Multicultural Blog

Diversity enters Comic Book industry

 

It’s more than just big retail brands doing a fantastic job at embracing diversity. Superhero films and comic books have, by and large, reflected a single demographic – the white male.  While there has been great diversity in the character and temperaments of these superheroes – the nerd, the playboy, the All-American – there has been a considerable lack of diversity in other aspects, namely race and gender. Although superhero movies are one of the biggest draws at the box-office, with studio finances hinging on tentpole films like the Avengers,  you can count on one hand the number of minority top-billed stars of films such as Batman, Spider-Man or Captain America. In fact, only 26% of all speaking characters in 600 popular films were minorities.  

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Lately, however, this trend has begun to change, with the writers of the comic books themselves leading the charge. Marvel has recast the Hulk as the Korean-American Amadeus Cho, a change which can be attributed to changing attitudes towards minority leads as much as to the diverse creative team behind the new title. Ms. Marvel, a new series starring a Muslim-American girl was also written by a woman who converted to Islam as a young adult. Perhaps one of the most famous (and contentious) recastings of a superhero is the new Spiderman. Miles Morales, a half-African-American, half Latino teen replaced the white Peter Parker after he was killed off in 2011. This recasting itself was inspired by a movement to have the African-American actor Donald Glover play SpiderMan in the 2011 film adaptation, a role that later went to the white, British actor Andrew Garfield. And, on the big-screen, African-American actor Michael B. Jordan played the traditionally white character of Johnny Storm. And the diversity in superheroes is not expected to stop here. There are plans in the works at Marvel to make Thor a woman, and to have a black character take on the mantle of Captain America.

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What comic books have known and what films are just beginning to realize is that producing entertainment that speaks to a diverse audience isn’t just a culturally sensitive thing to do – it’s good for the bottom line as well.Studies have shown that 52% of all moviegoers are women, and that films with a more diverse cast earn more revenue. There is currently a boom in minority-led entertainment, with Empire, a drama led by African-American actors Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, garnering the highest Nielson viewing figures in a decade and Fresh Off The Boat, a show about a Chinese-American family earning critical praise and a second season. This is further proof that minority viewers will flock to shows that they can relate to, and diverse audiences will consume media as long as it’s entertaining.

 

What comic books and films are beginning to understand is that it is absolutely necessary to provide characters in whom a diverse audience can see themselves represented. But representation does not just mean having one minority character in a supporting role. To truly appeal to a diverse audience, these characters cannot exemplify stereotypes. They must be allowed to be complex and interesting people in their own right, just as any white character is allowed to a embody any number of traits. As the writer of Ms. Marvel said of her Pakistani-American character, “She’s just a regular teenage girl –  strong, beautiful and doesn’t have any of the baggage of being Pakistani and ‘different.’”

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Written by Stephanie Lindgren

Steph has a knack for video games, photography and urban exploration. She spends her free time in her apartment that smells of rich mahogany, and is filled with many leather bound books.