Divergent, Mad Max, Prometheus, Star Wars (either version), The Terminator, 2001, Blade Runner, Invasion of The Body Snatchers, Mission to Mars, War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, THX1138, Solaris, Tron (either version), Judge Dredd, Cherry 2000, Stargate, Total Recall Demolition Man, Starship Troopers and Avatar (and no the Na’vi don’t count) besides almost none of the supporting cast or extras are Black, Asian, or Latino. When you can obviously replace Blacks and Native Americans with blue people.
Hollywood WE have a problem.
You may be wondering why I used such a variety of films as examples, well it’s because I wanted to show that ten, twenty, hell even over forty years ago the film industry had the same problem it still has today. A lack of diversity in films set in the future and in movies altogether. Don’t get me wrong the films listed are some of my favorites and while they all have great storylines, interesting plotting, amazing special effects they are all missing one thing: people who look like me, my family and my friends. There are some exceptions like the Matrix and to some extent The Host based on the Stephanie Meyer book but the truth is that the scarcity of POC in futuristic films is in direct correlation to the overabundance of whiteness.
And don’t get me started on the Rue “scandal” from The Hunger Games films. The fact that people could be so spoiled by their privilege to see that one Black child playing a fictional character could incite such hatred blows my mind. Reading the books I was truly blown away by the writing by the author Suzanne Collins, but what has remained with me has been the quality of ideas and concepts that she so effortlessly embedded into the series. One character in particular stood out to me beside Peeta, was Commander Paylor. She just appeared to be the only true idealist in the whole host of jaded characters in the story. From the description of her personality and character in the books, I couldn’t wait to see what she would be like in the movie; and I have to say I was once again disappointed. Paylor is barely in the most recent film (Mockingjay Part 1) and not at all depicted like the wizened yet hopeful warrior I anticipated. While I have no idea how the next and final installment in the series will treat this awesome character, I honestly feel sorry for anyone who hasn’t read the books because then you are indeed missing out.
Of course the same thing happened with Divergent, and Avatar: The Last Airbender, Star Trek (NOT) Into Darkness (pun intended) and countless other films and movie franchises. And let’s not forget the fantasy, horror and superhero films like Batman, Avengers, Spiderman, Lord of the Rings and Superman. Is it really that hard to cast an appropriate actor to play Storm? I mean there are perfectly suitable and talented African American AND African actresses who could play this world famous and iconic comic book character. Before you start lecturing me about the people selected to play her, let me remind you I used the word suitable for a reason. I know we as POC are supposed to be grateful for anything we can get but for me and a growing number of people it’s not good enough and in a world where portrayals and images can literally kill it is imperative that things change.
One of the reasons why I am such a big fan of Sleepy Hollow the television show, is that it’s literally never been done before, both the story line and the diverse casting of the lead and supporting characters. I remember when the show first aired in 2013, someone said that it was unrealistic because it had a “Black woman lieutenant working in Sleepy Hollow?” And of course there’s are real live Black women working in law enforcement and are in fact lieutenants in Sleepy Hollow, NY. To be honest the diversity plus the depth of talent on the series is mythological, i.e. something you have to see to believe. TV has always been better about representation going all the way back to the sixties when Star Trek first premiered. While the “idiot box” is not perfect, the movie industry has been seriously lagging behind. There is only one major studio that’s the exception. Whatever you may think of the quality of this series the success and longevity of the Fast & Furious films is a direct challenge to the accepted Hollywood notion that POC in movies means diminishing returns at home and abroad. The gargantuan (I always wanted to use that word in a sentence) profitability of the series which at last tally is at 3 billion and counting demonstrates that people all over the world will go see a good movie that entertains. The irony of using Fast & Furious as an example of this phenomenon (because POC do it all the time) might be lost on some.
Simply consider what writer/director Issa Rae says (at 5:14) in this sit down interview with Amanda de Cadenet.
To paraphrase; she says why should studios consider the importance of diversity when people of color will support their films regardless of being shut out of them? So while the Fast & Furious illustrate that all kinds of people will go to see a movie, the Lord of the Rings films do the exact same thing. But why are we sure to see more Tolkien style casts than the ones in F&F? What can we do to bring about a significant change of attitude in the entertainment industry? Well, I am not sure there is only one way to transform an institutionalized belief system but I do believe that there are multiple ways to slowly chip away at an obstacle and free us from the impediments of bigotry and discrimination. It’s the reason why I wrote this piece featured in the Black Girl Nerds blog outlining an initiative to produce an independent platform for creatives to support and uplift one another, it’s called 404 ERROR for a very good reason.
I am truly grateful that groups like BGN support the idea of creating opportunities for independent creatives, writers and artists. Do I believe a small group of people can launch a film franchise or a studio? No, but they can create meaningful content, start a conversation and influence others; change must begin somewhere no matter how small. Before Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction no independent film had ever pulled in 100 million at the box office.
Think about that for a moment…change can happen overnight.
Allegra Geller is a pop culture enthusiast, a lover of books and an over qualified hipster. She is currently writing her second screenplay and living the fantasy of a radical critic. In the words of Christy Mark: Writer, have written, I am writing, will write. “Life is an experiment. We are the test. No one fails.” For more observations from the edge follow her on twitter @bakingurnoodle