Now that the fanfare has settled from Comic-Con, it’s time to reflect on a more serious aspect of the show. Among all of the amazing parts of Comic-Con, the panels, fans, celebs, toys, and events- there is still one issue that has left a sour taste in my mouth ever since I started attending back in 2006. Like year’s past, I focused on all the big announcements coming out of legendary Hall H. With the grand hall being the epicenter of the pop culture universe, the contents of each 45 minute panel is enough to start the domino that leads to a media frenzy that lasts all year long. The world is watching, so what do they see? Whether it was Hunger Games, X-Men, Doctor Who, Avengers or most other Hollywood powered panel, one message is clear, there is still a significant lack of heroic diversity in Hollywood.
With tongue in cheek, I called my article “Truth, Justice, and the American Male Way”- in the above pic, Hugh and Patrick may not American but they do represent a certain ideal. The problem is I’m an American male but I sure don’t see any leading men that look like me. My parents immigrated here from Korea shortly before I was born, however just being ‘American’ doesn’t seem to be enough to carry the mantle of a leading role in our cinema culture. To be honest, I should have titled this “Truth, Justice, and the White Male Way”- because that seems to be more accurate judging by all the pics that traditionally come our of Hall H from year-to-year. I know what I am sharing is not anything necessarily new, but how much longer can we continue to accept this? Billions of dollars are poured into these properties that tell stories of white males, celebrate the heroism of white males, and serve to launch careers of white males. While I love all the hype and hoopla that surrounds Hall H, I am also saddened by the fact that this is nothing more than a celebration of our nation’s most treasured commodity: white handsome men. Our applause, adoration, and dollars just goes in to feed this vicious cycle too. I know the intent of most creators and producers is not to crush the spirit of any minority groups out there, but it happens in some way with every movie that comes out with mono-ethnic casting. Sure having a black Nick Fury or Perry White does help, but they are not the ones on the marquee nor is what a franchise is being built on.
A common retort I get (typically from Caucasians) is “Well they are just playing the characters as they were created- which are white…” While I appreciate being faithful to the source material, with this reasoning, we will never see major characters led by people of color. Characters created back in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, were still under the heavy influence of a racist culture. It wasn’t until bold creators like Gene Roddenberry (Star Trek) came along that dared the status quo and helped bring minorities onto TV. Not only are minorities not being considered in key roles but often times they are being replaced for the sake of profit. Take the recent Lone Ranger movie by Disney. How awesome would it had been if they cast an actual Native American for the role of Tonto instead of just trying to ignite yet another franchise for Johnny Depp? It was yet another role to make the rich richer while marginalizing a minority group yet again. To make matters worst, whenever we see minorities in film, they still fall into broad stereotypes that do very little to progress the mindset for the audience. In general, Asians are still martial artists, Blacks are still thugs, Mexicans are low riding gang bangers, and the painful list goes on and on. Does Kato, Storm Shadow, and a samurai sword wielding Sulu have to be all I have to look up to?
Women have fought the similar fight as many marginalized groups over history, however I do think progress is being made- albeit a little. With franchises like the Hunger Games, women are getting more powerful roles but they are still the exception and not the rule- and I still can’t figure out why? Is it that the powers that be don’t know what to do with strong, independent women? We’ve seen some success on the small screen but it is clear Hollywood still feels it is too risky to put their dollars behind an iconic character like Wonder Woman. Sorry ladies, Catmwomen and Electra is all you have to represent. If there is any doubt to this, try applying the Bechdel Test to any of your favorite movies. Warning, if you are like me, this test will ruin movie watching (but for the better). I’m elated that women are getting more opportunities but if you stand back and really analyze the landscape of cinema, it is still pretty abysmal. Leading roles for women are few let alone to have multiple named female in a cast that contribute to the story and aren’t there to fight over a man. I so appreciate this recent article about women at Comic-Con by Kate Conway that delves into this issue more deeper.
I’m afraid the GLTB community is going to have an even longer wait than probably any of the minorities I listed above. It seems the main value of gay characters in Hollywood are more or less to be comic relief or to be a broad stereotype. I can’t even think of a main character of any movie that is gay but that NOT be the main point of his/her character. Contrary to popular casting, a gay character doesn’t have to ‘act gay’ in order to legitimize his/her role in a story. John Barrowman’s Captain Jack Harkness of the Torchwood series has been the first step in this direction and it has added a refreshing new aspect to this conversation.
I dunno, am I just taking crazy pills here or does this all seem a little insane? Is it too much to ask that we minorities be given a fair shot and not be relegated to secondary characters or comic relief. It’s so blatantly obvious yet no one cares or is empowered to do anything about it. It’s not a shock to anyone when I say, I love Comic-Con. I wouldn’t blame Comic-Con for this plight more than I would blame a dish for serving a bad meal. But it saddens me that at the core of all these amazing Hall H announcements, the underling message to the next generation of artists, writers, directors, and actors is that if you are going to make it in Hollywood, you need to play this game. Think about it, with all of the amazing talent, power, and money in Hollywood, there still has yet to be an established leading Asian American male. Seriously? It’s the 21st century and Asians are closing in on half the population of the world and yet no leading men of Asian American decent? I am going crazy.
I was glad to end Comic-Con with my Battle for Multicultural Heroes panel on Sunday. Joined by a great group of fellow advocates, it was awesome to interact about this issue with a passioante audience. In the shadow of all the epic Hall H announcements, I think it was fitting to put it all into context and to talk openly about what need to happen for this culture to change. The conversation was the very tip of a very large iceberg but each small step counts. Hopefully, we’ll locate the audio for it to post online.
Let me make something clear. I love white people. They are awesome. They are one of my favorite things in the world :). In most cases, I know it’s not malignant intent but usually a result of this issue just being out of sight, out of mind. Unfortunately, minorities will never be able to create themselves out of this plight. It will only come at the permission of white men. As gate keepers of this industry, it will take a coordinated effort to make this change. It will be difficult and long but a change is long overdue. For the sake of length, I plan to share the solution for this change in my next post- so check back tomorrow. My hope is not to stir contention or spread divisiveness about what is otherwise the best event of the year. I simply want to bring to the forefront what’s on the mind of many fellow Comic-Con fans in hopes to spark conversation. If one creator makes a different decision as a result of these conversations then progress is being made. But it’s going to take a lot of talking, a lot of sharing of ideas, and compromise at many levels. I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. I can’t think of a more important topic that is more dependent on your comments.
Check back tomorrow for my part 2 to this article as I present a solution to this dilemma.