Nwachinemere reflected that they sometimes feel conflicted about going to the dining hall so that they do not add stress or pressure on cooks. However, they are thankful and sympathetic towards the very few cooks still working, especially at Late Nights. “It is very stressful for the staff, but I’m glad that they still persevere,” Brundridge said. As a result of the shortages, UMBC Dining Services is receiving a steady flow of job applicants. While the situation at UMBC is expected to witness positive changes in the near future, it still takes time as incoming workers complete adequate training before getting on board. “[UMBC dining services] will be close to fully staffed relatively soon,” John Burgoon, Director of Resident Dining, said. David Glenn, Resident District Manager, encourages students who have restaurant experience to consider joining the team to help alleviate the situation. UMBC is not alone in the epidemic of the worker shortage plaguing the entire
hospitality industry. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many in the industry have been laid off. Even as the country is slowly moving back to normalcy, almost one-third of the former hospitality staff will not return to the industry. Some used the time during layoff for education, which allowed them to consider a career change, while others simply preferred better-paying and more flexible jobs. Lack of childcare services and federal aid are also factors that hold hospitality workers from going back to work. Both Burgoon and Glenn are welcome to students’ suggestions about ways they can help improve staffing and crowding situations. Interested students can connect with them at their offices at True Grit’s. For more information on Dining Services, please visit www.dineoncampus. com/umbc.
“A weird trade-off:” UMBC faculty discuss hybrid teaching BY CLAIR VOLKENING Contributing Reporter
When the University of Maryland, Baltimore County announced Fall 2021 plans for a return to “normal” in March, it was already known that public health guidelines like social distancing would likely remain in place, despite projected vaccination rates. Transitioning from being almost completely remote for two and a half semesters, classes are now offered in the full range of virtual, hybrid and in-person. UMBC faculty are approaching this “hyflex” fall semester with both hesitation and hope, balancing pros and cons with student feedback. Dr. Earl Brooks, an assistant professor in the English department, says that he is teaching both of his classes in a hybrid format: They meet once a week in-person and once a week over Webex. He used student feedback from an
early-semester survey to determine the preferred meeting format. Students were also able to voice their apprehensions regarding the different options. “I tried to tailor my syllabus to fit as many student concerns as I could,” said Brooks. This was challenging, he continues, because he had to balance concerns about receiving a high quality education and concerns regarding the health of children or immunocompromised family members. “As you can imagine, there were very conflicting requests,” Brooks said. “Some students requested to have no in-person at all…On the other side there were students who reported they could not learn well in the online model and that they wanted to be in class as much as possible.” Discussing some drawbacks of online classes, psychology professor Dr. Lynnda Dahlquist, said that virtual class
discussions can make students less comfortable speaking up, especially if they are in a crowded home or study area. “When you’re online, it’s a lot more mechanical to talk to one another,” echoed Brooks. Both Brooks and Dahlquiest said that they heavily rely on facial cues from their classes to gauge student understanding. Usually, being unable to see student faces is cited as a weakness of online classes because people might not turn on their cameras, but it is also a challenge faced by professors teaching in-person this fall. “Masks don’t make it all that easy to read the room but at least I can tell if they’re confused and leaning over to ask their friend about what I just said,” explained Dahlquiest. Junior chemistry major Grayson Pipher noted that online classes are often more accessible, especially for commuter students, and that there are fewer
distractions online versus in-person. “It is generally assumed that students prefer in-person, but I don’t know if that is true,” said Pipher. “It’s a weird trade off in many ways,” acknowledged Brooks in regards to the advantages and disadvantages of online classes compared to in-person classes. The dual nature of hybrid classes, fluctuating between pre-pandemic normalcy and reality, is reflected in, as Brooks described, a “surreal” feeling of being back on campus. “You can imagine how it would be to be fully normal again, but there is another part of your mind that says, no we’re not,” he said. Go to covid19.umbc.edu for more information on campus positivity rates and updated COVID-19 policies.
Professor stopped using Lockdown Browser because of AI racism BY ELIZABETH WODELESELASSIE Contributing Reporter
Respondus Lockdown Browser has been a hot topic on many campuses since the pandemic. Many students have a strong dislike for the software, which is used in place of in-person proctored exams, because of privacy concerns and technology issues. Along with these concerns, claims are now surfacing that the Respondus software may be systematically racist. Often, students have to allow it access to their cameras so that it can track eye movement, but studies have shown that facial recognition artificial intelligence is often racially biased. A professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who requested to remain anonymous, explained how
the Respondus webcam software enabled systemic racism. He noticed that it would not recognize the faces of a handful of students which meant that they could not access their Respondus-proctored exams. “I had to let them take it in an alternative format...and this was at the beginning of the pandemic where everything was wacky,” they said. “And uniformly, the students whom it could not recognize were Black and had very dark complexions.” While not in the professor’s class, senior biology major Ryanna Kimbembe said she experienced issues with Respondus’ AI. “Sometimes it just messes up for no reason and it flags you,” said Kimbembe. “I once had it kick me out of a quiz because it flagged me so many times.” Finding that Respondus generated a lot
of “complaints” or red flags on things they did not think were necessary, the professor stopped using the webcam proctor completely. The professor explained that the software recognizes student faces using approximations. A student’s face has to stay in a certain frame, otherwise the student is flagged and might not be able to continue with their test. “It uses facial recognition software to say to itself that the eyes should be about here-ish, the nose should be about hereish, the mouth should be about here-ish, and I can tell more or less that the person is looking at the screen,” they explained. There are many documented cases of systemic racism in the world of technology as AI and other facial recognition systems accurately describe certain people and fail to recognize others. The pro-
fessor said that this is a result of white people trying to train facial recognition software on the faces of Black people. “This was not through any overt racism, but because they didn’t think of that, and that is how institutional racism works,” they said. In a 2019 TIME article, Joy Buolamwini depicts her experiences with racially biased AI, and her research into the racial and gender biases in AI. “The companies I evaluated had error rates of no more than 1% for lighter-skinned men. For darker-skinned women, the errors soared to 35%,” said Buolamwini. “When you have institutionally, unconsciously racist people training the software, that software can become institutionally and unconsciously racist,” said the professor. email@example.com
September 29, 2021 @retrieverumbc
September 29, 2021 @retrieverumbc
How I survived a UMBC quarantine
Conditions in quarantined Hillside were rough even from the beginning. Photo from Retriever Archives.
BY JULIAN FORD Arts & Culture Editor Take a second and picture it. The semester is in full swing and you are in the final stages of an unprompted, involuntary exile that unceremoniously pushed you halfway across campus. It was a move you had to make because your roommate tested positive for COVID-19 during the same week you happened to experience an allergy flare up. After five days of $10 large Dunkin’ coffees, lukewarm and inconsistent D-hall delivery meal orders, total isolation from any and all friends and a complete lack of communication from the UMBC Case Response “team,” a negative test result finally gives you the reassurance you have been waiting for since you moved in. The worst of it is over. You just want to move back into your original apartment, catch up on the schoolwork and try to put the whole quarantine business behind you. You pack your clothes, your TV, your toiletries, everything, into your car -- and thank goodness for that car, the whole ordeal would have been completely impossible without it -- and slink your way back to Walker apartments. But what happens when you get there? The card reader refuses to let you in. To arrive at this, after nearly a week of hopping through miles of Kafkaesque, UMBC-approved red tape, it is hard to say how one might react. Some might scream. Some might cry. A rare few might simply throw their heads back and laugh at the absurdity of it all. The rarest, and most insufferable, might
even use the whole thing as an excuse to draft up an article in the college paper, railing against the on-campus quarantine procedures and forcing their opinion in where nobody asked for it, but maybe where they should be asking for it. If you have gotten this far into the article, I imagine you can tell what route I chose. A week before my roommate tested positive, I’d had a sore throat and a runny nose, symptoms which passed about as quickly as they came, over the course of a few days. I doubted it was COVID; everybody I had recently come into close contact with had tested negative. Being vaccinated I hadn’t even been required to quarantine, and seeing as how it was allergy season anyway, I didn’t see much of a reason to get worked up over what was most likely a mild cold. Still, I cancelled my classes, I’d mostly kept to myself, I’d worn a mask everywhere I went, I’d been a good little UMBC student! Yet, several things went wrong. It was Thursday, only two days before my COVID test, when my roommate sent the “I tested positive” text. By then, my symptoms had vanished and my COVID anxieties along with them. The text, though, really threw a wrench into things. In the back of my mind, I knew the chances were slim that I had COVID, but even still, the alarm bells were loud enough I filled out a case report. The call came at 7AM the next day, a time decidedly early for a college senior. There were no real niceties. The voice on the other end of the line, a tired-sounding middle aged man, went through the process of gathering information with the speed and brevity of an answering machine. Name. Age. Student ID. Start date
of symptoms. Date of roommate’s test. The process itself began to feel a touch dehumanizing. According to the voice, quarantining would be simple: I was to move my belongings from the Walker apartments to the Hillside apartments. Once I arrived, there would be a temporary card waiting for me in a lockbox, and once I got inside, the only thing to do would be to wait until my test results came back. I would get food deliveries from Dhall three times a day. The only time I was permitted to leave the apartment would be when I had my off-campus test administered. “As a matter of fact”, the voice had added as if to twist the knife in a little further, “If you had just picked up the phone an hour or so earlier, we could have gotten you a rapid test today. You probably wouldn’t have had to quarantine in the first place.” If UMBC has some kind of quota for making their students feel like absolute morons, this guy was passing with flying colors. The move was only a minor annoyance. In hindsight, though, I can’t even imagine how non-car owning students would have managed it. Everybody on-campus knows how terrible those little red moving carts are, but one can only imagine trying to heft one across campus. It would become something of a running theme over the next five days: an inconsideration on UMBC’s part which seemed to discount the concept of students having needs. Like all of the planet had experienced circa March 2020, there was a romantic sort of optimism in the beginning of my quarantine. This lasted about a day. On-campus quarantine sucks. D-hall is no one’s food of choice and good food
costs way more than a college student can spend. However, the real problem was the lack of communication. Go to the UMBC COVID response website, and you will find two emails pertaining to COVID-19: COVID19@ UMBC.edu, and COVID19hrresponseteam@UMBC.edu. If you are searching for a phone number, there isn’t one. Call the University Health Services’ helpline about any quarantine concerns, and you will get the same response: “UHS deals with general health, not COVID-19 response. There’s an email you can access for any concerns.” Around a week ago I sent emails to both addresses, and as of today, I have yet to hear anything back. What were my issues or concerns? It didn’t seem to matter. As a result, I had to shuffle through the quarantine one day at a time, never knowing when, how, or if I’d be allowed back to Walker. This brings the article back around to the start: my negative test. Because of the lack of communication, I had no idea where my negative test result was supposed to be sent. Thankfully, the stack manager of my quarantine unit (an absolute guardian angel of an individual) sent me the link where I could upload it. Unfortunately, an uploaded negative test doesn’t mean a verified negative test. Since it had been administered off-campus, there would be a delay in accepting the results. I, uninformed of said delay, promptly packed up my belongings, foregoing essay writing and homework in favor of just being home. All of this led to the aforementioned card reader debacle: a trunk full of my belongings and a door that won’t let me in. The process of packing, repacking and unpacking everything took up about a day. It was another 48 hours before I was granted permission to leave Hillside behind. As you can imagine, the first thing I did upon returning to my dorm was start up a draft of this article. After kissing the walls of my old room, of course. I hate to sound like a petulant journalist, and if this article has come across as tedious, insolent or superfluous in any way, I genuinely have to apologize. I can recognize the privilege of my situation. After all, I was never really sick. Aside from the missed classes, the bureaucracy, and the aches of moving, I got off quite easy in the end. But, after all is said and done, the whole experience has left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Even with vaccines readily available, COVID-19 is still a serious public health crisis, and UMBC ought to be doing more to support the students affected by it. After more than a year to prepare for on-campus living, it seems that UMBC would be a little better at communicating with their quarantined populace. The last thing you want to feel like while you are quarantining, while you remain unsure of your health and the health of those around you, is another number and name on some UHS monitor. Without a little more effort from UMBC, it is going to be impossible to feel any way else. firstname.lastname@example.org
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Texas abortion bill encourages companies to take action
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BY GABRIELLA SALAS Staff Columnist On September 1, 2021, the Senate Bill 8, also known as the Texas Heartbeat Act, was put into effect. As the outcome has left many feeling hopeless and unsure, several companies have decided to step in and aid those affected by this new bill. While any help is welcomed, placing trust in corporations is a tricky thing to do. The Texas abortion law has been the cause of much controversy because it limits a person’s ability to obtain an abortion after just six weeks into one’s pregnancy. Discovering a pregnancy before this two month mark is difficult, this law making it so that the many of those who realize too late will not have access to or the ability to decide if they want an abortion. Furthermore, the bill allows civil action to be brought against anyone who knowingly performs or induces an abortion, or who even knowingly engages in actions which aids someone to get an abortion. Physicians, family members and drivers can all fall into this mix. As a result, some companies have decided to take initiatives to assist their employees and more. Ride-sharing company Lyft has created what they call a “Driver Legal Defense Fund” to help cover the legal fees of their drivers. Additionally, the company has donated 1 million dollars to Planned Parenthood and provided a link for riders to donate directly to the nonprofit organization if they so choose. On September 3, Lyft released a statement saying: “Drivers are never responsible for monitoring where their riders go or why. Imagine being a driver and
not knowing if you are breaking the law by giving someone a ride.…Similarly, riders never have to justify, or even share, where they are going and why.” Following this statement, Uber elected to create a similar defense fund for their drivers. Other companies have also stepped in, including cloud-based software company Salesforce, which offered to assist in relocating employees who may be affected by this abortion law. Dating app Bumble and dating company Match Group, parent to Tinder, have both set up funds which will assist employees in getting abortions outside of their home state of Texas. These companies have made it clear where they stand on Texas’ abortion law, and it should not be lost on their employees, nor the rest of Americans who are affected or distraught by the passing of this bill. Despite such welcomed aid, it is understandably difficult for people to gain a sense of sincerity from large corporations who claim to care about certain causes. Companies tend to show solidarity often by doing the bare minimum, like filling their logo in with a pride flag during June. As companies remain ultimately profit-oriented, the lines continue to blur. On issues of great social and moral importance the question begs attention: How can one trust these corporations are acting genuinely? Today, it is becoming increasingly important for companies to not just say where they stand, but to act in accordance with where they stand. Corporations have huge influence on consumers, not just when it comes to who buys what, but now with directing our attention to what is important. This is not to say that corporations are
the solution to all political and social problems that exist. It would also be naïve to think that corporations always act benevolently. Like anyone else, their actions are in accordance with their personal interests. And this may not always align with our values. In fact, there are companies that contributed monetarily to the passing of this bill, such as AT&T and UnitedHealth. Therefore, it is becoming important to not only appreciate the companies who are taking action, but to also call out the ones who stay silent, or act in opposition to what they say they stand for. As political divides have made it increasingly difficult to trust that our laws will find a way to protect us, any outside aid is crucial. Issues like abortion, LGBTQ+ rights and Black Lives Matters are not simply trends, but issues that heavily affect the daily lives of many people. It is important to acknowledge when companies go beyond just redecorating a brand to commemorate a holiday or a movement. However, it is also important to demand more, to hold companies accountable for not doing enough when they do have the power to do more. Companies like Lyft and Salesforce have realized how the new abortion law could effect their employees and immediately taken action, not because they were forced to, but because they wanted to. It seems to be a good sign. If more companies can invest not just their money, but their insights in this direction, it is possible they can meaningfully contribute to the changes their consumers want to see. firstname.lastname@example.org
06 ARTS & CULTURE
September 29, 2021 @retrieverumbc
MONTERO is self-exploration and self-assertion BY GRACE REEB Content Managing Editor
Lil Nas X’s first studio album, Montero, came into this world on September 17, 2021 as only Lil Nas X could make it happen -- with a slew of artistic and humorous promotion that had the creator’s touch of eager verisimilitude all over it, including cross-platform photos and videos featuring him pregnant, waiting to give birth to his namesake (Montero is Lil Nas X’s name). Yet another icon also bears this same name -- Nas X caused waves of headlines earlier this year after releasing the album’s first single, “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” in March. The single’s now-legendary music video sparked an uproar amongst Christians, conservatives and concerned parents alike, ostensibly because Nas gave a lap dance to the Devil (who he also played), but the real issue was deep-rooted homophobia. Then Nas X started to market an exclusive line of Nike shoes imbued with a pentagram and his own blood. Nike quickly sued, and Nas X capitalized on this by making it the premise of his video for the album’s third and final single, “INDUSTRY BABY,’ which begins with Nas X being sentenced to prison time (in Montero State Prison, of course).
All of this -- plus another single not even mentioned yet -- preceded the album’s release. Nas X is clearly savvy in the world that surrounds his music; he’s famous for not only the controversy the follows him (much of which is barely masked homophobia and racism -- vitriol that says nothing about him and everything about those who spew it), but also the hilarious, graceful and inspiring responses that he crafts to it, including his iconic Twitter comebacks. Now we finally have the album that bears his name, an introspective realization of his multifaceted artistic talent -- he is singer, rapper, songwriter, video concept and story producer, collaborator, influencer, marketer, activist all at the same time. Nas X only began working on Montero in 2020, but boasts 15 tracks, four music videos, and 11 3D-animated visualizers that all bear his likeness. Yet he does not stretch himself too thin -- the music is there. It is excellent. It crosses adjacent genres, from pop-rock in “THATS WHAT I WANT” to more lo-fi pop in “SUN GOES DOWN” and pop rap in “DOLLA SIGN SLIME,” while still maintaining the unity, the central focus that binds them all together -- Nas X taking control of his own narrative. Starting with the title track and first single, “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” with a video set in a fantastical land called Montero, Nas X introduces himself to us. This is absolutely a standout track and perhaps the one that best captures the essence of the album. Given the title, it’s no surprise to hear the first word, “I,” but Nas X takes a surprising risk in his one chance to name a song after himself -- it is a love song about a guy he says he only met a few times, who he became infatuated with. But anyone who knows the whole line from the movie Call Me By Your Name, which served as inspiration for the track, will realize what Nas X’s lover’s name, and, by extension, the name of the listener whom he addresses, is according to the rules -- it is Montero, of course (“Call me by your name and I’ll call you by mine”). This is how Nas X starts his first album: Telling us that he knows he deserves to be obsessed over. He marks
the listener as part of his story with his own name but maintains control over what exactly he will tell. And in “Montero” the track, he proudly and unabashedly tells of his queerness. The hypersexuality of the lyrics and the video are not incidental, but Nas X owning exactly what he lives and feels. Nas X artistically displaying his queerness becomes a huge theme as the album progresses, with a notable line in “INDUSTRY BABY” and the juxtaposition between the squeaky-clean longing for love in the lyrics of “THATS WHAT I WANT” and its music video showing more sexuality (between certifiable humans this time, compared to “Montero,” and still highlighting the romantic love Nas X desires -- set at Montero University). In “SUN GOES DOWN,” his lowkey second single, Nas X frankly remembers the hardships of growing up Black and queer in the South while expressing his pride in himself for getting to where he is now. That last idea is another key thread that runs through Montero: Nas X knows his own worth. He knows he is an artist with great potential, so he includes tracks that express this while putting his money where his mouth is. This was clear even before the album’s release with the third single, “INDUSTRY BABY,” in which he and collaborator Jack Harlow say with-
Graphic by Madeline Arbutus.
out reservation that they have proven themselves and will continue to do so, with lines like “I ain’t lost since I began, yeah / Funny how you said it was the end, yeah / Then I went did it again, yeah” all to a killer energizing beat. Is anyone still questioning Lil Nas X’s success? Montero not only features influential artists including Doja Cat, Megan Thee Stallion, Miley Cyrus and Elton John, but also a track that Nas clearly wrote this year, after the release of “Montero” -- because it includes sound bites of news reporters commenting on the track’s monumental impact. Hopefully no one ever again belittles Lil Nas X’s artistic ability and then turns right back around and says he is too much -- too queer, too Black, too proud of himself. But if they do, he could write an entire album of bangers about it that would smash the records he’s already set. email@example.com
ARTS & CULTURE 07
September 29, 2021 @retrieverumbc
‘SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS’ from the perspective of an adopted Chinese-American
Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings in theaters now. Photo by Jack Basmaci.
BY LAUREN GANTMAN Opinions Columnist
Who was your role model growing up? As you think, make sure to pick someone who is not a family member. Reflect on the shows and stories you loved when you were younger. Now here is the tricky question if you are not Caucasian: did they look like you? It is no secret that representation in the media is hard to come by and is something I could relate to growing up as a Chinese adoptee. For me, the answer was Disney’s 1998 cartoon character, Mulan. Not only was she the first Asian woman I saw as a Disney princess, but she was a strong and beautiful hero. Now, representation appears to be growing. With the recent release of “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” Asian American children have their first standalone Asian superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While I was excited as I went to the theater to see this movie, I could not help but feel anxious. As Marvel’s first live-action Asian superhero, “Shang-Chi” has a lot riding on
his back. If the movie does well, it could lead the charge for growing diversity not just in action/adventure movies, but for all of Hollywood. However, the pressure is higher than normal for this film. “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” did not just have to “do well.” If being one of the only minority-centered action movies of the year was not enough, it needed to perform well at the box office in the midst of an ongoing pandemic. I am happy to say I left the theater elated and feeling a rush of adrenaline. Not only did it turn out to be an exceptional movie, but the overall story and characters did not fall into Asian stereotypes we typically see portrayed in western media. Building on this success, the film did more than “well,” topping the box office for its first and second opening weekends. “Shang-Chi” certainly felt like a win for the Asian community, but after further reflection, a closer look was required. “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” has not been the only recent film to focus on Asian American representation. In 2018, “Crazy Rich Asians” proved unforgettable for the first allAsian cast since 1993. In 2020, the origi-
nal “Mulan” was made into a live-action film. And this year, “Raya and the Last Dragon” notably highlighted Southeastern Asians. Each of these films has been promoted and sold on their “groundbreaking” diversity, a hook that has been continuously used to bait audiences out to the theaters. Ironically, “Crazy Rich Asians” was actually criticized for its lack of diversity, specifically for excluding Southeast and darker-skinned Asians. While “Raya and the Last Dragon” was praised for its representation, with the exception of Kelly-Marie Tran who voiced Raya, the majority of the cast was noticeably East-Asian. The films missed the mark on what they were praised for. That being the case, I could not help but wonder, is “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” really any different, or just another marketing ploy? This Marvel film tells the story of a Chinese family and is depicted by Chinese actors. At first glance, it seems safe. But as I sat with the movie for a bit longer, the immense pride of my Chinese representation on screen settling down, I remembered something my sister had told
me after we watched the first trailer: “It feels like Awkwafina is always type-casted as ‘funny Asian side-kick.’” In the film, Awkwafina plays Katy, Shang-Chi’s best friend, and certainly doubles as the comedic relief for a significant amount of the movie. It is a role that she played in both “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Raya and the Last Dragon.” Wait a second, Awkwafina was in all but one of the aforementioned movies commended for their Asian diversity? Do not get me wrong, I love Awkwafina and her humor never fails to get me laughing, but aside from her Golden-Globe winning performance in The Farewell, it is hard to ignore Hollywood’s blatant casting methods. The realization furthered the conversation between my sister and I about the recycling of Asian actors in recent films, a topic we frequently find ourselves discussing after spotting representation in the media. It turns out, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Crazy Rich Asians” share three actors, and it is hard not to notice them if you love the latter movie as much as my family does. Normally, that would not be an issue. It is not unusual for actors to co-star in multiple movies. However, because there is so little Asian diversity in Hollywood, it is always distinguishable when you see the same Asian actors play what often seems the same token Asian character in the majority of films and television you watch. To its credit, “Shang-Chi” did debut new actors like Meng’er Zhang (Shang-Chi’s sister) and gave Simu Liu his big film break. Nevertheless, it does not change the fact that Hollywood is resisting diversifying by casting the same minority actors without allowing room for new faces. Why does seeing people who look like you on screen matter so much? The answer is simple. When we see protagonists that we can relate to, it gives us hope and aspiration, which is why Mulan, and Ming-Na Wen who voiced her, meant so much to me when I was little. Being adopted by a non-Chinese family, I did not have many Asian role models to look up to. While there may be some notable issues with aspects of the casting, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is still a movie that current and future generations of Asian Americans will remember. This movie has made its mark, especially because Liu and Zhang have served as some of the first Asian heroes who do not live in cartoons. Liu and Zhang are giving real faces to the children who watch this film. Yes, these “groundbreaking” films, including “Shang-Chi,” are not as groundbreaking as they are made to appear. Diverse needs to mean more than Hollywood’s marketing definition. It should mean countless Asian American actors of all ethnicities and color. “Shang-Chi” will not be the last of its kind and hopefully will pave the way for more minority-centered, and not just Asian, films. So while we push for more, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is definitely worth a watch or two (or three). firstname.lastname@example.org
September 29, 2021 @retrieverumbc