Hollywood Superheroes Losing the Fight for Diversity

John Ridley, NPR, August 9, 2011

The big budget disappointment Green Lantern was about a superhero whose powers were only limited by his imagination. But I kind of get the feeling that Hollywood’s earning powers are being limited by its lack of imagination.

Consider the box office potential if movie producers had been as bold as Marvel’s Ultimate Comics Spider-Man series when it introduced Miles Morales–a part black, part Hispanic teen–as the new Spider-man.

{snip}

So if Hollywood can crank out fantasy pictures with blue Smurfs, why is it so reticent to do the same with African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians? If second stringers like Thor can get the big-screen treatment, don’t comic book legends of color like Luke Cage and Black Panther deserve the same?

{snip} There’s a self-fulfilling delusion at work in the studio system that white audiences won’t pay to see black actors cast outside a narrow type of role.

There is, however, a bit of evidence to back that claim. In the concisely titled study “The Role of Actors’ Race in White Audiences’ Selective Exposure to Movies,” Indiana University professor Andrew Weaver writes, “Movie producers are often reluctant to cast more than a few minority actors in otherwise race-neutral movies for fear that the white audience will largely avoid such films.”

Weaver found that white audiences tended to be racially selective with regard to romantic movies, but not necessarily when it came to other genres. So, sorry, Hollywood. You can’t blame it on the ticket buyers. {snip}

{snip}

But for a real leap, how about casting Will Smith as Superman; Denzel Washington as Superman’s father, Jor-El; and Michelle Rodriguez as Lois Lane? I guarantee you non-stop chatter until the film opens.

{snip}

Topics:

Share This

We welcome comments that add information or perspective, and we encourage polite debate. If you log in with a social media account, your comment should appear immediately. If you prefer to remain anonymous, you may comment as a guest, using a name and an e-mail address of convenience. Your comment will be moderated.
  • Patrick

    Interesting. So Blade wasn’t black? The “Green Hornet” didn’t have an Asian sidekick? In X-Men wasn’t Storm black? Wasn’t Lady Deathstrike (X-Men 2) Asian? Wasn’t Magneto Jewish? In Wolverine Wraith was black and Bullseye was Asian. If you notice in X-Men 3 the first 3 mutants Magneto and Pyro meet at the “Mutant convention” were all non-white and they all were with him until the end. I guess the critics have forgotten quickly about that little movie Will Smith was in called Hancock – he was a superhero – durr. As far as superman, batman, green lantern, thor – all of these guys were white in either theological history or in the comic books. How angry do you think “comic book purists” would have been if when they made the film adaptation of Blade they decided to make the vampire hunter white? There would have been riots in comic book conventions on par with the riots their having in the UK right now.

  • Daniel Williams

    “I guarantee you non-stop chatter until the film opens.”

    …And I guarantee YOU non-stop chatter throughout the feature.

  • Anonymous

    Why not an all-Black Superman cast? I remember movies like that from the 70s, and there is a name for them–kitsch. No one except Blacks could possibly take them seriously.

    Would I allow my son to go see a Black Superman movie? Absolutely not. The qualities that Superman is supposed to embody can in no way be represented with a straight face by a Black man. Superman is White for a reason.

    If little Black boys can’t identify with a White Superman, I suggest that Blacks invent their own superhero and try to sell it to Hollywood. Good luck.

  • Anonymous

    Keep in mind that this material is on NPR, not a minor minority outlet. The author, Ridley, is a black activist, but shows little knowledge of the film industry. While most film makers strongly promote the liberal agenda, they know what is wasted effort. The audience for super hero action films is overwhelmingly white male nerd. They want to see heroes that resemble them, (or would if the nerds did heavy exercise, studied combat techniques and ate a high protein diet).

  • Anonymous

    “I guarantee you non-stop chatter until the film opens.”

    I guarantee a long line of people walking out of the theater. Not even blacks really want a black Superman – him being white just means another opportunity to whine about supposed “racism”.

  • Jeddermann.

    They did have the comic where C.M. Clay [Muhammad Ali] and Superman had a boxing match and Cassius Clay won! Isn’t that good enough for them?

  • idareya

    As I have said repeatedly, ret-conning superheroes to make them non-white is a huge insult to non-whites. It’s saying, “You’re not important enough for us to bother to sit down and create complex, interesting characters for you to relate to, so here’s someone else’s.”

  • Anonymous

    If Superman is Black and Loistisha Lane is Black they are going to have sex in the first reel, with smoking a joint after.

    If Lois is White Superman will O. J. the bitch for not having sex with and disrespecting Clark Kent.

  • Joseph

    No doubt African Americans would appreciate a sequel to “Shaft” starring Tom Hanks in the title role.

  • Irish

    Strange the article mentions “Thor” – that movie cast a black man to play Heimdall, a Norse God. Other black-ified comics characters in recent movies include:

    NIck Fury Agent of SHIELD (played by Samuel L. Jackson instead of a buff, eyepatch wearing Mitt Romney type);

    Kingpin (classic Spider-Man villain, a big fat white guy now played by a big fat black guy);

    Susan Storm from the Fantastic 4 (a Nordic goddess looking character being played by the thick-lipped Hispanic Jessica Alba);

    etc.

  • fred

    Consider the box office potential if movie producers had been as bold as Marvel’s Ultimate Comics Spider-Man series when it introduced Miles Morales—a part black, part Hispanic teen—as the new Spider-man.

    The box office potential would be negligible. Blacks and Hispanics would comprise a miniscule percentage of the audience for that sort of flick. If asked they would probably say they want it and bitch that there isn’t enough because that’s what they’ve been trained to do. But they wouldn’t go and see it. This is just something for disingenuous white liberals to whine about so they can show how “tolerant” and “inclusive” they are. They wear it like the latest fashion.

    DWL1: Is that “Prada”?

    DWL2: Why yes it is! And is your Diverse?

    DWL1: Oh, but of course dahling. I always wear Diverse.

  • Tom in Illinois

    Everyone…read this and you’ll simply think that there is a LACK of white superheroes!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_black_superheroes

  • SF Paul

    I read this pathetic whining story recently and was totally disgusted by it. The first thought that came to my mind was wondering what the neighborhood John Ridley has his home in is like.

  • Anonymous

    this is funny. watch their ticket sales go down.

  • Anthony

    So Thor, one of the most well known norse gods, with a mythology still revered after hundreds of years is a ‘second stringer’ but Luke Cage and Black Panther are ‘legends’? I’m not much of a comic book fan, but I’ve never even heard of those two.

  • Vick

    “Re-skinning” superheroes seems innocuous – something that only evil racists would object to – especially in this day when youth demographics suggest such tactics to movie marketers.

    But think about it. As a matter of fact, I think non-white youth and their champions in the media should think about it the most. What does it say that there aren’t enough original non-white superheroes to have movies made about them? Aren’t there any non-white artists capable of coming up with such characters? What does it say about minorities and those who market to them, that they have to revise formerly white characters and make them non-white? So we’re saying as a culture, that we have to ethnically cleanse everything white and re-do it all as non-white? We can’t leave the mostly white past as mostly white, and come up with new non-white figures to represent the present? It seems like a doubly mistaken move: to insult the collective memory of this country as having a mostly white past, and to insult today’s non-whites by not giving them their own original characters and stories.

    But hey, we’re talking about Hollywood and the entertainment industry, so… well, ’nuff said.

  • kgb

    So if Hollywood can crank out fantasy pictures with blue Smurfs, why is it so reticent to do the same with African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians?

    Most Asians would be virulently offended if you lumped them in with blacks and hispanics. Asians want none of them in their own countries.

    Also, heroes represent a set of virtues that society thinks it possesses — that’s what makes them heroes. It’s not their ability to turn invisible or to command telekinesis — it’s that their virtues and morals give them power. Black and Hispanic heroes would therefore be deriving their superpowers from… promiscuity, irresponsibility and pointless vulgarity.

  • Luke

    What’s this commentator talking about? There already has been a black Superman.

    His name is Obama.

    Right?

  • Jerry

    Is it just me or do blacks EVER do ANYTHING on their own?

    They lie in wait for others to build something of value then they infiltrate it and take it down to the ground.

    I think I will make a movie with a white M.L. King, ha ha that would be a good one.

    These blacks are noting like us, nothing at all, we were never meant to live in a mixed society with them.

    Look at Africa and you see who and what they really are and what they are really capable of.

  • François

    “But for a real leap, how about casting Will Smith as Superman; Denzel Washington as Superman’s father, Jor-El; and Michelle Rodriguez as Lois Lane? I guarantee you non-stop chatter until the film opens.”.

    No, that wouldn’t be “modern” enough. How about, instead, a Black actor cast as a new, openly and proudly gay Superman, and a Hispanic actor cast as Louis Lane, a very handsome, gay reporter for the Daily Planet?

    White liberals would be very happy, and say “that rocks!”.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, Hollywood does not make a red cent off of me. The last movie I saw in a theater was “Lord of the Rings”. It had “men” elfs, dwarves, orks, wizards, but I guess Africa had not been discovered during middle earth. Wasn’t Tolkien born in Africa? Well, he knew what he was doing.

  • sedonaman

    “Consider the box office potential if movie producers had been as bold as Marvel’s Ultimate Comics Spider-Man series when it introduced Miles Morales — a part black, part Hispanic teen — as the new Spider-man.”

    I don’t know about this. I heard that there is no love lost between blacks and Hispanics.

  • Anonymous

    “Thor a second stringer”….

    NOT true at all.

    “Comic book legends like Luke Cage and Black Panther”

    Spare me. Both were very minor characters in the Marvel universe while Thor was a key player.

  • Anonymous

    Prodigy is an awesome black X-Man character, but it seems even the black characters are created by whites or Jews for the most part. It’s really not so much as having a black superhero, but tearing down white heroes, white culture and attacking white civilization. That is the true agenda.

    This is obvious because of the way they hate the founding fathers and want to replace them with loser frauds and fake messiahs like MLK and Obama, both of whom were total bums.

    They are not pro Black but anti white. A true creative black could succeed on his own. Problem is, many blacks do not want to read. Also, to them, succeeding is “combating racsim” which is a code word for fighting against whites. Whites who shun and avoid them for this reason.

    White heroes usually are saving the universe or multiverse for all of mankind, whereas a black “hero” is usually fighting against white women clutching their persons.

    They just lack the imagination, I suppose. The whole comic book culture is a very interesting one. It seems almost a unique White expression in itself.

  • Weedo

    Oddly, no one is calling for a black version of The Incredible Hulk.

    What about a black Archie, pursued by two white girls, Betty and Veronica…..hmmm……! 🙂