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Not Your Sidekick : Why We Need More Men of Color in Leading Roles.

Not Your Sidekick : Why We Need More Men of Color in Leading Roles.

Written by Jahkotta Lewis

Show business isn’t easy; we’ve all seen the rise and fall of actors over the years. One minute they’re hot, and the next minute they’re not. Then there are those actors that are extremely talented, gorgeous to watch on screen, and obviously could play the hell out of any male lead they’re given. However, with all their gifts and exquisite potential, they don’t get the lead roles they deserve. The main problem seems to be that Hollywood has gotten it into its tiny mind that viewers only want to see heterosexual, tall, doe-eyed white men on the big screen.

Indigenous Ojibwe Actor, Meegwun Fairbrother. Photo courtesy of SYFY.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love watching my Tom Hardys, Chris Hemsworths, and Tom Hiddlestons. Nothing wrong with that at all. But I do have a problem with the obvious lack of leading roles for all the talented and gorgeous men of color out there. The fact that I can pretty much predict what a leading man will look like, and who he will likely be culturally affiliated with is sad. I live in the United States of America! A melting pot they say…where the hell is it in my romances, fantasies, and thrillers? When will the tired template of single, straight, white, hot, male be retired? When will having more than one non-white male protagonist on a show be the norm? When will John Cho have his own starship?

Actor Kristian Kordula (The Mindi Project). Photo from IMDb.com

I watch a whole lot of television, which is inherently dominated by male leads, and I gotta say, there isn’t much brown up in there. What I do know is this: I’m tired of men of color being sidekicks, temporary love interests, or sacrificial lambs. I want them to BE the story. Adding that one Indian guy in the first three episodes of a show, and then killing him off once viewership has peaked, isn’t going to cut it. I want to see men of color in empowering roles, roles that they deserve and can obviously rock out in. I want to see them interact with women of color on the big screen in a positive and delightful ways (I’m writing a thesis on representation and women of color in film and television, don’t you worry). Would that be too much to ask for? I am tired of seeing men of color passed up or white washed out of roles that are so obviously made for them. I am tired of seeing people of color denied protagonist roles because of some misguided idea that we can’t bring in the big bucks. We can and have, which is why that whole argument is such B.S.! Just look at the most recent Star Wars films, Girls Trip, and Get Out. We can’t make money my ass!

Taika Waititi in character for What We Do in the Shadows. Photo from IMDb.com

That’s why, as an avid consumer of digital media, I would like to say this to Hollywood; get your shit together and stop giving Ridley Scott and Tim Burton-ish excuses! Stop telling us that no one wants to see Avan Jogia, Faran Tahir, Raleigh Ritchie, Roger Cross, Christopher Larkin, J.D. Pardo, Michael Pena, Manu Bennet (and the list could go on), as leading men. There are plenty of fans (just hit up twitter, maybe follow Black Girl Nerds) who would like to see these actors working frequently and consistently as primary protagonists.
Hollywood, when you cast for the next space opera or when you have auditions for television series like Iron Fist, go ahead and cast Lewis Tan or Ludi Lin. When you’re writing a screenplay for the next big fantasy film or show, try and remember that the future will include people of color and the fact that you rather humanize a Martian instead of showing that brown people will exist a thousand years from now is sad. When you feel the need to cast brown and black and non-Black PoC as slaves in every genre of your work, you are making one thing incredibly clear; Hollywood, your white supremacy is showing and it’s hella ugly.

Lewis Tan, the real Iron Fist. Photo from IMBD.

Sure progress is being made in film and television when it comes to diversity (Black Panther, A Wrinkle in Time, Mr. Robot). Still, there are entirely too many side-kick roles featuring men (and women) of color. Get rid of that check list that says that leading men need to be, well, white and that epic romances only include white bodies. Stop it with the non-white side-kick crap and take a note from shows like Luke Cage and Master of None where the main protagonists weren’t white, and the sky didn’t fall because of it.
Most of all Hollywood, get your act together because I have a very long list of gorgeous men I want to letch over on the big screen. Yeah, yeah, that sounds bad, but it’s the truth. I just want to sit back and drool over Elliot Knight (Once Upon A Time), or pine over Godfrey Gao (The Mortal Instruments) in a sharp suit and a sexy smirk. I want to take studious notes on the bone structure, acting style, and directing methods of Taika Waititi (What We Do In the Shadows; Thor Ragnarok). I want to contemplate the nuanced characters that Meegwun Fairbrother (Helix) brings to life. I want someone else to have a turn being the leading man. I need some variety, something in which I can appreciate a male lead and chill with my girls and say, “That’s what’s up!” when a starship cruises onto the screen and the captain is Benjamin Bratt or Carlos Valdes. I want to see two brown men fall in love and have an epic romance that is as encompassing and passionate as a Shakespearean play. I want magic, drama, romance, heroism, and melanin. For f**k’s sake Hollywood, show us our men.

 

Jahkotta Lewis is a professional archaeologist, an amateur astronomer, and a part-time writer. When she is not documenting Pacific Island archaeology, she spends her days hiking through native forests, spelunking within the depths of an active volcano, and watching/reading all things fantasy and science fiction. Follow her on Twitter @jahkotta

 

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