Monday, June 2, 2014

Race in Superhero Films - Part 3

The ongoing discussion of race in superhero comics and the movies based on them was continued, but not furthered, by this piece of rank stupidity.  The basic argument the author is making here is that even though it's great that the X-Men are such a racially diverse crew, and that it was cool seeing some of that onscreen in X-Men: Days of Future Past, it sucks that none of them were in the more important roles.  Here's how it opens:

Here were the X-Men, Marvel’s ambassadors of tolerance and diversity, finally looking the part: There’s Chinese actress Fan Bingbing (Blink) creating time-traveling portals; French-African actor Omar Sy (Bishop) shooting energy blasts from his fingers; Mexican actor Adam Canto (Sunspot) bursting into robot-fighting flames; and Native American Booboo Stewart (Warpath) fighting with superhuman agility. It’s a virtual United Nations of mutant-kind, under the command of out-and-proud Ellen Page (Kitty Pryde).

Then the actual plot kicks in.

OK, for those who haven't seen or read about the movie, the plot revolves around Wolverine going back in time to bring former friends and X-Men founders Charles Xavier and Magneto back together to stop shape-shifting mutant Mystique from committing an assassination that leads to the creation of the Sentinels, killer robots that will go on to capture and/or kill all mutants and mutant sympathizers.  In case you were wondering, Xavier, Magneto, and Wolverine are all white.  Mystique, but mainly disguises herself as a white woman.  The two other mutants who help the good guys are Quicksilver, a white guy, and Beast who is a white guy when he's not in his mutant form and covered in blue fur.  So according to this writer, everything was all good for 10 minutes before the movie became the charge of the light brigade.  Umm....riiiigggghhhhhtttt.  The author goes on compare the X-Men film to this year's Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy.  Apparently, Anthony Mackie's supporting role as the Falcon in Winter Soldier and Zoe Saldana donning green body paint and playing an alien in Guardians count as big wins in the diversity game.  Umm.....really?  A black actress putting on head to toe green bodypaint, so that you can't see that she's black, is a win?  Did the same rule apply to Avatar, where Ms. Saldana wore head to toe blue bodypaint and played an alien?  If you're going to praise Winter Soldier, why no mention of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury?  

This is a sad case of extrapolating something that just isn't there from a movie.  Despite the overall diversity of the full roster, the primary characters in the X-Men comics are  mostly white.  Prof. Xavier, Magneto, Wolverine, and the Summers family (Cyclops, Jean Gray, Rachel Summers, Cable, Havok).  Some of the other major players (Kitty Pride, Emma Frost, Beast, Colossus, Iceman, Angel, Rogue, Gambit) are white.  The original lineup was all white. Outside of the people mentioned in the first paragraph, the X-Men are mostly white. I'm not calling that a good or bad thing, it's just reality.  The all-time most popular X-Man, Wolverine, is white.  The relationship that has carried the films when there were few other positives, the difficult friendship between Xavier and Magneto, is a friendship of two white guys.  You cannot make an X-Men film that matters and makes good money without including and featuring those characters.  Nobody is going to enjoy seeing any of those characters benched in exchange for 30 more minutes of Halle Berry's widely disliked portrayal of Storm, or for a significant role for characters like Bishop who are not well known to anyone who didn't read the comics or watch the cartoon.  

When it comes to character diversity, we have the same issue that we've always had: the date of creation for most of the characters.  Most major comic book characters were created before 1980, and most of those coming before 1970, which means that most of them are going to be white.  So when you make movies based on these characters, the main roles are likely to for characters who are.......wait for it.......white.  It is what it is.  Most black fans grew up on these characters and we've made peace with it or never had much of a beef with it to begin with.  And given the choice between a movie centered around Storm or Bishop and one centered around say....Spider Man or Captain America, give me the latter.  Get over it, people.  In Winter Soldier the Falcon, Cap's black associate (he's more than a sidekick but not quite and equal), got as much time as he was warranted based on his role in the print version.  If Cap had been incapacitated and we ended up with a Falcon-centered film people wouldn't have liked it as much as they did.  Get over it.

Now if they eventually get around to doing a Black Panther movie, I'll be there.  But not just for the sake of there being a movie with a black main character.  How did Steel work out for us?

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