Groundbreaking Australian series, Cleverman (ABC) has pop-culture junkies excited for ethnic and cultural diversity in hero and post-apocalyptic worlds.
As the first convincing Aboriginal superhero made an explosive debut on our screens this month, we look at how, simply, having racial diversity on-screen is a milestone for an industry of blockbusters with white Supermans, Barry Allens, Oliver Queens, Rip Hunters, Jessica Joneses, Johnny Dominos, Agent Carters, Supergirls, James Gordons and even, Buffy the Vampire Slayers (*phew*).
Dr Terri Jenke, an Indigenous Solicitor Director and NAIDOC 'Person of the Year', recently told SBS that when she was growing up, her perception of the world told her that 'her skin, was not the skin of a winner.'
While superheroes may seem like a throwaway topic only cared about by children or 'nerds', showing gifted, ingenious and superior people of colour who save the day just as heroically as the countless white Batmen before them, is a positive step toward our society’s overall message of people of colour. The more that these popular superhero roles aren’t diversified, the more that children like Cleverman creator Ryan Griffen’s son, Koen (for whom Griffin made the program), will be excluded from identifying themselves with heroic characteristics like, confidence, strength and respect.
Fortunately, we are seeing a shift in the industry’s casting. Since most mainstream superhero comics were created before a louder demand for non-white protagonists, many producers have had to challenge traditional graphic icons of former times, and adapt to a more fair representation of real-world demographics.
Ciara Renee - Hawkgirl
The Legends of Tomorrow actress says that she gets goosebumps knowing that she's representing people of colour in the comic book world on her hit TV series. In a recent interview the multi-ethnic African American, Native American, "white" and Indian, Renee said, "I remember growing up and loving Power Rangers and things like that. There was no brown girl on Power Rangers. Even when I played with my friends, they were like, 'well, you can't be the pink ranger. She's a white girl!'. Media is so important. We are telling fantastical stories, but it's grounded in reality."
Candice Patton - Iris West
When African-American Candice Patton was originally cast as the white comic book character for the television adaptation of The Flash, disgruntled fans accused the networks of "race-bending". (Apparently, being a black actress portraying a fictional character with white skin and red-hair is somehow bending the rules, as though we've never seen Ben Affleck play a Mexican-American or Mena Suvari play an African-American woman.) Some fans were so against having a 'black Iris' that they clung to the nearest white woman in the show, Caitlin Snow, in the hope that their media trend, #SnowBarry would initiate a romance.
But as DC Comics and Warner Bros partner up to create a film adaptation of The Flash, fans of Patton's casting are concerned that Iris' identity will be changed. Those who enjoyed seeing Barry Allen's love interest as a young black woman are protesting on social media with the hashtag, #KeepIrisBlack.
Ming-Na Wen - Melinda May
Ming-Na Wen was one of the first Asian American leads on a US TV show in the short-lived medical drama, Inconvincable. She's now doing the same in the comic book genre in Agents of The S.H.I.E.L.D, playing Melinda May. The comic book character, Melinda is of Chinese descent, as is Wen herself. In a recent interview Wen said that she would love to play Melinda May on the big screen - "That would be so kickass!".
Chadwick Boseman - Black Panther
Although Black Panther is actually illustrated in the comics as a black character, Marvel Studios' efforts to make the project with a dominating black cast, will finally showcase an original diverse superhero on the big screen.
Many have already expressed their adoration for a mainstream blockbuster led by three people of colour and the hashtag #BlackPantersoLIT - a take on #OscarsSoWhite - was circulating social media earlier this month. One person tweeted, “#BlackPantherSoLIT for real. Theaters full of black people watching an action movie as a change from the million slave movies we’ve gotten.” as a response to the genres usually given to all-black casts.
Zoe Saldana – Gamora
Gamora is the alien species with superhuman strength, agility and healing powers. While Saldana is a former ballerina and a fitting candidate for a skilled gymnast like Gamora, her role in Guardians of the Galaxy has sparked an interesting debate, as to whether our best black actors are always hidden behind a guise? Saldana has painted her face to star in her most famous movies, GOFTG, Avatar and the recently controversial make-up in Nina.
Samuel L. Jackson – Nick Fury
The comic book Nick Fury originally started in graphics as a middle-aged white guy and later depicted by David Hasselhoff in a 1980s TV make. However, the Nick Fury that we see today played by Jackson, actually reflects the early 2000s Marvel comic book character update, which tells the story in a 'parallel Earth'. In this 'Marvel Ultimate Universe', Nick Fury is an ex-WW II solider, who was a test subject in an attempt to create a superhuman army and unlike his former character in the comic books, happened to be black.
Rumours of how Samuel L. Jackson became a part of the movie project however, began with Jackson strolling into a comic book shop, seeing a recent comic book with a Nick Fury character who looked just like him. When he contacted Marvel to complain, the company said that they had modeled their character off the actor in the hope that years down the track, the acting legend will play him in a film. They placed their bets wisely.
Will Smith – Deadshot
Another controversy over a loyal following's precious character is Will Smith playing the supervillian, Deadshot in the upcoming film, Suicide Squad. There has disappointingly (and unsurprisingly) been some backlash about the black actor playing such a role, with a ComicVine forum starting a debate stating, "Will Smith as Deadshot? I'm not being racist, but I really think a Caucasian should be playing him."
However, most of the critic's concerns aren't about "race-bending". Contrary to the issues surrounding Zoe Saldana painting her skin, fans are worried that Will Smith's face is too much of a Hollywood investment to completely cover and there are frets that the master assassin won't look the part if he doesn't wear the character's signature mask.
Jason Momoa – Aquaman
Fictional Vincent Chase of HBO's Entourage may have claimed the thrown of Aquaman a few years back, but for real actors, the title has gone to Native Hawaiian, Jason Momoa. Momoa shared his excitement of the upcoming film in an interview with The Daily Beast, saying, "Aquaman is especially cool because being a Kanaka Maoli - being Hawaiian - our gods are Kanaloa and Maui, and the Earth is 71 percent water, so I get to represent that. And I'm someone who can represent all the islanders, not some blonde-haired superhero. It's cool that there's a brown-skinned superhero."
In a recent article titled, '7 Actors Who Deserve To Play Aquaman More Than Jason Momoa', an unimpressed site user commented, "This list could also be renamed, '7 white guys we think should get the only role taken by a brown dude.'"
Michael B. Jordan – Johnny Storm
After an appalling amount of hateful criticism, Michael B. Jordan spoke up about the aggression that his on-screen opportunity had caused. "Some people may look at my casting as 'political correctness' or an attempt to meet a racial quota," Jordan wrote in Entertainment Weekly "Or they could look at it as a creative choice by the director, Josh Trank, who is in an interracial relationship himself - a reflection of what a modern family looks like today."
"Sometimes you have to be the person who stands up and says, 'I'll be the one to shoulder all this hate. I'll take the brunt for the next couple of generations.' ... People are always going to see each other in terms of race, but maybe in the future, we won't talk about it as much."
Unless Hollywood is depicting slavery, segregation or racist hardship, too often non-white actors are cast to play lesser roles such as, supporting characters, token ethnic characters, or ensuring ‘non-white’ actors are paired with other actors of colour. The more stories that we watch with a ‘Grant Gustin-type’ and without a ‘Hunter Page-Lochard-type’, continues to tell us not to expect valiant capabilities from anyone other than white people and this has to be challenged.
Having more Aboriginal superheroes not only satisfies the Indigenous community’s need for a dynamic character to identify with and connect to, but it also tells all of its audience in Australia and abroad that specialness is not limited to those with white skin.