Marvel-ling at (a lack of) Diversity
I am a big geek, the biggest. I have bigly geekiness, let me tell you. Many people tell me I have geek. This bigly geekiness led me to go see Marvel’s latest offering, Dr Strange, at the cinema as opposed to waiting until it has reached the smaller screen (worth it, the effects are incredible).
Before I went to see it, I was very aware of the controversial casting of Tilda Swinton as “The Ancient One” AKA “The Supreme Sorcerer”. The character in the graphic novels is a wizened old (stereotypical and quite racist depiction of an) East Asian man. The character in the film is specifically stated to be a woman of ‘celtic origin’ (and that caused controversy itself with my historian Sooterkin™ – no such place as ‘celt’ for a start…). Yay for the wimmins! Representation! This you might think would be my feminist stance.
No. Enough of the female white privilege already; the election in the United States of America has shown me more clearly than ever before the importance of the intersectionality of feminism and of white feminism acknowledging its privilege and stepped up by stepping down.
I have written about the importance of visibility before and now we have the rise of the right across the world, it is even more of a vital issue. White women were central to the election of Donald Trump with only white post graduate college-educated women voting for Hillary Clinton over The Fart® (a fact which boggles my mind, given his outspoken sexism and admitted sexual abuse).
If it was to play with gender that Ms Swinton (superb in the role, as she is in everything) was cast, then why swap out the race too? There are a LOT of Asian actors* who would have been able to play the role, and Marvel itself is no stranger to casting Asian and mixed-race Asian leads in its TV series (I’m thinking of Daisy and Mae in Marvel’s Agents of Shield). Or think even more outside the box, and cast a woman who is not of East Asian origin OR white! Indigenous US-American, for example, would open up all sorts of potentially fascinating storylines…
Representation is key to combatting the perpetuation of racist ideology. Misogynoir (the combined racist/sexist oppression suffered by Black women is on the rise, all ethnically identifying women face (dual at the very least) oppression; we need to WAKE THE F*^K UP RIGHT NOW!
Our sisters are dying, literally. When I say sisters, I mean sisters to ALL of us. We need to listen, really listen, and do what we can to fight this.
Privilege is very real, and it is now being bolstered by the ideology of the right that sees those who fight for a semblance of equality (i.e. equality of opportunity, as people are not equal in wants, needs, desires, abilities etc.) as ‘Social Justice Warriors’ (a derogatory term used by those who oppose feminism, anti-racism, anyone who fights against the prevailing prejudice within a system) who are high on a diet of ‘political correctness’ (or politeness and respect as I call it) and who are enemies to whomever is identified as ‘their own’.
I am fully aware of the opposition to the idea. I have had conversations with one male friend who has objected to the casting of more women in shows as being ‘pandering’ and ruining programmes; this before actually watching them – the assumption is that it is unnecessary and purely to meet some sort of arbitrary equality target. Maybe in part it is, but the gender of a character need not and should not affect the story especially in fantasy and sci-fi, genres where social inequalities are very often central to the storylines and which have a fine and long tradition of exploring potentialities.
I have had similar conversations with friends over the casting of people of different racial identities, disabilities etc. In every single one, and I am not exempting myself from this as I as much as anyone need to constantly address my inherent privileges, the first objection is that it is tokenism, the second that it is ‘ruining’ graphic novels adaptations to recast with different races/sexes etc., the third that there are ‘too many’ of a particular oppressed identity and it is not truly reflective.
It’s sci-fi/fantasy. Since when does it have to be ‘truly reflective’? It really isn’t and all media representation has a long way to go to be reflective anyway. (In case you are wondering, yes, I adore “Luke Cage”, “Jessica Jones” and “Daredevil” for what they are as well as for what they represent, but we need more!).
Even when the statistical equivalence is less than that which would reflect reality, those of privileged identities feel overtaken and pushed out, and that perceptions of the same behaviour differentiated by gender, for example, mean privilege remains the default position.
I have now reached the standpoint in my beliefs where I think it essential that we need to over-cast roles to represent an increased diversity. More actors than would be statistically equivalent to reality in a show, please! More black than white, more disabled than able-bodied, more transgender than cisgender, more ethnically diverse than whitewashed, more gay than straight, more of every oppressed group than not oppressed!
(pauses whilst the collective heads of the right and the unthinking privileged explode in utter horror)
We privileged have had way more than enough time in the spotlight. Time to sit our butts on the sidelines and let someone, some people, else shine. People of non-privileged identities, I don’t see you, but I really want to. Time for over-representation, not representation. Time for over-diversifying, not statistical reflectiveness. Affirmative action, on steroids!
Time for us privileged to get out of the way. Completely.
*I use the term ‘Actor’ because there is no reason to differentiate gender in the job of acting; the roles have genders, not the job of acting.