I’ve long been advocating that there needs to be more diversity in Science Fiction and Fantasy books, at least since I’ve started this blog, and the sentiment goes double for the visual medium of film. We need to see black characters, Asian characters, Hispanic characters, and every other ethnicity in between. While we have made great strides in the hundred plus years that films have been around, change is still coming at a glacial place. In part this is because studios will not take the risk of having a multicultural cast unless they are sure they will profit. A studio would rather fill a role that was designed to be filled by a minority with a Caucasian. This takes away one of the few minority roles available for minorities. Which is why I started to jump for joy when Felicia Day posted this little rant the other night. You can read her rant here.
Research and statistics show that 76.3% of speaking roles in films go to white actors. That means that for every other ethnic group and minority they have a 23.7% chance of having a speaking role. This includes even one liners. It’s upsetting when one of few characters is supposed to be a minority, but that opportunity was taken away. The crux of her argument was that with so few opportunities for minorities as it is, taking away some of those options is a disappointing look at the way the industry works. Thus casting a white actress as Tiger Lily is not the same as casting a black actor as The Human Torch. In the words of Felicia Day:
I am not upset about Tiger Lily, a role originally written for a Native American female character in the book, being cast as white because it upsets the canon. Screw canon. I am upset about a role that was expressly written as a female minority being given to white actor instead.
If the numbers provided in the research are accurate, it’s disturbing to see just how leaned those numbers are. 76.3% is a massive number. Even if all the minorities listed were of the same minority group, they still wouldn’t come close. If these are all speaking roles one has to consider that an even smaller percentage emerges in the films you see. One has to remember that there is almost an entire subculture of both Hispanic centric casts and Black centric casts. If those films are included in the numbers then there are even fewer minority characters in each of the average films.
The only that things will get better is if more roles for minorities are created. That also means that when roles were designed for minorities, the goal should be to cast a minority in that role. Yes, this might be fighting the studio machine and pushing limits that the executives may feel comfortable in reaching, but if no one ever takes a risk there will never be a change. Think about the 1920s when black actors were only servers and seen in the background. Occasionally you’d see a black actor step forward and maybe sing in a club or have a few lines as a servant or some other disenfranchised position. It wasn’t until the all black cast movies we started seeing black characters in lead roles. For years, a black actor was designated to the background. Finally things began to change and we started seeing black characters in more prominent supporting roles. However it would have been blasphemous for a film to have a black main character in a movie targeting a white audience. That isn’t the case in our world right now. There is a massive white audience, many of who still carry racist thoughts whether they like to admit it or not, but they are far from the only audience. By keeping minority characters out of the spotlight is just another way to perpetuate the idea that having pigment in your skin is somewhat shameful or isn’t the ideal. Casting Michael B Jordan as The Human Torch makes way for an opportunity for minority actor to step into a lead role. It isn’t taking away a minority role but opening one up. When I see Rooney Mara being cast as Tiger Lily, I’m seeing that they choose a great actress, but it also says that they felt that no one of Native American ancestry was good enough for the role (which I don’t buy). It says that Rooney Mara will sell better than a Native American actress. That may be true, but it doesn’t mean it’s right.
I write many minority characters in my novels. Particularly black and Asian characters. When I write these characters, I am crafting a story that can serve as a potential voice for these minorities. I’m not writing these characters to be a voice of the race, but to be a piece of representation that these minority characters do exist. It is a way to say these characters also have things happen to them that merit a story. Should I be lucky enough to get a book published or a script to film, I would be devastated if those characters were cast as a non-minority.