Diversity in media is an ongoing debate. Particularly after this year’s Academy Awards it is clear that a disparity exists between the range of ethnicities and cultures that we see portrayed on screen and those that we see in our every day lives. This is an issue, but why?
So many people are ready to dismiss lack of diversity as a non-issue:
“If you’re so focused on race then maybe you’re the issue.”
“The best actors are chosen for the roles available.”
“The story comes first: film-makers can’t do their jobs if they have to approach every project with a check-list to appease every minority.”
In some respects, I agree: diversity can’t be approached as a check-list. I’ve seen far too many gay best friends, Asian nerds and sassy black women on screen who have no story of their own but are there for the sole reason of making a film seem inclusive. If a film is set in 17th century London, then I’m not expecting to see a cultural melting-pot but in the US in 2016? Come on.
Art reflects the situation in which it was created and to ignore whole groups of people makes it inauthentic. It’s not enough to have background characters and extras from different races when every person with a speaking role is white.
Marvel Studios have done an amazing job of creating their own cinematic universe, making them the highest-grossing film franchise in history (beating out the Harry Potter series by more than $2 billion). Amongst their thirteen feature films, not one of them has a protagonist that isn’t a straight white man. Still, this isn’t exactly a radical discovery when compared to other large studios. In fact, as a company that make films based on characters from comics that have existed for over 70 years – they do quite well in terms of casting actors that look like the original artist depictions.
Except Doctor Strange.
If you missed it, Marvel came under significant fire over white-washing claims in their latest film, Doctor Strange, which will be released later this year. I could talk about it forever but for once we’re focusing on the positive and that is Black Panther.
Over the last month we’ve heard more about the casting of the movie but it wasn’t until The Hollywood Reporter posted this photo with one of their stories that my heart really began to sing.
Black Panther demonstrates a real commitment (unlike Marvel’s ‘commitment’ to a Black Widow movie) to a superhero film with a black cast. It’s important to note that Black Panther became the first mainstream black superhero in American comics when he made his first appearance in Fantastic Four #52 in July 1966. His story means a lot to people and fans want to see that honoured.
At this point in time Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, and Lupita Nyong’o have officially been cast in the film. The world fell in love with Boseman’s Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War and whilst the roles that Jordan and Nyong’o will adopt are still just speculation, they’re amazing actors that are all but guaranteed to be fantastic. The director, Ryan Coogler, and the cast are huge names and accomplished actors which puts to rest the ridiculous idea that there aren’t big-name black people in Hollywood.
The film will be set in the fictional African country of Wakanda which is miles ahead of the rest of the world in regards to technology. Obviously the film hasn’t yet been released but so far it looks like they’re going to stay true to the country (as true as you can remain to a fake country). That is to say, they aren’t Americanising it – the characters from the country speak with non-US accents, they have their own language and they are depicting an African country as more than what you see on Save the Children adverts.
People speak about Africa like it’s one country in which everybody lives in shacks when the reality is that it is a continent with more than 50 different countries contained within it.
Representation of black people is scarce in media but if you do see films about black people it’s either about the impoverished or slavery. Black Panther is setting a precedent – a massive studio is producing a film that doesn’t simply have a black protagonist but a black cast and it’s set in Africa. Movies like this are never targeted at a large demographic but this one will be.
You hear the word ‘representation’ all the time to the point at which it may begin to lose all meaning but it is important. When you look back on your childhood, the characters that you saw on screen became your heroes: you wanted to dress like them, talk like them, be them. When you look at your TV and all of your heroes are a different race to you, it is disheartening. Clearly, people like you aren’t heroes and that idea is beyond damaging for young kids.
We’re not going to see Black Panther until early 2018 but as of now, I’m excited about it.
Do you believe that representation in media is an issue at the moment? What do you think about the direction that Marvel is taking Black Panther? Do you like the casting of the film so far? Let me know in the comments.