By Samantha Anteau
When people think of superheroes, they often think of attractive white men saving the world. It’ll usually take a couple rounds of “name a superhero” before someone says a woman (though, admittedly, the “Wonder Woman” movie helped change this a little; more on that later) and even longer for them to get to a person of color, if they ever do.
If we’re just going to look at blockbuster superhero movies, this is pretty intensely reinforced. In the first wave of blockbuster superhero movies, we got “Iron Man”, “Wolverine”, “Batman”, “Superman”, etc., all falling snugly into the category of “white men saving the world.”
Were there female side characters? Did people of color occasionally make an appearance, including the rare woman of color? Of course. However, being a top-tier superhero tended to fall on the white, male characters.
That’s not to say that those who create superhero movies don’t have a lot of sources to pull from. Though the comic book industry is notoriously male-centric and white, there are plenty of notable female superheroes and superheroes of color. There are already introduced characters to pick from, like Black Panther, Storm, Black Widow, Heimdall (Idris Elba edition), Jubilee or Falcon.
There are also plenty of characters who haven’t appeared who would make great choices. John Stewart’s Green Lantern, America Chavez, Bishop, Danielle Moonstar. If you haven’t heard of them before, it really doesn’t matter; after all, who even knew that the “Guardians of the Galaxy” existed before the movie came out?
Studio executives can’t say that movies featuring women and/or people of color in leading roles wouldn’t sell. “Wonder Woman” is the fifth highest grossing superhero film of all time, and the highest grossing film in the DCEU. “Black Panther” has the highest pre-release ticket sales of any superhero movie ever and is predicted to make at least $400 million at the box office.
There simply is no excuse, monetary or otherwise, for these movies not to be made. Are the studios getting better about being inclusive? Yes, of course.
Wonder Woman’s second film is in pre-production, “Black Panther” is coming out this week, and “Captain Marvel” is set to come out March of next year. But to have three out of thirty-nine solo superhero movies in the last ten years (including ones that are set to come out in the next two years) be centered on a woman or a person of color is absolutely abysmal.
Honestly, I’ll just say it: I’m bored. I’m bored of the same generically good looking white actor playing some guy with a tortured background but the heart of a hero, I’m tired of women and POC having to play love interests and sidekicks to their white male counterparts.
It physically exhausts me that Batman had twelve movies before Wonder Woman had even one, and that up until Wonder Woman, no female superhero ever had a solo film.
People of color suffered the same fate, with the first superhero of color with a solo movie being the upcoming “Black Panther” while a white Spiderman got to be rebooted and told in virtually the same way three separate times. We need to do better.
If this is something that you want to see as much as I do, encourage those you know to go see “Black Panther” or “Captain Marvel”, to tweet about how much they want to see more diversity in films.
The only things that will ever be made are the things the studios think are going to sell, so support these movies in every way you can. Once we prove that this is the content we want to see, we can take a step forward towards a cinematic universe that offers more diversity than a bevy of white guys named Chris.
One Reply to “Superhero movies lack diversity”
First, I would like to say, I agree with you on almost all points.
There were, however, a few female led superhero movies prior to Wonder Woman. Unfortunately, they were poorly made. Halle Berry led Catwoman (2004). Jennifer Garner led Elektra (2005). Back in the 80’s, there was Supergirl, led by Helen Slater (1984).
For African Americans, there was the Blade Trilogy led by Wesley Snipes (1998-2004) and Steel led by Shaquille O’Neal (1997). There were a few others like Spawn (1997) and Hancock, led by Will Smith (2008) that weren’t Marvel or DC Comics characters. There were also superhero “spoof” movies: Blankman (1994, Damon Wayans) and The Meteor Man (1993, Robert Townsend). The Blade movies and Hancock saw blockbuster, international success, unlike the female led movies mentioned above that struggled at the box office.
I believe the reasons for Wonder Woman and Black Panther’s enormous success was that they were a break from the norm. Wonder Woman wasn’t the first female led superhero film, but it was helmed by a top female director and it connected with both female and male audiences. It was well written, amazingly directed by the incredible Patty Jenkins, and had amazing production. Black Panther wasn’t the first African American led superhero film, however, it resonated with both female and male audiences, and with an audience that included skin tones across the color band. Black Panther was the first and only superhero film to make my heart pound, bring tears to my eyes (watching T’Challa plummet off of the cliff was one of a few moments), and cause me to really FEEL the movie in my chest. The original Superman and Superman 2 with Christopher Reeve, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, and Black Panther have been the only superhero movies that made me feel ALL THE FEELS. I have to add The Force Awakens to that list, although it isn’t necessarily a “superhero” movie by comic standards, but in all actuality, it is very much a superhero movie. That scene with Rey fighting Kylo Ren had me gripping my cushy recliner in the theater with a tenacity I don’t experience outside of driving something rear wheel drive with over 400 horsepower and a thundering Chevy, BMW M or Mercedes AMG V8 that everyone can hear coming or going. Watch The Last Jedi- there are two scenes in particular that show Rey for the superhero she is. One scene is during her training when rocks levitate off of the ground around her palms. The other scene is when she moves rocks to rescue the Rebel forces hiding out in an old mountain based bunker with Kylo Ren and his forces on the other side.
I would like to add to this part of a post I tacked onto another blog entry, that I think fits my commentary on this (Samantha’s) awesome blog post.
I remember sitting in the theater to see Black Panther and was wildly impressed by the totally diverse, packed crowd there to enjoy the film. The same was the case with Wonder Woman. With both of these films, the excitement and energy in the air when I was at the theater to see them was incredible and infectious. Out of all my years of movie-going, I have never felt such ATMOSPHERE for a movie, with the exception of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which although not classified as a superhero movie, it is driven by a female lead- another major step forward in the male dominated sci-fi genre. DC has failed, in my belief, to truly embrace ethnic and gender diversity (with the exception of Wonder Woman) and I believe that they have failed with writers and directors, with the exception of The Dark Knight trilogy helmed by Christopher Nolan. I think that for DC to see true success, it needs to embrace exceptional writing, continue to tap into directorial talent like they have with Patty Jenkins and Christopher Nolan, but reach out to ethnically diverse leadership- there are many amazing directors and producers with vibrant ethnic backgrounds that can contribute exponentially to DC’s film making. I believe Marvel should do the same. I also believe that the next big film to watch from either film factory would be Captain Marvel. I have high hopes that it will continue the trends set by The Force Awakens, Wonder Woman and Black Panther. I also seriously hope to see Storm (X-Men) stand a lone films, as well as many other diverse characters that Marvel has created. DC has some good stuff too, but I think they first need to nail their core- Batman (They nailed it with The Dark Knight Trilogy but are having a hard time connecting the character with the larger DCU), Superman (They are having a hard time with the current canon), Wonder Woman (They nailed it on that one), and the rest of the core characters. I think building on all of that will strengthen DC’s offerings. I don’t see superhero films going away because as a kid, I was completely smitten by Superman depicted by Christopher Reeve. When Michael Keaton put on the Batman cape and cowl, I was hooked. I am entering my forties and still love superhero films. I was disappointed by many of the movies DC has come out with, but I think that DC can still find enormous success, with the right directors and producers, the right writers, and the right collection of cast and characters. I see Marvel continuing to do well, if they can learn from what they have done so far, and continue to tap into the right diverse talent. I can name Indian/Bollywood, Asian, African American, female, Hispanic and Latina/Latino directors, producers and writers- that would make impressive productions if their enormous talent was properly tapped into. They would most certainly keep the superhero film genre alive and kicking for decades to come.
I wanted to conclude this by saying, since we are writers here, we can be the change we want to see in this world. We are creators. We don’t have to wait for Marvel or DC or TV or anything else to create diversity in storytelling. We can do it, in our own storytelling. Here on blogs, or in our novels, we have the power to introduce rich characters, with ethnically diverse backgrounds and cultures, that can engage our readers in ways unlike anything else. After all, all of these superhero movies came from comics. Comics, although mostly visual, are a form of literature.
I’ve already taken the challenge. Being an African American male, I am introducing an ancient female superhero with pre-Babylonian roots. The Lady Justice Saga is an eight book series I began writing. The first novel in that series, Sympatheia, is out now and available on Amazon and on my own website. This new superhero makes her debut in the second book of the series, Pantheon Oblivion, due out soon. It’s a smorgasbord of characters from all walks of life and backgrounds, and the story arc takes you across the globe to exotic locales, and eventually to places you’d never imagine. Talk about multi-ethnic and diverse!
And books get film deals. Book writers pen screenplays. Let’s change the face of superheroes and the face of Hollywood, one project at a time.