Diversity Aboveground: DC Films, the Good and the Bad
The current slate of DC Comics films are representative of Hollywood as a whole. There’s still an emphasis on Caucasians especially males. People of color appear to be cast for brownie points. Different sexual orientations are just about non-existent. However, there are some bright spots.
Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice
Two Caucasian male actors fighting each other, yay!
There is Lois Lane (Amy Adams) who doesn’t back down and persists until she gets what she wanted in the first place. It’s just too bad that she has no real purpose to the plot. Instead, she shows up whenever it feels like the script has written itself into a corner and needs someone else to show up. Need the audience to be introduced to a character? Bring in Lane. Need the audience to learn Luthor knows about the truth about Kent before Kent does? Use Lane. It never specifically requires Lane so a sexy lamp with the power of speech might have worked well, too. She also manages to need rescuing at least three times during the film.
Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice is the first live action appearance of Wonder Woman in a theatrical release. She ends up with seven minutes of screen-time: 22% of the film. It’s little more than a cameo. She comes, she bests Batman and helps save the day while the audience learns almost nothing about her. On one hand, the focus is to set up Batman and Wonder Woman will be getting her own film. On the other hand, the only time she even speaks to another female is an unnamed flight attendant. Amy Adams and Gal Gadot spent three days filming together and barely interact in the actual film. Why?
There are people of color in the film. Lane manages to get an interview with an African warlord which sounds impressive except it’s a set-up to get Superman to rescue her so they can confirm that Superman is Clark Kent. The film also continues the narrative that everyone in Africa must be poor or a criminal. Compare that with the Marvel Cinematic Universe where Africa has appeared in two films and all appearances showcase the modern amenities of the continent rather than American stereotypes. Captain America: Civil War even has an African superhero, Black Panther, with his own plot line that is crucial to the title character.
Nine people of color are listed with actual names in the credits but three of those are Vikram Gandhi, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Soledad O’Brien as themselves. Even though Julian Tennon appears in multiple scenes and seems to be important, his character is “General Security Chief”.
Perry White was always cast as a Caucasian male until Laurence Fishburne was picked in the previous film, Man of Steel. White also appears in Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice where he and Chief exist to impede Lane momentarily even though her plot line has no real bearing on the main story. When he’s not trying to harsh Lane’s squee, he also tells Kent not to do a story on Batman which sounds about as realistic as not doing a story on Trump. Later, he asks where Kent is as everyone else discusses Superman’s mysterious disappearance. White has been working with Kent for 18 months and hasn’t figured out he’s Superman? How is the audience supposed to believe that? How stupid is White supposed to be?
Diversity is important but when you make those who look different than your title characters into criminals, impediments or morons, whose benefiting from this diversity?
Diana Prince is an Amazon and her Amazons are loosely based off the mythological Amazons. The original historian, Herodotus, felt the original Amazons fell under the Iranian groups of people while others thought they were African or Greek. Considering how dark many Greeks are, the one thing everyone seems to agree on is that they weren’t light skinned. With Prince being played by Gal Gadot of Israel, the rest should also be those with darker skin, right?
The two women in charge of the Amazons; Queen Hippolyta and General Antiope, are played by Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright. However, among the supporting cast, there are Mayling Ng, Florence Kasumba and Ann Wolfe but how important will their characters be? Wolfe is a boxer without professional acting experience and Ng has just a handful of smaller roles so it looks like Kasumba as Senator Acantha might be the only one of the three with a decent role. The actresses were announced after an initial backlash that the first three actresses cast after Gadot were all Caucasian. In the comic book, all the Amazons are Caucasian but Wonder Woman first appeared 75 years ago when people expected all their heroes to have light skin. Times are different now. If Hippolyta’s hair can be changed from black to blond to brunette, why can’t her skin color change, too?
Wonder Woman’s creator, William Moulton Marston, described her creation as “Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman…Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world”.
Of course, that’s where the Caucasian preference in Wonder Woman comics becomes a problem. Many Women of Color feel alienated from “white feminism”.
Bell Hooks noted in her book, Feminist Theory, that “…White women who dominate feminist discourse today rarely question whether or not their perspective on women’s reality is true to the lived experiences of women as a collective group. Nor are they aware of the extent to which their perspectives reflect race and class biases, although there has been greater awareness of biases in recent years. Racism abounds in the writings of white feminists, reinforcing white supremacy and negating the possibility that women will bond politically across ethnic and racial boundaries. Past feminist refusal to draw attention to and attack racial hierarchies suppressed the link between race and class. Yet class structure in American society has been shaped by the racial politic of white supremacy; it is only by analyzing racism and its function in capitalist society through a thorough understanding of class relationships can emerge. Class struggle is inextricably bound to the struggle to end racism.”
If Wonder Woman insists on Prince being the only Woman of Color with power and real importance to the story instead of a minor obstacle, it furthers the assumption that the real equality that feminism desires can only be achieved by those with pale skin.
Because when Harley Quinn is DC Comics’ Deadpool in terms of being insanely popular and when your character is the most popular Halloween costume in 2015, you can do whatever you want? It seems to be the only explanation for why Suicide Squad has the most diverse comic book film cast since…ever?
The squad is put together by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) and *fingers crossed* she’ll live much longer than her Arrow counterpart. There are seven members of the Suicide Squad a.k.a. Task Force X and only two are Caucasian actors! Can you imagine watching an Avengers where the majority of them were People of Color?
Waller and Deadshot (Will Smith) are African-Americans while Killer Croc’s actor, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, is an English actor of Nigerian immigrants. El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) is only the third Latino seen on the big screen with super powers. The first one was Bane in Batman and Robin with the second being Sunspot in X-Men: Days of Future Past.
Yep, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has yet to have a Latino superhero and made their main Latino character into a double agent for HYDRA. The eye rolling may commence.
Let’s not forget about Slipknot (Adam Beach). Beach is a member of the Anihšināpē that are part of the First Nations in Canada. As avid comic book reader since age six, he said that “To be part of the DC world is just a dream come true.” It’s unknown whether his background will be incorporated into the film but Hollywood should be casting more actors from the First Nations and Native Americans from the United States. Hopefully, this film will have more screentime for Slipknot than Warpath (Boo Boo Stewart) in X-Men: Days of Future Past.
It can be argued that the diverse representation is tainted by all the characters being criminals. However, it’s similar to Guardians of the Galaxy where they use their skills for the greater good.
Adam Beach first garnered media attention for winning Best Actor at the 1998 San Diego World Film Festival. The film, Smoke Signals, was written by Sherman Alexie’s from his collection of short stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. Smoke Signals is also remarkable because it was the first widely distributed film where the screenwriter, director, crew and cast, minus Cynthia Geary, were all either First Nations or Native American or as Alexie calls it, “all Indian”.
Alexie has kept busy in the 18 years since with other films, writings and efforts to help Native American youths. Last week, he released his first children’s book, Thunder Boy Jr. about his experiences sharing his father’s name. Previously, Alexie wrote the award-winning novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian for teenagers. The positive response made him want to write for younger readers and their parents.
In 1999, Alexie was already thinking about children as he told the Chicago Tribune that “it’s great that `Indian guy’ shows up on `Good Morning America.’ Indian guy shows up on Charlie Rose. Indian guy shows up talking to the president on PBS. More than anything, it helps little Indian boys and girls, who can see someone like them up on the screen, rather than somebody in a loincloth.”
In writing for the book, he admitted “I couldn’t find any contemporary fiction on Native American kids that didn’t rely on old tropes,” and analysis backs him up that “First/Native nations” are the least represented group in children’s literature.
When it came to picking the artwork for the new book, Alexie asked his publisher to show him “10 brown illustrators.” He chose Yuyi Morales, an America born in Veracruz, Mexico. Morales colloborated on a few elements of the book since she’s also an accomplished author and was the first Latina to have her book receive the Caldecott Award.
“My commitment has been strong with children, but especially those children who need something familiar to hold on to,” Yuyi Morales spoke, agreeing with Alexie about the importance of representation and children being able to see those who look like them.
Marvel’s upcoming film, Black Panther, has added Lupita Nyong’o and Michael B. Jordan to the cast. Their specific roles are unknown but the sad fact is that despite Black Panther being a film set in a fictional African country, it was surprising to have multiple leads be African or African-Americans. However, Marvel Studios President, Kevin Feige, confirms that the cast will be “90% African or African-American.”
Chelsea Handler is a little off about how that works but Chadwick Boseman does add…
The latest rumor is that the cast might be adding John Boyega as well.
WB announced plans for more all female films in the DC universe!
Birds of Prey, Batgirl, Bumblebee and more are all possibilities.
From Agent Carter to Laverne Cox to Nancy Drew, who were the real winners and losers from television’s pick ups and cancellations?