I've been watching a lot of movies lately. I just started a new temporary job, one that has a cinema as well as a cheap and friendly video shop just down the road. The selection's a bit eclectic but in the last month we've watched Captain America. Green Lantern. Thor (all good), Suckerpunch (weird), There Will Be Blood (disturbing), The Wrestler (sad), Get Him To The Greek (funny and only occasionally annoying), In Bruges, Sherlock Holmes, Four Lions(all excellent), Legion (epically shite and a waste of Paul Bettany) and Transformers (S for the first time, me for the second, and all I have to say was at least I got more than half an hour into the film this time).
And I realised a rather important fact.
The films we chose were varied in genre and release date, but nearly all featured white male protagonists. In fact. the only films that didn't were Suckerpunch and Four Lions. They score one point. Suckerpunch instantly loses its score for featuring a white female protagonist who spends most of the movie wearing a sailor fuku. Four Lions, a movie whose cast is nearly all of colour, just keeps its point. Why? Because it's a movie about suicide bombers.
Let me take the recent spate of superhero movies as an example. I love the Marvel series of movies. Iron Man,Thor, even the Hulk, they're all smart and funny, with compelling protagonists. And they're all white. Oh, they have black, Asian or mixed-race characters, sure, but the main characters are all white. I accept that this is partly a leftover from the Golden Age of comics but still...The only recent female superhero with her own movie I can think of off the top of my head is Electra. Who fought crime in a red bustier. The only non-white female superhero with her own film is Aroma Woman of Mr and Mrs Incredible, who fights domestic violence using the power of scent.
With her husband. Oh, there's Black Panther and Kato, but it would be nice to see a superhero of colour whose power wasn't bound up with his or her ethnicity, or an Asian character who doesn't know kung fu.
But it makes me wonder why. More importantly, it makes me wonder why I didn't notice sooner. Most of the world's population are not white men: is the white male protagonist a reflection of the studios that green-light these movies? Is this what people think the movie-going public wants? I don't want to see movies with black female protagonists just for the sake of it, but it would be nice, for example, if the title role of The Prince of Persia wasn't a white guy with a tan. If Liam Neeson's character Ras Al-Ghul, in Batman Begins, whom we meet in a mystical Asian temple, had actually been Asian. Or if female superheroes didn't have to fight in skin-tight lycra.
I'm not sure what sort of point I'm aiming for here, but I think it's that it would be nice to have a bit of variety. Just as long as the studios don't make the same mistake as The Last Airbender's did in the notorious RaceFail, who responded to a call for greater ethnic variety by making the villains of the movie Asian.
There are some great links here: Most of them relate to videogames or novels rather than movies, but they#'re still worth a read.. An interview with Zoe Ferraris, author of City of Veils, a novel with a Palestinian Muslim protagonistAn article by Saladin Ahmed about the depictions of Muslims in videogames. Contains some interesting dissection of Assassin's Creed.This blog's about women in videogames, but the basic sentiment is the same