Truth, Justice, and the American Male Way…

Don’t worry Pat, the future is in good hands...

Don’t worry bub, the future is in good hands…

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.

Marvel Studios Panel At Comic-ConWith 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.

Warner Bros. And Legendary Pictures Preview - Comic-Con International 2013A 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?

Liam Hemsworth, Willow Shields, Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Jena MaloneWomen 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.

Starz "Torchwood" Panel - Comic-Con 2011I’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.

SONY DSCI 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.

15 thoughts on “Truth, Justice, and the American Male Way…

  1. Simple really, They will go with the actors who will make them the most money and 74% of the population is White. Also a rule of thumb when doing anything is “You cant please everyone” someones feelings will get hurt. All I can see is that that displeasure and go out and write and make your own movies. We live in an age where that is possible.

    • I agree that having minorities create is an important part of change but I don’t think it is enough. The gate keepers have to intentionally release their control and allow for minorities to lead the way. It’s like telling a slave in the 1800s to just go out and live free. There must first be a systemic change at the top for real progress to be made. Thanks so much for your comment!

  2. It’s hard, for me to post anything or comment on anything for this subject. As a “white man” I fall in the group of people who are a majority in this country. It would be nice if things were not set the way they are. I love comics and video games but they have been dominantly white for many years. Now that change is be presented we also see the issue of fans not liking some changes. A good example would be to change a well established hero to a different race. To create a new super hero takes time, effort and a ton of talent. I see new heroes come and go and they have to be something special to make the cut into legendary status. A good example would be Cyborg who I personally love and want to see more representation in JL.
    Last note, and I am not sure if this is what you wanted people to say, is that it would be nice to avoid stereotyping. It seems like some of that still happens too often. Why does the Asian hero have to be good at martial arts? Why cant he or she be a speed type or Superman like or maybe a not so bright tank sort of hero?

    • Thanks for your thoughts. Like I mentioned in my article, as a white male, your thoughts on the subject is VERY important and it key to leading to change. It would be cool to see Cyborg get more love- but sadly I fear if we see him at all, it will be as a secondary character in a JL movie.

  3. Thanks. As a Mexican American woman, I know there are few to none actual representations of who I, my friends, and family truly are. I am a teacher, I have a Master’s degree, I don’t have an accent, and I don’t dress the way Hollywood thinks. I remember reading the title for a Walking Dead episode entitled “Vatos,” and I knew Mexican gang stereotypes with badly acted accents had invaded the zombie apocalypse. And every Sunday night there’s a show on lifetime called “Devious Maids,” where the Hispanic leads play housekeepers in a terrible soap opera drama. To me, that’s not a step forward, but ten steps back.

    • I don’t totally mind stereotypes since they were developed from reality. What really bothers me is when this is as far as it goes. If you introduce a character as a stereotype, allow them to evolve into something rich and interesting. I just hate seeing 2-D characters. Thanks for commenting!

  4. What a very insightful and well though-out article. I believe the exact same as you Tony. Since I was a teenager, I noticed a lack of roles for minorities and women, especially Asian-American and Native-American. I believe there are many more roles for other minorities but especially with the 2 groups mentioned much hasn’t been done and Iv’e also notice that it still seems to “be okay” with jokes aimed at the Asian and Northern African cultures.
    I applaud the roles that these minorities play that don’t require the actor to be of a certain culture such as Graham Greene playing a cop in Kindergarten Cop in the early 90’s or John Cho playing Sulu (although the original was Asian, the role just required a man playing a ship’s officer), more later back to work

  5. I want to say that I really enjoyed the Multicultural Heroes panel and your blogs. I am a Deaf male. I am white only based on what I look like. I decide to research if there is any Deaf superhero. I was surprised that one did exist in Marvel Universe. To my dismay, this character named Echo made appearance in Daredevil, a blind superhero. I didn’t like the concept of clumping disabled heroes together. I also have to admit that the second reason I lost interest because she was a woman. It was cool that she is Native American. I’m all for Ripley kicking aliens’ butts, I love reading Strangers in Paradise, but why does it bother me that the first Deaf hero is a woman? After reading your blog, I felt shame of myself. Now I am planning to order the Daredevil TPB featuring the Echo character and give the story a chance. (I wonder if the Bechdel Test apply to comic books?)
    Thank,Tony, for opening my eyes!

    • Michael, Thanks so much for writing in. It was great to briefly meet you and thanks for coming to the panel. My article failed to mention the fight for representation from the handicapable community but I know it’s a similar one as other minorities. I mentioned it briefly in the panel though. We all have a ways to go and I too have biases based on personal preferences. Hopefully as we continue to exchange ideas, we can all further our mindset about what it means to be a true ‘hero’. Thanks for writing in a comment!

  6. Thanks for writing this Tony. I’m also an Asian-American male and I have a daughter which has got me thinking more lately about female roles. Awareness is always the place to start, so articles like yours are very important. Personally I can’t understand how there isn’t a single Asian character in the Star Wars franchise and am really hoping Episode VII rectifies that.

    The one thing I take issue with is your response to Marco. I think minorities creating (writing, drawing, directing, producing, etc.) IS the key to the shift. It’s the same thing that Michelle Rodriguez said in her “Women Who Kick Ass” panel – “We gotta start writing.” (Btw, this article has a similar tone as yours:

    The reality is that Hollywood doesn’t care what color you are, they care about the color of money. So if a minority can bring in money, they won’t stand in the way. They key is convincing them of that. Look at the Fast and Furious franchise, it was revitalized by Justin Lin and touts one of the most diverse casts in summer blockbuster movies (AND the Asian guy gets the hot girl for once). The more directors, producers, writers and actors we get out there, the better representation there will be.

    Beyond that though, it will always be a challenge given the audience. But hey, it wasn’t that long ago Will Smith and Martin Lawrence had a hard time getting Bad Boys made because audiences allegedly wouldn’t accept two black men as leads.

    • Hi Ron, thanks for your comment. Yea, I think the reality of where this is all going really strikes home when you view it from the lens of the next generation. That’s why it makes me so sad that the images and videos coming out of Hall H are so mono-ethnic centered. In regards to my response to Marco, I didn’t mean to say minorities creating wasn’t important. I just meant that it is the other side of the same coin. Minorities have to create while the establishments makes room for them at the same time. AMEN about the Star Wars observation- what tha heck?!?! Thanks again for visiting and check back tomorrow as I dive into the solution to all this.

  7. Great article! As an Asian girl, I’m constantly fed up with the lack of diversity in Hollywood. The change does need to start at the top with getting more minority executives, writers, directors into the business but it also needs to start with us as the audience, especially at Comic Con where everyone there is a fan of some sort of superhero, fantasy show, or sci-fi movie. Why is it so hard to believe that a black actor could play Superman when we totally can believe about show about the future or a movie taking place in a different world?

  8. I love that you wrote this. Like Nerdheart, I’m also a Mexican-American woman. I do not have an accent, I have a college degree, and I speak three languages (or butcher three languages, depending on your view of things). Never mind the struggle to find a Hollywood representation of who I am–I can barely find other Latinos on a day-to-day basis with whom I can relate to. I agree that in regards to an actual paradigm shift, there needs to be involvement from the current “key-holders” in the industry. I also agree that there needs to be more minorities actively seeking to be involved in that industry: writers, actors, etc. That being said, I think there is actually one more important shift we need to see: the way we, in our respective minority groups, see ourselves. Speaking just for my own minority group, I personally feel like too many of us go out of our way to perpetuate the stereotypes being thrust upon us. When I’ve had Hispanic co-workers in the past, we’ve joked that we have to “talk white” to come across as professional. My cousins, who perpetuate the gang banger stereotype to frightening degrees, think my interests in video games, Doctor Who, and anime are “for white people”. I have countless other examples, but the crux of the matter is, many minorities view anything breaking out of the stereotype mold to be “acting white”. Can we just cut that out? PLEASE? It’s ridiculous. Finding a college educated Mexican-American with a strong command of the English language and varying interests should not be like finding a freakin’ unicorn.

  9. Tony, Thanks for the article. It’s clear that we need more open discussions about the lack of diversity in hollywood and I thank you for your bringing visibility to the issue. I’d like to say that when I watch Hollywood films the ethnicity or race of the characters never enters my mind, but when almost all the characters are white males it makes movies that break the mold stand out. As a latino, I still remember the fist movie I saw (Spy Kids) where the main characters were latinos and it made no difference to the plot. They weren’t maids, gang bangers or people crossing the Mexico/US border. It was a breath of fresh air and a step in the right direction. It was disappointing to see some of the same types of negative stereotypes creep up in this summers latest blockbuster (Despicable Me2) with a latino character who owns a Mexican restaurant, serves guacamole out of Mexican revolutionary hats, and has a macho womanizer for a son.

    Hollywood has got a long way to go, but I’m doing my part and teaching my kids the value of diversity and supporting efforts such as yours. Cheers to you!

    • Yea, it sometimes feels like two steps forwards, one step back. Yes, the very best thing we can do is teach our kids the value of diversity and pray they can change the future. Thanks for sharing and commenting!

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