The Talk Nobody Wants to Have: Diversity in Movies (Part 1)

I am white, I am a man. So clearly I am not qualified to talk about diversity in movies. BUT I do know a lot about movies and comics. I also consider myself an activist for equality so I can somewhat understand the plight of minority groups to be noticed in media. Yet this series is not just about trying to get more people of colour on screen, it’s about representing other minority groups like people with disabilities and the LGBTQ community. So I’m going to to be talking a lot about those issues in this article which is one that I have wanted to write for a long time. So let’s go!

First up is racial diversity in movies, we will be mainly using comic book movies as a sample group in this article but other movies may be mentioned. Marvel has been often both the subject of a great deal of both praise and criticism for its diversity. It has a number of strong black characters in the form of Black Panther, War Machine and Falcon, with more to come in future movies. Yet people still attack them for their treatment of certain racial groups, one such example is the casting of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One in the upcoming Doctor Strange movie. The Ancient One has always been an old Tibetan man who has mentored Doctor Strange, yet Marvel decided to cast Swinton in the role causing a great deal of controversy. They later attempted to rectify the situation when Marvel head Kevin Feige explained it by saying that the Ancient One was “A mantle, and therefore felt we had leeway to cast in interesting ways” however many fans did not accept this because despite the casting of a woman in the role being explained, there was still no reason why it could not be an Asian woman.

Some would say that the reason behind this casting would be because western audiences are less likely to relate to a character who is not the same race as they are, one person who agrees with this view is the movie’s writer who said in an oft cited and very controversial statement:

“The Ancient One was a racist stereotype who comes from a region of the world that is a very weird political place. He originates from Tibet, so if you acknowledge that Tibet is a place and that he’s Tibetan, you risk alienating one billion people”

The fact that it seems movies are not wanting to seem like they are pandering to foreign audiences is in itself insensitive as it appears that a movie cannot be made in such a way that it incorporates diversity without feeling the need to either apologise or not do it at all. Some movies are blatantly trying to appeal to foreign audiences and still manage to be greatly offensive, one example is Transformers 4, which was allowed to film in China and still ended up being hugely offensive despite its varied and diverse cast. The movie was slated for using negative stereotypes but was still a box office hit in China. Leading to the possibility that the entire fear of offending audiences in foreign markets is an outdated view and perhaps movies that do accept the Chinese market should be more bold and use their movies to tread new ground in diversity.

My second point is about net worth compared to box office value. It was recently revealed that Scarlett Johansson was the highest box office earning actress of all time with a total earning of $3.5 Billion. However she is the 65th highest on Forbes’ list of celebrity net worth with a total of $35.5 Million, compare that to the amount that the person with the largest net worth Robert Downey Jr earns and then you see a problem. His net worth is $80 Million. His box office earnings put him at number 5 overall. This problem grows even more when you realise the jump between his net worth as an actor and the net worth of the second highest actor, Jackie Chan. His net worth is set at $50 Million, that’s $30 Million less than Downey Jr. Yet this does bring us back to the question of diversity, if Chan earns that much why are Marvel worried about “Alienating one billion people”. American audiences love Jackie Chan and Chinese audiences love western super hero movies. So why does it seem like there isn’t a middle ground here. A better question to ask is why the hell is Adam Sandler the actor with the 5th highest net worth ($41 Million) and why is that not a great deal smaller than Johansson’s yet the disparity between their ranks on the list is so huge. It seems that $7.5 Million means the difference between 60 places on the list. So if that gap is so huge for such a small amount of money, why is the gap so small for a massively larger amount between Downey Jr and Chan?

Diversity does not however compare when you check the box office earnings, with Harrison Ford being the biggest earner with $4.16 Billion in his bank the rest of the list works out pretty well in favour of diversity. Samuel L Jackson is the second highest followed by Morgan Freeman, Tom Hanks and finally Robert Downey Jr. Scarlett Johansson sits in the number 10 spot with the aforementioned $3.5 Billion. So the list seems to not have that giant leap between earnings as the net worth list does, with the gap being a total of about $1.10 Billion between the two. In my head the gap didn’t seem that big, but when you say it out loud it becomes shocking. Yes, there is probably a reason behind all this. Yes the people who earn more than Johansson have probably been in more movies and much bigger ones at that. Plus Sam Jackson is awesome, same for Morgan Freeman. But both are very prolific actors with Jackson appearing in no less than 166 movies, compare this to Ford who has starred in a total of just 75 movies. Morgan Freeman is credited with a total of 121, Hank’s has 80, Downey Jr. Has 84 and Johansson has 57. This makes it seem a lot like people of colour have to work a lot harder to even get close to earning the same as white actors. It’s not like Freeman and Jackson haven’t been in any big movies or anything, Jackson was in Star Wars and The Avengers, Freeman was in the smash hit Dark Knight Trilogy and many more big movies.

It seems I may have been waffling for a while now and so I have decided to break this essay up into multiple parts, so this concludes part one of my very long essay. I think I’ve mostly covered race in this one and briefly touched on sexism, in future parts I’m going to be covering sexism in more detail along with disability and LGBTQ representation. If you made it to the end and enjoyed reading this then maybe drop a like and share it with your friends but until next time keep it G33k.
Sources:

Scarlett Johansson Net Worth: http://collider.com/scarlett-johansson-box-office/

Kevin Feige Statement: www.cinemablend.com/new/Why-Marvel-Gender-Swap-Ancient-One-According-Kevin-Feige-72286.html

Doctor Strange Writer Statement: www.nytimes.com/2016/04/27/world/asia/china-doctor-strange-tibet.html?_r=0

Transformers 4 Box Office: www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=transformers4.htm

Filmographies: www.imdb.com

Net Worth List: www.forbes.com/actors/#2ff2065c2740

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