C'mon Hollywood: Race and gender-bending are not ruining movies

Nick Fury. Starbuck. Deadshot. Nova Prime. These are all characters who were either race-bended, or gender-bended – terms meaning to change a fictional character (this will be important later) from one race or gender to another. While there is always a stink against this type of casting when initially announced (because the internet is awful), once the dust settles nobody gives a shit as long as the movie or actor is good in the role. Basically, no one’s really blaming Will Smith for the fact that SUICIDE SQUAD or WILD, WILD, WEST suck.

However, one of the big arguments against race or gender-bending is “why not just create new characters that are female or gay or a POC?” Which is a valid point. Here’s a few things though: 1) Hollywood is hesitant to fund new, original films, so it’s scouring old IPs (especially comics) that had predominantly white, male casts as a (mostly coincidental) consequence; 2) less innocuously, however, is even when Hollywood funds big, original films, they still usually cast white male leads for them (like the recent PASSENGERS); and 3) white-washing is also still a problem, case in point the recent (as in last year) GODS OF EGYPT and EXODUS: GODS AND KING. And you can’t even argue it’s okay because GODS OF EGYPT is just “mythology”, since assholes got up in arms that Hemdall was black in the THOR films.  

So, yes, we should be criticizing Hollywood’s strip-mining of recognizable IPs (not just limited to comic-books, but also long-dead franchises like ROBIN HOOD and TARZAN), and their lack of original films (diverse cast or not). That is indeed the biggest problem. However, the point still stands that if Hollywood’s going to keep doing this, race and gender-bending is a way to mitigate the lack of diversity in a lot of those stories (barring exceptions like CAPTAIN MARVEL or LUKE CAGE), meaning I don’t think having The Ancient One being played by a woman* or Little John being played by a black guy should be the end of the world.  

Also, at this point people will say “wait, there was a female GHOSTBUSTERS, what more do you want?!”, or “Roland is black in DARK TOWER, aren’t you people satisfied?” I mean, look, just because those films exist doesn’t mean diversity has “won”.  For instance, while we’ve indeed seen an increase in female-led blockbusters recently, still only 27%  of speaking roles were from women, and even less if you factor in leads or women of color. Sure there’s ROGUE ONE, HUNGER GAMES, and the upcoming WONDER WOMAN, but most of these movies barely even pass the Bechdel Test. 

Now, if you don’t know, to pass the Bechdel Test you have to have two female characters talk to each other and – here’s the catch – not talk about a man (hell, ROGUE ONE only passes because of a conference scene, since when Mon Mothma and Jyn Erso spoke, it was about Erso’s father). And before anyone says anything about the Bechdel Test being a joke from a comic – that’s both true and makes this fact even worse. Because it’s meant to be satirical and hyperbolic, but the fact that it’s actually a problem is what makes things truly Kafkaesque.

And, another important point: race-bending or gender-bending a character doesn't replace the original. Sure, more people recognize Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury** than his original incarnation at this point, but that doesn't mean Marvel burned all the old Marvel comics with a white Nick Fury in it. You can still buy and read those. And, guess what? You can also still watch the 1984 GHOSTBUSTERS with dudes crossing streams. Women didn't take that opportunity away from you, either. Now, I understand that there's a fear people won't recognize the "real" or "preferred" version of a character, but so what? They can still be your "real" and "preferred" version, because who's to say they're not? Your idea of a character doesn't become "invalid" because a new interpretion comes out. If that were the case, every new Batman would invalidate the previous one, and I'm sorry, I don't want to live in a world where I can't enjoy BATMAN RETURNS and THE DARK KNIGHT equally. 

See, what's great about stories and characters is that they are malleable - it's why legends and fairy tales change with the times and places from which they're told, but are still able to have the same basic themes (Red Riding Hood might not be tricked into eating her own grandma and later devoured by a wolf anymore, but the theme of being careful around strangers is still presient). So changing a character to a woman or a POC or even gay doesn't make a character less brave or witty or strong - because those traits go deeper than skin color, gender, or sexual orientation. I mean, whatever you felt about the GHOSTBUSTERS remake (and judging by the comments, there are strong feelings), but beyond maybe issues with pacing and quality of jokes, or the issue of "remakes" in general, I think we can all agree that there's nothing fundamentally "male" about being a GHOSTBUSTER, right? That having a penis doesn't make you better at fighting the undead?

And, look, I get it. When people see a comic-book movie (for example), a lot of them want to relive what it was like to see the comics on the page when they were younger. “It’s not about race”, they say “it’s that Deadshot is white in the original comics, goddammit!" But the danger is looking at the world as “straight white guys = default” and “anything else = political”. It should be obvious why that’s dangerous. It frames the conversation as "why does there have to be a woman?” or “why does there have to be a black person?”, thus a character has to prove why their race or gender is worthy of consideration. I’m not saying that’s a conscious thought people necessarily have, but everytime you ask a question like “why did that character have to be gay?” that sort of discrimination is implicit, if not necessarily malicious.  

You must also realize, this all affects real people, not just "SJWs" on the internet. Female and minority actors lose out on work, or are forced into stereotypical roles (blacks and Latinos as criminals, Asians as sexless nerds, women as girlfriends or nagging wives, etc) all the time. In fact, Aziz Ansari’s MASTER OF NONE reflects the struggles of an Indian actor being forced into “Store Clerk” roles and such. And a person shouldn’t be forced to take only certain roles (and denied the high-paid lead ones) because of the color of their skin or the shape of their genitalia.

Besides, let's be honest, can you really imagine anyone else playing Nick Fury at this point?

Extra Tidbit: *Just so I mention it before someone else does: The Ancient One was indeed white-washed, but was also making an effort to distance itself from offensive "Orientalism" stereotypes; however, I still stand by the fact that it was a good choice he was changed to a woman (though I would've preferred someone like Michelle Yeoh, even though Tilda Swinton did a great job regardless. I can have nuanced feelings about these things). **Also, I'm aware Samuel L. Jackson is based on the ULTIMATES run of Marvel comics before the films, but a) that was also controversial at the time (as it's still a case of race-bending, even if it didn't originate in the films), and b) despite some cribbing of ideas from the ULTIMATES line, the MCU is still primarily based on the 616-universe versions of these characters, so the point still stands.
Source: JoBlo.com



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