Friday’s post about updating all-white, all-male franchises left one major, legitimate question unaddressed:
Why change existing franchises? Why not just make some new characters?
The answer is pretty simple:
These are the cornerstones of our popular culture, and right now they are all white or all male or both.
Think about it: Superman, The Avengers, James Bond, Doctor Who, Star Wars, and many others are white male territory. To be sure, there are exceptions, but they tend to either be niche products or come from the mind and estate of Gene Roddenberry (Star Trek, Andromeda, etc.).
Any new, diverse properties will be competing against these titans for a spot in the pop cultural pantheon.
And we’ve seen how that turns out for the “comic girls.” They’re seen as lesser, also-ran versions or sidekicks. As good as the new Supergirl tv series is, there’s no question that she’s a knock-off of Superman. And Batgirl is in many ways a sidekick character, at least in mass media (comics, alas, are no longer truly “mass” in the sense that tv and movies are).
And look at She-Hulk, as awesome a character as she is (civil rights lawyer, cosmopolitan fun-loving single woman, Avenger, Fantastic Four member, and fourth-wall breaker long before Deadpool was a twinkle in Deathstroke’s eye patch). She’s never seen on tv or movies, and on the rare occasion she ends up in so much as a cartoon, she gets demoted to a disgruntled “living greenscreen” stunt double.
But if the baton is passed in some way in a major mass media production, the popular culture is changed to better reflect the reality of the world it both represents and influences.
Star Wars: the Force Awakens added a new generation of leads: Rey, a woman, Poe, a Latino man, and Finn, a black man. It expanded the franchise, and certainly served as a refreshing counterpart to the tin-eared racism of the prequels.
For ensembles or teams like the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Avengers, this is easy. As the original (white, male) actors rotate off, bring a more diverse group of characters to the forefront. Marvel’s already starting to do this, with Black Panther and Captain Marvel movies already in various stages of pre-production, and with the addition of Scarlet Witch and Black Panther to the cast of Captain America: Civil War.
James Bond replaces its lead actor every decade or so anyway. Give Idris Elba a turn and see how it goes. If you want someone younger, try It can’t be worse than the last half of Pierce Brosnan’s run.
Doctor Who has the same situation, with the Doctor’s regenerations. It’s easy enough to cast a woman, and/or a person of color.It isn’t hard to do. Some franchises are already doing it. It just requires the will to make it happen. And maybe if enough of us ask, it will start to happen. It’s already starting. The momentum might be unstoppable. I surely hope it is.Or we could just watch another 10,000 shows about white male antiheroes. Blech.