I wrote this a couple weeks ago and I liked it, so I thought I’d put it up. It’s about comics, the film industry, and diversity. It’s kind of rambly and not well put together or fleshed out, but whatever. I’m highly self-conscious about what I write/post and don’t like eating up people’s dashboard space, so here’s a handy read more link.
Whenever someone mentions Spider-Man, I like to jokingly bring up Donald Glover. A few years back, there was a pretty popular Twitter campaign to get him an audition as the next Spidey, and as comical as it may seem, it ended up being a big enough deal to influence Brian Michael Bendis’s decision to bring in the Black-Hispanic Miles Morales as the new Spider-Man in the Ultimate Comics universe. However, it also sparked a ridiculous amount of bigotry and racist outrage from comic book community and white people in general, presenting a very inconvenient truth about the film industry and comic fan base. Donald never got an audition because frankly, he never had a chance. Big important production companies that make big important superhero flicks simply don’t cast black actors in leading roles. Sure, they hide behind excuses about being “colorblind” and looking for the “most talented” choice for the role, but seem to avoid the peculiar statistic that traditionally white male characters, for the most part, have only been played by the same old demographic, and some characters of color have even been whitewashed over decades. There are some clear exceptions to this, but they usually consist of either black mega-stars (that already appeal to white people) surrounded by entirely white casts.
I’m not saying that I think Spider-Man should necessarily be black, but it would be cool if he was, and someone like Donald Glover, although he would make an amazing Peter Parker would never be considered for the role because of his race. We need to bring ourselves to accept the fact that for the vast majority of superheroes and characters, things like race, gender, sexuality, and cultural heritage are not vital factors to their personas. Spider-Man could’ve been pansexual, Asian, and genderqueer, and would still be Spider-Man. A much more awesome version, but Spidey none the less. It’s hard to suppress a disappointed sigh when the fresh new reboot of a franchise is starring yet another traditionally handsome straight, white, cismale.
Speaking of, this past May, the Avengers was released and box offices all over the country starting spontaneously combusting with mushroom clouds of cash. I adored the movie. It was wonderfully written, filmed, and produced, and brought to life characters that I love in a way I hadn’t thought probable on the big screen. However, the cast of heroes hand picked to defend the human race is still a bunch of white people. If Sam Jackson hadn’t been cast as Nick Fury, one would be hard pressed to find one person of color with a speaking role, and that’s very problematic (the same can be said for Lucius Fox in TDKR). Like Fury, any of the Avengers could’ve been of any race, heritage, gender, sexuality, etc within reason, and yet they keep churning out the same heroes with the same specifications.
This concept is true for the vast majority of personas, but there are some whose race/culture actually are essential and probably won’t make it to theaters without being white washed in some way. For example, take the Black Panther, a Marvel character that I would love to see thrown up on the big screen. Set in the futuristic yet fictional African country of Wakanda, our titular hero T’Challa, on becoming king, dons the mask of the Black Panther, following in the footsteps of his royal lineage. He also goes on to marry Ororo Munroe (a.k.a. Storm, of the X-Men), forming probably the most powerful couple in the Marvel universe, and leading a powerful, black nation that doesn’t even answer to (or need) entities like S.H.I.E.L.D.. Taking that franchise to Hollywood would make for a spectacular film with a cast of strong black characters, serving to inspire and motivate young black kids who yearn for a “Captain America”-esque figure that looks more like them. In spite of Marvel’s current spate of film-craziness, I’d be surprised if this was produced in the next decade without completely changing the setting of the story and complexion of the characters.
I, like anyone whose race, culture, gender, sexuality, etc deviates from the “norm”, went through this as a child (and still do today). As the media fed me increasingly negative and problematic perceptions of my own race, I was lucky enough to find heroes in characters like Static Shock, a black, male, urban youth (with dreadlocks no less), that actually does good and fights for a brighter tomorrow, even though society dictates he should be doing just the opposite. There are whole demographics in this country and the world that are being largely ignored and marginalized in media and film, and have been for decades. All these summer blockbusters, The Avengers, Dark Knight Rises, Spider-Man, are fantastic movies, but would probably do better at the box office and appeal to a larger demographic if they actually reflected the diversity of their fan bases and the society we all live in. Someday, as we all collectively get over our own internalized prejudice, they will, but until then, I can only cross my fingers for a big budget superhero flick centered around and casting characters of color. When I see movie posters for the Black Panther, Luke Cage, or Static Shock, I’ll be first in line at the midnight premier.