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Comic from 1943
Tea Party hats, promoting racial stereotypes since 1943
Last week, Feministing published an infographic showing that, of the top grossing science fiction and fantasy films, only eight percent have a protagonist of color, only one percent have a disabled protagonist, and none have a woman of color in the lead role.
Given that women and people of color are so underrepresented in Hollywood generally, this analysis revealing the diversity gap in sci-fi and fantasy films is not entirely surprising.

But some small, uncynical part of me thought that just maybe a genre that is entirely, utterly unbound to current realities would be slightly more diverse. Syreeta recently quoted the great Octavia Butler, whose sci-fi novels Hollywood should be adapting for the big screen all the time: “There are no real walls around science fiction. We can build them, but they’re not there naturally.”

I have to admit, as a science fiction author and fan, this statistic certainly doesn't make me proud. Sci-fi fans like to think of the genre as one where creators are willing to push social boundaries, and where fans are willing to reward them for doing so. Which makes it seem odd that the top sci-fi film ranks should be so... pale.

It made me wonder if some of these stories had been whitewashed to serve as vehicles for white actors. Also, having written a series of science fiction books with a female protagonist, which were turned into a television series with a male protagonist, I wondered if looking through the list of best performing sci-fi might turn up a few in which a Y chromosome had been spliced in before filming.

What I found when I started checking was a little different than what I expected.

Of the top 100 films IMDB lists as science fiction, eleven are actually animated films. I'm not sure you can really categorize a protagonist who is a CGI dinosaur or a cartoon dog or a sad little robot when taking a survey on race or gender. And no, I didn't count to see how many films had girl dinosaurs or boy dinosaurs. Besides, if you do start running statistics on the animated films in the list, you have to note that one of those films is Disney's Lilo and Stitch, which has a young Hawaiian girl as its lead.

Those eleven films are merely the completely animated works in the list. They don't include another ten films where the real protagonist is either a giant robot, more CGI dinosaurs, giant monsters and robots or blue aliens. These films have token casts of human beings, but is someone going to seriously argue that the protagonist of Godzilla is not... Godzilla, or that anyone, anywhere, at any time attended a Transformers movie to see Shia LaBeouf?

Once you've put aside films mainly centered around non-human characters, you get to the biggest block of films on the whole list. As it happens, twenty-four of the top 100 science fiction films all have their origins in the same place—comics.  

That statistic suggests that what we really have here is a different kind of story. A story about time.

Come on in, true believers, let's see how this works ....

Of the twenty-four comic-inspired films, you'll find a noun that features in a large percentage. See if you can pick it out: Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, X-Men, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men:Days of Future Past, X-Men: First Class, Superman Returns, Superman. You may also note that, for reasons that would probably take a much longer essay than this, IMDB includes The Avengers in its list of sci-fi films, along with Bolt, an animated film about a dog, and Chicken Little, an animated film about, um, a little chicken, but it doesn't include either Spider-Man or Batman films, because ... okay, moving on.

All that man, man, men, man, men up there isn't a coincidence. It's not just a signal that these films aren't exactly going to be rife with female leads, but a clue that points, not to the era of the comic book films, but to the era of the comics themselves. Most of the comics that have achieved the kind of universality to be the basis of films—Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Hulk, Iron Man, the Avengers, X-Men—are franchises that are many decades old. Here are those film characters along with their first appearances on a four-color press.

Green Lantern—1940
Captain America—1941
Fantastic Four—1961
Iron Man—1963
The Avengers—1963

The first thing you might notice is that DC's stable of heroes are primarily from the "Golden Age" of comics. Superman, Batman and Green Lantern are all products of the era when America was turning away from the fears of the Depression, and looking toward the fears of war. That charming cover up there at the top of the article is one of Superman's and Batman's contemporaries from 1943, the Fighting Yank. Covers from Superman in the same time period were sometimes not much better.

In case you're wondering (pun intended) Wonder Woman also first appeared in 1941, and will make her film debut in 2016 as a side character in Batman v Superman. How long we'll have to wait to see the warrior princess of the Amazons in her own film, is still up in the air (possibly in an invisible jet).

Marvel's crew is mostly younger, with the bulk of them appearing in a similarly brief burst of creativity in the last months of JFK. Even so, we're talking about a set of characters most of whom have been jumping, fighting, and flying around their comic universe for 50 years plus.

So, does that mean they're all racist, sexist and worthless? Not quite.

Comics (and sci-fi in general) have often been at the cutting edge of social commentary, and have used their forums to highlight issues using metaphor and exaggeration. It's not going too far to say that many comics are about prejudice, acceptance, valuing people for who they are instead of what they look like. You could make a good case—and it's been made—that many of the Marvel comics were created specifically as models of the racial conflict then roiling the United States. It's no coincidence that the X-Men first popped up two weeks after the March on Washington.

However, comics are definitely artifacts of their times, and they didn't operate with perfect freedom. Following the publication of Seduction of the Innocent and the institution of the repressive Comics Code Authority, one of EC's horror comics was actually sued specifically because the lead character in a single comic story was a black astronaut (actually, a reprint of a story that had run without furor in the pre-CCA days). It's the sort of thing that didn't exactly lead to conspicuous displays of political bravery.

If it's true that comics dealt with issues of diversity from their early days, why do comic book films look so diversity-free today? It's mostly that the cycle from comic to film has often been a decades-long path. We're still watching origin stories, over and over, reboot after reboot, that often go back to Issue #1 of the comic involved. If you're going to make movies of material from an era when racism was institutionalized at every level and sexism was de rigueur, you shouldn't be surprised that it looks a bit timid when it comes to expectations of diversity circa 2014.

Mutant as a metaphor for non-white, non-straight, non-wholly enabled may look like a pretty weak step toward upholding equality now. It didn't in 1963, especially to people who had one eye on a screening organization likely to stomp them at the first whiff of actual racial politics. It's really not until the 1960s that major black supporting characters appear with regularity. The Falcon, who is soon to take over the role of Captain America in the comics, was introduced as one of the first black superheroes in 1969. Storm, played by Halle Berry in the first set of X-Men films, was introduced as the first black female hero in 1975.

Several of these comics have seen some minor, or major, adjustments over the years to eliminate elements that would seem wildly out of step in today's world. You no longer see the kind of stereotypes and damsels in distress that littered comics through the 1950s, and the latest generation of heroes includes many more characters of color (most of whom are not the painfully awful creations that marked attempts at diversity in earlier comic eras). Major comic pubishers have titles centered on characters as diverse as female, Pakistani-American, Muslim superhero, Kamala Khan who has taken the role of Ms. Marvel in the latest series of books. Publishers are definitely experimenting with greater racial and gender diversity, when it comes to their main characters.  Still, the core of the old stories, and the old characters, has remained only lightly touched.

Seeing the diversity in modern comics come to comic films is probably several years away. Why? Why don't they scrap all that old, race or gender insensitive material right now and go for a more diverse cast? The answer is that they do. They don't do it nearly enough, for several reasons.  

One reason is that people have the same emotional attachment to the original characters as they do to the protagonists of Pride and Prejudice, or True Grit, or even The Bible. You can insert a more modern ethos into these works, but you do so at risk of alienating the audience that wants to see "the real story," and even at the risk of losing insight into what drove the original narratives. I'd like to think that no one would insist on a film of Catcher in the Rye where Holden Caulfield is female any more than they would want a version of To Kill a Mockingbird where Scout is a boy. Either effort might result in a good story, and might give us a yardstick that says something about how racism and sexism warp our perceptions, but it's unlikely they'd be acceptable as accurate portrayals of the original material.

When you see people fretting over a black Captain America or a female Thor, it doesn't necessarily mean they're racist or sexist, only that they have an emotional attachment to the current character and they're worried that significant changes are being made to someone they love. Which isn't to say they're not also displaying race or gender bias. Both may be true, and I certainly expect that some of those fuming over the changes to these characters have no connection with them beyond a headline on Drudge.

Still, let's assume that not all the outrage is manufactured by the womens-and-non-white-people-are-taking-over fear factory. Every little detail of events when the Wayne's walk home from that opera house, and every nuance of Peter's relationship with Uncle Ben, gets furious analysis from some quarters. Film producers, who are rarely counted among the most daring people on the planet, are loathe to move too far from very well beaten paths. You may not think that comic book characters are deserving of the kind of reverence that makes them worth preserving with every bump and blemish in place, but their fans do ... and the fans are the people rushing the gates on opening weekend. The filmmakers know that.

When the thinking starts out with "let's make a new version of a story that a huge percentage of our target audience already knows," you can expect that what will be delivered is at best a minor variation on a theme. And it's certainly what we've seen, over and over and over. If you're looking for a source of new thinking about race, gender, disability, or any other topic, you're unlikely to find it in retreads of material older than John McCain.

Really, what bothers me the most as I look though this list of the top grossing sci-fi films is that there are very few titles in the list that are either good films or good sci-fi. Can you seriously draw any reasonable judgments from a list that includes Armageddon, a film that gets my vote for the worst atrocity ever committed in cinema, along with the hamster-centric G-Force, but which doesn't include 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Alien or even ET? It's a pretty awful list.

And maybe that's a better question. Just why is any list of "top grossing films" so filled with films that are not only insensitive to race and gender, but painfully godawful in terms of good filmmaking? Why is that true both in sci fi, and in films in general? Why do we give so much money to movies that are so, so bad?

One thing is sure. So long as idiocy like the latest Transformers film can open to so much money that it's already on this list, things are unlikely to get better.

Footnote: Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the few comic films based on characters created in the last 40 years. As a team-focused comic, it's hard to say that any character is the lead, but at least it does feature one African-American actress in the group of five. Though, yeah, she's painted green. I'm just hoping it's a halfway decent film, and that it bumps Spy Kids off the list.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 07:45 AM PDT.

Also republished by Barriers and Bridges, Black Kos community, and LatinoKos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  So why the big gap? (67+ / 0-)

    You might notice that there's a big space in there between the 1940s and 1960s, the so-called "Golden Age" and "Silver Age" of comics.

    Part of it is that comics in this period was more concerned with different types of stories, and that few new superhero characters were being created. So in terms of providing material for film franchises, the era is pretty thin.  

    Another thing that was happening was the CCA and general era of paranoia was leading to comic books like this one.

    The real superhero of that era? EC Comics editor and publisher, Bill Gaines, who constantly fought against censorship to get his horror and action comics on the stands, only to see his company driven out of business. Not only did he stand up to the scrutiny of a congressional committee, he founded Mad Magazine in the center of the furor, using it to lampoon both politicians and mainstream media producers.

    •  Decline of the superhero comics (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Senor Unoball

      After WWII, the comic book reading public turned away from superhero books for some reason, and that's also a major reason for the gap.  During this period, Marvel's stable of WWII-era heroes completely disappeared, although a couple of them did reappear in the sixties, notably Captain America and the Torch.  Of the DC heroes, the only ones who stayed continuously in print during this period were Superman and Batman, and both got rather silly during this era.

      Needless to say, no new superhero books came into existence during this period, which was broken in 1961 when Marvel launched the Fantastic Four.

      Why did this slump happen?  Probably not the Comics Code Authority, which didn't come into existence until well into this slump -- although the CCA may have done it's part to extend the slump with it's idiotic censorship standards.  I can't even say that it was a public rejection of action comics in favor of lighter comics (Archies, Casper, Richie Rich, etc all did well in the fifties, from what I understand) -- after all, if that were the case, the horror and science fiction comics from EC (and, to a lesser extent, DC) wouldn't have thrived in this era until they were killed by the CCA.

      Do you have any thoughts on what else might have caused this slump in superheroes?

      If Democrats proclaim the the Earth is round and Republicans insist it is flat, we will shortly see a column in the Washington Post claiming the the earth is really a semi-circle.

      by TexasTom on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 08:46:16 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  At least a part of it (7+ / 0-)

        had to do with the social and economic upheaval that was covering the country then.  The guys just back from the war were living new lives, and creating a new world, and felt very serious about it (I have had some interesting discussions with my dad about this).  It wasn't until the WWII babies (kids of the vets) started getting old enough to read that comics had their second boom, and the 60's were very much a surge of new talent at DC, marvel and other companies. And this was post-Comics Code and Post McCarthy.  A lot of the publishers were afraid to rock the boat in any way whatsoever.  I have a few friends who were in the industry then and later, and all of them have told me of trying to change things, only to run into brick walls.

        Remember, this was also when caucasians played Asians on TV and in movies,not because the talent was not there, but because "White audiences don't want to see that on their TV sets".   Tony Randall played Dr. Lao.  The network bigwigs fired Nichelle Nichols every week for the first year of Star Trek because she was black (and gene Roddenberry hired her as an extra - something beyond the purview of the execs) every week to keep her on the air.  David Carradine played Kwai Chiang Caine.  Bruce lee had his lines on"The Green Hornet" cut because he was 'too Chinese'.

        Alas, the times are reflected in the media.

        Also, a lot of the people writing for comics (especially at the big houses like DC and Marvel) were suburban white boys,with little or no connection to anyone not like them. It was mostly a fluke that Superman was created by two Jewish boys, and much of that influence (remember:  The Kents were originally Sarah and Eben, not Martha and Jonathan) was erased by cowardly publishers.  Even Jewish writers and publishers still couldn't buck the money men who actually ran things, and kept their characters 'mainstream'.

        This has long been a hot topic in the business.

        As for why movies suck - it's because that seems to make money.  Not my money, but...

        I am not religious, and did NOT say I enjoyed sects.

        by trumpeter on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 09:58:44 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Amen re. Bill Gaines and Mad Magazine (0+ / 0-)

      Way back in 1963, when I was 11, my mom brought home a copy of Mad Magazine, and said, I think you'll like this...I was blown away -- it was fantastic.  It was the April '63 issue, which featured "Mad's Modern Chess" (replaced medieval warfare with modern -- atomic -- warfare) and "East Side Story" (Adlai Stevenson and Tito as the star-crossed lovers).

      Wasn't til much later that I found out about the role of Gaines, Harvey Kurtzman, and other Mad people in opposing censorship and McCarthy.

  •  Guardians of the Galaxy? (15+ / 0-)

    My Wife and I both really liked it, and weren't familiar with source book.

    She isn't as much of a fan of Sci-Fi as I am. She said the action never stopped, and it could have been called a comedy, instead of an action movie.

    I'd watch it again, and I'll buy the DVD.

    You can't take the sky from me!

    by wrights on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 08:01:17 AM PDT

    •  Loved It (13+ / 0-)

      UNTIL the line where Zoe Saldana goes all passive and says to the group, when asked "Where to" -- "We'll follow his (the main guy) lead."

      AARGH.  Here is this extremely strong, diverse group that pushes the boundaries of race, AND this kick-ass take no prisoners despite a gentle heart non-white co-lead, and they go back to utter girl stereotype with that line.

      That being said, great, great flick!  (Planning to buy the DVD also.)

      At this point, I just want America to admit that it still doesn't want its Black citizens to live in any state other than terror, subservience and inferiority, under pain of death. I can handle American racism, but I can't handle American denial.

      by shanikka on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 10:00:25 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  That's focusing the team on a lead and agenda (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        TerryDarc, Ahianne, MT Spaces, amoverton

        It's extremely typical in most comic book team stories and doesn't take away strengths from the individual characters, so much as funneling their ideals, strengths, etc. through a focal member, I've noticed.

        In the original Guardians of the Galaxy, a Major Vance Astro led a very different team - e.g., a crystalline being, a Native American-stylized blue being, a part-human being with shared existence between female and male adopted siblings, etc. - in harsh, military command style.  His inner drive to save the 31st Earth's native population (and then, the surrounding galaxy) was also taken advantage of - and manipulated by - other team members, but it was primarily his team to lead in the primary dynamic.

        This current incarnation of the team was formed for future movie options, I feel.  From the beginning, it's existence was co-conceived and led by Star Lord and major command decisions for the team tend to coalesce through him - though, the other team members do respect him enough to let this happen.  I haven't seen the movie yet, but my guess is that the director  simplified the recognition of his eventual team lead role through the mechanism you described, since they didn't have the luxury of multiple issues and various, involved backstories to rely upon, as in the comic book equivalents.  I could be wrong, of course.

        "So, please stay where you are. Don't move and don't panic. Don't take off your shoes! Jobs is on the way."

        by wader on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 10:49:42 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  except (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        that is who the leader of the group is. So at some point, isn't every member going to defer to that guy in the film?
        Otherwise, you can't establish that person as the leader.

        •  Only if you view a leader as someone who doesn't (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          listen to his team. Star Lord (I've only watched the trailers) could have taken the Dax or Drax or whatever the Zoe Saldana's character's suggestion to do X. Couldn't he?

          Would that have made him less of a leader? I don't think so. Or give Dax/Drax some piece of the puzzle that allows her to assert what the team should do and then they all do it.

          There were ways out of just letting the hero set the course as shanikka says.

          Every human being has paid the earth to grow up. Most people don’t grow up. And you find out what it costs us to love and to lose, to dare and to fail. And maybe even more, to succeed. What it costs, in truth.—Maya Angelou

          by TerryDarc on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 11:59:11 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  no the leader (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            is someone who, at some point, ya know, leads.

            Yes, there's the Kirk v. Picard leadership styles, but at the end of the day, Picard still makes the final call and his folks defer to him.

            I don't see it as somehow diminishing any other character.

        •  Actually, I thought the raccoon was the team (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          quarkstomper, wrights


          He was the one who kept saving the day. He was the one with the ideas. He was even the one who was the point, um, man when they did their dramatic walk as a group.

          Yes, DailyKos DOES have puzzles! Visit us here Saturday nights @ 5:00 PDT (easier puzzles) and Sunday nights @ 5:00 PDT (more challenging) for a group solving. Even if you just pop in and comment while watching the fun, everybody is welcome. uid:21352

          by pucklady on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 02:28:48 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  ok watched the movie (0+ / 0-)

        and with all respect, there was nothing passive about that line nor utter girl stereotype about the delivery. It in no way diminishes everything that came before.

      •  It WAS his ship . . . (0+ / 0-)

        . . . so, as captain, it's not unusual that it would be his decision where they would be going, next.  

        I took the "follow him" moment as an acknowledgement that all of them were abandoning their original lives in favor of working together as a team in the manner Quill had outlined.  He had been the one working toward that kind of vision for them since pretty early in the movie.  

        He also seemed to care that everybody's priorities were addressed, rather than simply looking out for himself, so I think they made a politically valid and astute choice for team leader.  (Groot had that outlook, as well, but his lack of linguistic skills would complicate command.)

        Not that I'd trust him to date my daughter . . .

  •  I've been looking forward to this (11+ / 0-)

    diary to share w/ my comic geek son. We've had several discussions about many of these points. Thanks for the thoughtful diary.

    We view "The Handmaid's Tale" as cautionary. The GOP views it as an instruction book.

    by Vita Brevis on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 08:03:42 AM PDT

  •  What about Lando Calrissian? (9+ / 0-)

    He got to fly the Millennium Falcon!

    Dammit Jim, I'm a lawyer, not a grammarian. So sue me.

    by Pi Li on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 08:05:03 AM PDT

  •  Thanks Mark nt (9+ / 0-)

    I voted Tuesday, May 6, 2014 because it is my right, my responsibility and because my parents moved from Alabama to Ohio to vote. Unfortunately, the republicons want to turn Ohio into Alabama.

    by a2nite on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 08:07:01 AM PDT

  •  I'm certainly not defending comic books here (7+ / 0-)

    because diversity is much needed in the books.  But there are examples of both minorities and minority women protagonists in recent films, though none were the starring role.   Off the top of my head, I can think of the following:
    Iron Patriot in the Iron Man films, Hemdall in Thor films, The Falcon in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Samuel L. Jackson as the Director Nick Fury in all Marvel Avengers films and in Agents of SHIELD on television.  Zoe Saldana as Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy, Halley Barry as both Storm in the X-men franchise and Catwoman.

     It's clearly not enough, and I hope to see this remedied in Marvel's phase 3, and in the DC films.  There are a wealth of characters they can draw from such as: Cyborg, Green Lantern, Black Panther, Luke Cage etc.  

    Keep in mind that Luke Cage is getting his own series on netflix and that there has long been a rumor that Black Panther will get his own feature film.  

    The comic books have also been attempting to create more diversity with Marvel introducing Miles Morales as Spiderman in the ultimate universe and more recently giving the Captain America shield to the Falcon.   They have also announced that the new Thor in the comics will be a female. So, I like to hope more diversity will be seen in future films as well.  

  •  Thanks, Mark (5+ / 0-)

    Thoughtful analysis, as always.

    Thanks, too, for your effort some time ago to support fiction writers on DKos.  Thanks to that, I've actually published a couple of SciFi novels myself.

    Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. -- Arthur C. Clarke

    by mathGuyNTulsa on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 08:23:39 AM PDT

  •  And do not forget about Blade... (10+ / 0-)

    ..he had 3 movies and is a Marvel product.

    Courtesy of the Weekly Standard: "Early on, we received this missive from a bright young conservative: 'I’m watching my first GOP debate…and WE SOUND LIKE CRAZY PEOPLE!!!!'"

    by Steve In DC on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 08:28:08 AM PDT

  •  Far Beyond the Stars (11+ / 0-)

    There's a great episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, that illustrates the challenges that early (and pioneering) black science Fiction and fantasy writers have.  

    A key scene...this always get to me.

    Dammit Jim, I'm a lawyer, not a grammarian. So sue me.

    by Pi Li on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 08:30:34 AM PDT

    •  I'm sure the black captain bit was taken from (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Pi Li, koNko

      the situation Mark writes about above.

      I had an immediate recollection of that scene and episode while reading this...

      Almost time to fire up some DS9 for digital wallpaper so I can finish editing my book... :-)

      Democracy - 1 person 1 vote. Free Markets - More dollars more power.

      by k9disc on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 01:09:15 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  One of my fav episodes (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Pi Li, koNko, trumpeter

      That whole episode was brilliant, but that part really nailed it.

      Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole. - Ta-Nehisi Coates

      by moviemeister76 on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 01:35:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  agreed & would LOVE to see Octavia Butler's (12+ / 0-)

    works adapted to/for the big screen

    Octavia Butler, whose sci-fi novels Hollywood should be adapting for the big screen

    lilith's brood/ xenogenesis series is amazing

    and Anyanwu from Wild Seed = The Paternist series is one of my favorite characters and the original cover art of Wild seed is amazing and one of my all time fave covers of any book

  •  I was kind of curious to see the actual list (8+ / 0-)

    that drove that article, but I couldn't track it down. Since it referenced "Sci-Fi/Fantasy", I doubt whether it was identical to the one you used to prepare this diary. I was guessing, for example, that it might include all eight Harry Potter movies, which is the kind of thing that would seriously bias the statistics.

    Ultimately, I think the explanation for the overall phenomenon may be pretty simple: Whether in TV or films, the people making the decisions are overwhelmingly white, and mostly male. It might take another 30 or 40 years to see meaningful shifts. How many non-white "characters-of-significance", nevermind protagonists, has Joss Whedon ever created? Buffy, Firefly -- heck, even Freaks and Geeks -- have ensemble casts that are white white white.

    The kerfuffle over race in the Hunger Games franchise was interesting. On the one hand, "some" people were outraged that one of the secondary characters was portrayed by a black actress, despite the fact that the character was explicitly described that way in the book. On the other hand, Katniss Everdeen was apparently originally described as olive-skinned, but is portrayed by the very not-olive-skinned Jennifer Lawrence. Nonetheless, the author herself fully supported the choice of Lawrence, based on her screen test I guess.

    In the world of big-money entertainment, there are things that can trump our larger social concerns.

    To put the torture behind us is, inevitably, to put it in front of us.

    by UntimelyRippd on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 08:34:44 AM PDT

    •  I wouldn't say that about Firefly... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      koNko, trumpeter

      Since both Gina Torres and Ron Glass are part of our nine person cast.

      •  funny, i forgot about glass AND torres when i (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        koNko, a2nite, Mark Sumner

        wrote that, trying to picture the cast in my head. sometimes we see what we expect to see, and recall accordingly -- which is to say, i'm an example of my own hypothesis. if i were writing a story containing earth-based humans, the question of the characters' race would be arbitrary and artificial to me -- i would need to consciously make myself imagine a new character as being anything other northwestern european, unless i had a good reason to do otherwise.

        which i think goes a long way to explaining the whole deal with Rue in the hunger games. many (most?) people read cursorily, zipping along the action words and barely perceiving many of the adjectives. and just about everybody (at least, everybody white in a predominantly white society) presumes that, without specific contrary information, a person they cannot see is white. (of course, megabytes were written about this when the movie came out. never having read the books, i'm not a test case in that instance.)

        also, thinking back on it, i now remember reflecting specifically about the way that torres' character turned gender stereotypes on their head, a decision i doubt was accidental.

        either way, my bad.

        off-topic, i think its ... interesting ... that you say, "are part of our nine person cast" (emphasis mine.) people do have trouble letting go ...

        To put the torture behind us is, inevitably, to put it in front of us.

        by UntimelyRippd on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 04:21:44 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  The article that Feministing references... (0+ / 0-)

      ...references Box Office Mojo, which breaks down genres into fine slivers:

      I didn't find any coarser collations of genre data at Box Office Mojo, so perhaps the authors of the blog post did the collation.

      The IMDB lists don't appear to be inflation adjusted, so would give an advantage to recent films.  Box Office Mojo has a separate list with inflation adjustment, but not broken down by genre.

      Just scanning that list for the SF and fantasy titles...inflation adjustment does seem to make a difference in the types of titles that appear -- perhaps fewer superhero-comics-based films? -- but maybe not on gender and race representation.

  •  I've written about a related subject... (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    zooecium, shanikka, wader, Ahianne, koNko

    I've written about a related subject: Preconceptions in science and science the case of the latter, even when a character is DESCRIBED as dark skinned, the preconception remains white.

    FREEDOM ISN'T FREE: That's why we pay taxes! Progressive Blogging New York: Write Now NY Find me on Linkedin.

    by mole333 on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 08:36:10 AM PDT

    •  that finding from spain is rather perplexing. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ahianne, koNko

      couldn't digest starch? is that a trait ever observed anywhere in any modern human population? even the inuit, whose ancestors lived for thousands of years on a diet almost exclusively of meat and fish, were able to eat bread when the europeans showed up with flour. hell, off the top of my head, i can't identify a single land mammal that can't digest starch. not that i'm any kind of expert. ruminants, maybe?

      and when they say that people assumed early europeans were fair ... which people, and how early? i don't think of 7000 years ago as particularly early in the history of european settlement. my assumption has always been that those who came out of africa were relatively dark-skinned, and that fair skin developed probably in the north, and then came back south, displacing dark-skinned populations in the process.

      either way, the characteristics of two skeletons ought not to be the basis of generalization, since we've no clue where those individuals came from, notwithstanding the extraordinary assertion of one of the researchers that "this guy has been in Europe for 40,000 years and he still has dark skin". has he? or were some of his ancestors fairly recent migrants?

      it's all pretty dubious.

      To put the torture behind us is, inevitably, to put it in front of us.

      by UntimelyRippd on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 09:22:39 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Covers (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ahianne, mole333, koNko, trumpeter

      For the Honor Harrington books. Difficult to see in the early ones that Honor was supposed to be Asian (at least in part) and certainly hard to see that both the Queen and Michele Henke are black. Even though that's an underlying point of the books.

      •  Cover artists don't always get the point. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Besides, the only pictures from those books I particularly care about are the ones depicting stellar cartography so I can have an idea of where different events in the story are happening.

        "There are no atheists in foxholes" isn't an argument against atheism, it's an argument against foxholes. - James Morrow

        by kirrix on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 06:00:56 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Character descriptions and me (0+ / 0-)

      Whenever I read about a male lead character, he ALWAYS looks like me.  God only knows what this says about me and my self-esteem, but I would bet you that that would hold true even if the author explicitly stated the character was of color.

      Is this common?  I don't know.  But if it is, then I would ask what is the demographic makeup of scifi consumers?  If it is what I imagine it to be, that would explain a lot toward the preconception problem you point out.  Comic book heroes are a different story, though, as the illustrator takes all of the guesswork out of the visuals.

      On a side note, The Expanse series by James Corey is chock full of people of color.  It seems that in the distant future, we took a page from George Carlin and f-ed each other until everyone was essentially the same shade (I'm still the pasty bad-ass in charge, though).

      •  f-ed each other until... (0+ / 0-)

        Well we DO know that humans f-ed at least two other species...Neanderthals and Denisovians. The data is in our modern DNA and looks like most non-Africans have some DNA from one, the other, or both species.

        So yeah...we tend to f towards the future.

        FREEDOM ISN'T FREE: That's why we pay taxes! Progressive Blogging New York: Write Now NY Find me on Linkedin.

        by mole333 on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 02:45:54 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  I can speak to the gender makup of sf fans... (0+ / 0-)

        ...and fantasy fans, at least those who attended sf and fantasy conventions Back in the Day.  The first major convention I attended was LACon I (World Science Fiction Convention) in 1972, followed by many Westercons, local conventions, and almost all Mythcons for their first several decades.  There was no lack of female fans, and female authors publishing under their own names were becoming increasingly prominent.  We all knew that earlier female authors tended to use pseudonyms (e.g. Andre Norton), though most of us were not aware of all pseudonymous female authors (e.g. James Tiptree Jr.)

        Note, though, that the focus back then was on written sf and fantasy, not comics or film.  Films tended to be regarded with a bit of disdain -- money-making imitations and bug-eyed monsters.  I don't recall much interest in superhero comics expressed at these conventions.  So the perception of disparity in the gender of fandom may have come from comics fandom.

        I'll admit I did not read superhero comics, and what I did see didn't win me over.  Apologies, but...I felt their draw was often wish-fulfillment.  (Full disclosure -- I did my share of reading for wish-fulfillment.  I'd read Heinlein's "Podkayne of Mars" multiple times, imagining myself in the lead role, before realizing what was going on.)  And I agreed with Larry Niven's assessment that introduction of characters who could do anything destroyed the core of the sf story -- the struggle to solve a problem.  (This almost ended Niven's Ringworld series, after he introduced Teela Brown -- a character with hereditary good luck -- and then realized that would warp any future events around her.)

        Things have changed now -- more people are only encountering sf and fantasy through films, and even if the films are based on books, seeing the film doesn't necessarily lead to reading the book.  This may have increased the reach of sf and fantasy, but limited the type and depth of the works that get broad exposure.  There are certainly excellent sf and fantasy films and TV, e.g. "Princess Mononoke" and "Spirited Away", "Left Hand of Darkness", "The Fire Next Time", "The People" (starring William Shatner!), "Watership Down", the Star Trek episode "City on the Edge of Forever", most of "2001"...  I'm omitting lighter films like "Lilo and Stitch" (which I loved, and which did get into IMDB's top 100).  And I have to break off with only a tiny beginning of a list.  Would like to hear which films others like that didn't earn the big bucks.

  •  A word about Superman (11+ / 0-)

    I think it was quite advanced for its era, at least in the matter of women.  Lois Lane might not have been a "super hero," but there's no doubt she was a successful professional and a very strong woman with a mind of her own.  AND Superman's girlfriend.  (He could have flirted with some dewy-eyed clinging vine or sexpot a la Marilyn Monroe, but he didn't. Very cool.)  I also appreciated Supergirl.

    I was a girl growing up in the late fifties/early sixties.  Contrast ace reporter Lois Lane and Supergirl to my mom - and the mothers of most of my friends - who did not have a job outside the home, formally referred to themselves as "Mrs. [husband's name]," and presumably cringed when their husband's shirts showed "ring around the collar."

    I think you really hit the nail on the head when you noted that "old" fans (and I am an "old" one) don't want the basic formula changed.  These are childhood archetypes, myths that comfort and that formed our worldview.  When someone messes with Superman, I snarl.

    "If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went." - Will Rogers

    by Kentucky DeanDemocrat on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 08:40:58 AM PDT

  •  Spy Kids? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    zooecium, Odysseus, Geenius at Wrok

    C'mon, what was wrong with Spy Kids?  I thought it was cute.  And it had a female protagonist.

  •  About the leading man-men-man-men thingy (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    GMFORD, zooecium, JJ In Illinois

    I'm pretty sure there is a very simple reason (albeit inexcusable) reason for the majority of the protagonists (leading characters) in movies throughout the years both in science fiction and in most other films is because it's what actually "sells".  The best selling movies usually contain sex and bad-ass.  Gotta have that totally drop-dead gorgeous sexy lady and that ass-kicking dude/monster in there somewhere to get the people to get into the theaters to watch it.  Sure, there are exceptions, but by and large, the decision of having a hero rather than a shero is totally about saleablity.  

    I've seen just SO many people of color as protagonists in just so many movies in the past 20 years or so, I'm not sure I agree 100% with you on that aspect of what you're saying.  But, maybe it's just me.  A BUNCH of my favorite movies in that time (and my family and friends feel the same) have black male protagonists.  Again, that female element is as you say...agree on that one.  But, again, there is a reason (not an excuse, as I've said earlier).

    •  Some more is not sufficient especially when (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      zooecium, JeffW, shanikka, Odysseus

      it's the same black actors.

      I voted Tuesday, May 6, 2014 because it is my right, my responsibility and because my parents moved from Alabama to Ohio to vote. Unfortunately, the republicons want to turn Ohio into Alabama.

      by a2nite on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 09:00:02 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Maybe, I will be called sexist, but kick ass fe... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ahianne, Jorybu, kirrix, a2nite

      Maybe, I will be called sexist, but kick ass female characters are some of my favorites. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, River, Chloe, Inara, Echo, Black Widow, May, several X-Men, Abigail Whistler, Martha Jones, Amy Pond, Clara Oswald and more that I can't recall immediately. Odd that so many are Whedon related but that might just be a sign of my nerdom. In any case I am usually left wanting more of the female characters.

      And, since no one has mentioned it (that I have seen), Northstar of Alpha Flight is gay. Not sure if they will ever show up in an X MEN movie.

  •  Comics and comics movies are a mixed bag (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    zooecium, Ahianne

    Even talking raccoons get treated as equals, so racial equality per se tends not to be an issue.   You'll see strong women.

    But what you don't often get is a setting where the woman or the black guy is the leader, with the white guys following or playing the "best friend."  Sort of a b'wana syndrome.  

    •  I don't know. (0+ / 0-)

      I think the tendency with comics is more seen in solo characters. There's actually more leeway in team books for the woman or the black guy to lead than for them to star in a solo book.

      I'm thinking specifically of Storm leading the X-Men for years back in my formative comic book days - back before there were a dozen different titles and leaders. Wasp was leading the Avengers around the same time.

      The Empire never ended.

      by thejeff on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 11:15:28 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  oh good lord (9+ / 0-)

    sometimes a comic is just a comic.  Guess what would happen if you applied the same statistical analysis of romance novels?  And by the way the Romance novel industry is more than twice the size of the comic industry INCLUDING graphic novels.

    The VAST majority of comic buyers are young males.  Guess what they want to read about?  Males.  The VAST majority of romance novel buyers are females.  Guess what they want to read about?  Females.  Thats not sexist, its market.  

    Jane Austen books get consumed by women at an almost cult like rate and they get turned into movies and TV shows over and over yet no complaints about her lack of diversity.

    Sometimes our drive for diversity just makes bad cinema, especially when it is a blatant attempt to "throw a bone" to a specific market/group.  Liv Tyler as the "Zena Warrior Princess" version of Arwen was horrible in a thousand ways, not the least that is was so far off the book it was sickening.  If they wanted to expand on a female hero Éowyn was already available but off course not until the second movie.  Cant wait, got to give "the girls" a hero early.  Blech.  Or that horrible scene in Part One of the Deathly Hallows where Harry and Hermione dance in the forrest because apparently the story was complete without some sexual tension?  

    Personally I would (and do) find it insulting to be "thrown a bone" in a movie, book or comic.  I am not so shallow that I can't enjoy a romantic movie unless there is a car chase in the middle.  Empire Strikes back was a great movie period full stop.  The Han-Leia subplot was natural, not forced to "get the girls."  Billy Dee Williams WAS Lando, not "black Lando."  Cast the movie right, not to meet a goal.  Write the movie right, not to hit a diversity standard.  

    It is well that war is so terrible -- lest we should grow too fond of it. Robert E. Lee

    by ksuwildkat on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 08:53:43 AM PDT

    •  Hmmmm (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Odysseus, VClib, koNko
      Liv Tyler as the "Zena Warrior Princess" version of Arwen was horrible in a thousand ways, not the least that is was so far off the book it was sickening.  
      I'm not sure I agree with this. Arwen as portrayed in the films didn't come across as a "Zena Warrior Princess" to me at all. Apparently she was written somewhat that way in some early drafts of the script, but Jackson & Co. eventually paired the character down to closer to what she does in the books. In fact if I recall Arwen doesn't have a single fight scene in the films, so I'd say she's hardly portrayed as a "warrior princess".   I'm a huge fan of the books from growing up, and I have a few problems with Jackson's choices, but I thought Arwen was handled well, and understand why they did what they did with her.
      The VAST majority of comic buyers are young males.  Guess what they want to read about?  Males
      Actually to be more specific they're mostly young white males.  But that aside, I don't think that means automatically they want to read and see fiction about other males. In fact a lot of the guys I know love seeing a woman kick ass in Sci-fi and fantasy. What they mostly want is a good story and good characters.  

      That said, I agree with the main point of your comment...that market forces, in general, drive these decisions.  But I don't think that automatically you have to have a book, comic book or movie featuring characters that look like the reader or viewer to sell.

      Dammit Jim, I'm a lawyer, not a grammarian. So sue me.

      by Pi Li on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 09:19:49 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Disagree with you both (7+ / 0-)
        The VAST majority of comic buyers are young males.  Guess what they want to read about?  Males
        Actually to be more specific they're mostly young white males.  But that aside, I don't think that means automatically they want to read and see fiction about other males. In fact a lot of the guys I know love seeing a woman kick ass in Sci-fi and fantasy. What they mostly want is a good story and good characters.

        As a non-white male and long time comic fan, I'm going to claim some expertise on the subject a disagree that comic buyers are (a) mainly interested in men, and; (b) mainly white males.

        Visit comic stores and those stereotypes die fast.

        But we do agree guys like the girls kicking ass. Very much so.

        And we also like the girls who like the girls kicking ass.

        And some, like Mrs koNko, are pretty badass gamers too.

      •  Wait what? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        First movie where she take Frodo to Rivendale.  Stupid chase scene (with a woman!  Bonus twofer!) with her and the Nine.  

        Witch-King: Give up the Halfling, She-Elf!
        Arwen: [draws her sword] If you want him, come and claim him!


        Want a female hero?  Galadriel or better Éowyn.  But Arwen?  No.  Her heroism (giving up immortality to marry Aragorn) is hard to explain and happens in Book Three so instead she becomes the great warrior.  

        and now I have displayed too much geek so I need to stop  :)

        It is well that war is so terrible -- lest we should grow too fond of it. Robert E. Lee

        by ksuwildkat on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 10:20:32 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  More people were offended by the Gender Lift (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          quarkstomper, kurt

          than by the Xenafication. Frodo was originally taken to Rivendell by a radically different character - Glorfindel, of Elrond's household, and (long LONG) before that, of Gondolin. (He didn't actually hand-carry Frodo either - he strapped him to his horse and followed on after with the rest of the company as fast as they could manage.)

          There were practical reasons for doing the bundle-carry, not least that the resources of the cinema to fake the size difference (between humans/Elves and hobbits) were strained to the breaking point already. But it wound up drastically weakening Frodo's character, because he didn't get his little moment of defiance at the ford.

          Ralph Bakshi hadn't used Glorfindel either - he stuck in Legolas, who had absolutely no business being there at that point. Arwen at least was a member of Elrond's household - and, as his daughter, would have been one of a very small number of people able to trigger the trap-spell Elrond had placed on the ford. (Maybe he trusted Glorfindel that much too - it would be strange if he didn't - but he would certainly have trusted Arwen, and for that matter her brothers, whose absence from the film version has been regretted by many fans.)

          If it's
          Not your body,
          Then it's
          Not your choice
          And it's
          None of your damn business!

          by TheOtherMaven on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 01:17:31 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  I think you need to check your geek credentials :) (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          To be a warrior you have to at least do some fighting...Arwen does none in Jackson's trilogy. Certainly, there is a horseback chase scene, but Arwen does not get into any Xena style kick ass sword play with them...rather, the encounter ends with her using her she-Elf powers to raise the Anduin and sweep the wraiths away (there are reasons to take issue with that scene, re: Frodo's character development, but it has nothing to do with Arwen being a "warrior"). Introducing Glorfindel in that scene, never to be heard from again, would have been silly.

          Certainly, there are many, many deviations from the books, some of which (mainly in ROTK) that I have issues with, but the Arwen story generally isn't one of them, and for the most part I think Jackson succeeded remarkably. And while I'm a huge fan of the books, I'm not purist when it comes to translating them for film.

          As I said, earlier drafts on the script has Arwen as more of a warrior (at one point they were even going to put her at Helm's deep), but Jackson wisely went a different path with her character. I understand why they did what the did with her, and by and large I think it was handled quite well, so we'll just have to disagree on that.

          Dammit Jim, I'm a lawyer, not a grammarian. So sue me.

          by Pi Li on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 02:12:59 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  The "Blade" movies are pretty good. (9+ / 0-)

    Blade was the first successful movie of a Marvel Comics character, and that character happens to be black, so at least there's that.

    Also in the 90s, there was the Spawn movie, another black comic book character.

    More recently, Don Cheadle played Jim Rhodes "War Machine", but he's not a lead character, he's a side kick of Iron Man, though he did have his own comic book mini-series in the 80s.

    Also, Samuel L Jackson plays Nick Fury.  He's not a lead Marvel character, but it's still interesting because he's always been white in the comics, but now is black on the big screen. Hehe

    Halle Berry, the most beautiful woman in history IMHO (lol), played Storm, but I heard she was annoyed that her role wasn't big enough; the X-Men movies focus so much on Wolverine.

    Now, in the comics, Marvel is turning Captain America black, as Steve Rogers is retiring and passing his mantle to his long time buddy "Falcon" (who was introduced to the world as "Black Falcon" in the Blacksploitation days Lol).

    Had Paramount decided to make  Star Trek DS9 or Voyager movie, they would have had black and female leading roles, Sisko and Janeway.

    OK, I'm done with my stream of conscious rambling. Lol

    •  ah one more tiny bit of DS9 (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      a2nite, Matt Z, VeggiElaine

      would have been oh so nice.

      Then again, I want a little more Stargate, a little more BSG...

      •  Stargate with the original cast (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I voted Tuesday, May 6, 2014 because it is my right, my responsibility and because my parents moved from Alabama to Ohio to vote. Unfortunately, the republicons want to turn Ohio into Alabama.

        by a2nite on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 11:30:24 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I liked all three to be honest (0+ / 0-)

          even really got good the last half of the second season, but its unevenness up til then led to no one left watching it.

          The last episode of the series is really top-notch, as good as anything in the franchise.

          Some of my most favorite episodes of SG-1 involved the Ori, and I think some of my favorite one-off episodes of the entire franchise were in Atlantis.

          •  Wasn't buying the imported Farscape people (0+ / 0-)

            & Carter wasn't promoted to team leader, so another generic "white guy in charge" was created.

            I voted Tuesday, May 6, 2014 because it is my right, my responsibility and because my parents moved from Alabama to Ohio to vote. Unfortunately, the republicons want to turn Ohio into Alabama.

            by a2nite on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 11:52:55 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  she was a leader in Atlantis (0+ / 0-)

              4th season. And it was pretty clear she and Mitchell were equals...same rank, and the dynamic was much different than her and O'Neill.

              I liked Vala, and Mitchell was fine.

              •  Never saw the other flavors nt (0+ / 0-)

                I voted Tuesday, May 6, 2014 because it is my right, my responsibility and because my parents moved from Alabama to Ohio to vote. Unfortunately, the republicons want to turn Ohio into Alabama.

                by a2nite on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 12:55:43 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  you are missing out quite frankly (0+ / 0-)

                  Atlantis has a female leader 4/5 seasons, it has a different (but equally good) dynamic to SG1, and when the villains threatened to get old, and they do, they switch it up reasonably well.

          •  I've watched them a bunch of times. It's a shame (0+ / 0-)

            that they have to be rewatched instead of getting something new to watch.

            I've done a lot of my dog training writing to the series' you mention in this thread, most of it actually.

            It's a shame that there is no exploratory sci-fi these days, hasn't been since SGU.

            Nice reading your thread here.

            Democracy - 1 person 1 vote. Free Markets - More dollars more power.

            by k9disc on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 01:20:31 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  A few thoughts (10+ / 0-)

    I thought the movie Blade was a breakthrough in many ways. It  had a black star and was a surprise hit. It was in many ways the mold for the current comic movie craze (Batman and Superman had prior, radio, movie, and live TV success). Blade was a lesser know comic book, that went directly to a movie. I thought it would lead to more project like this for minority actors. It didn't. Says something about Hollywood.

    I agree with you on the origin of character issues. As a former comic book collector, I have mixed feelings on ANY changes to the origin of characters. I understand modernizing or making things more scientifically plausible (remember how the Batman movie gave him a bullet proof suit, something not found in the comics at the time?) and yes that includes diversifying characters. It was more likely a character growing up in 1940's or 1960's NYC had no minority friends, not as likely in 2014. I don't always think it's racism as much as being protective over the material, although yes at times it is racist.

    Just wanted to say thank you for this article.

    -1.63/ -1.49 "Speaking truth to power" (with snark of course)! Follow on Twitter @dopper0189

    by dopper0189 on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 09:03:19 AM PDT

    •  A few more :) (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      a2nite, shanikka, wader, Ahianne, Matt Z

      What I find more annoying are stories set in the future. They seem to imagine a future space exploring human race still dominated by Europe. Now I know these are products made to sell to audiences TODAY so accuracy isn't the end all be all to why they are made. But heck Star Trek was more advanced in showing a diverse human space exploring world than many shows/movies are today. Current trends continuing East Asia will be more economically dominant than Western Europe in 30 years time. Yet scifi culture hasn't really captured that.

      Even in shows where their are mutants or mages, they very rarely have the most powerful being being a person of color. But I think that has a lot to do with movies studios.

      BTW Remember even in the Spawn movie, they changed a major character from black to white, so it does happen "both ways" as Hollywood tries to build an audience (in this case I think they worried the movie would be "too black" when they should have worried it wasn't very good).

      -1.63/ -1.49 "Speaking truth to power" (with snark of course)! Follow on Twitter @dopper0189

      by dopper0189 on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 09:10:40 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Mentioning Black Lighting (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mark Sumner, wader, Ahianne, Matt Z, MT Spaces

    Another notable black character from the '70s was BLACK LIGHTNING, who had a weird and twisted backstory himself.

    In the early '70s, DC was going through a "New Relevance" period, publishing stories that tried to address social issues.  This was the era where Bruce Wayne embraced his White Liberal Guilt and devoted more of his day-time activities to social activism and philanthropy; where Hawkman and Green Arrow used to play Archie Bunker vs. Mike in the JUSTICE LEAGUE and where Hal Jordan quit his job as a space cop to travel the roads with Oliver Queen searching for the Real America.

    DC decided to publish a new title with a black superhero.  There had been a couple black characters appearing before, but none at DC to headline his own book.  They had a proposal for a character named THE BLACK BOMBER and assigned it to a young writer recently hired from Marvel named Tony Isabella.

    The Black Bomber was a soldier who had been a volunteer in a experimental program to create a super-soldier to fight in the jungles of 'Nam.  The serum gave him the usual enhanced strength, agility, nigh invulnerability, etc.; and also was supposed to give him a natural camouflage to help him blend in while in the jungle.  Well, the "camouflage" darkened his skin and made him look black.  

    But no, that wasn't the gimmicky part.  The gimmick was, the guy was a racist!  And, like the bad joke about Ray Charles, he didn't realize what he looked like.  So he would save a kid from a burning building, and find out later that the kid was black, and the kid would think he was a hero and the guy would be cussing to himself because he didn't wanna save no Insert Offensive Epithet Here.

    You can actually see glimmers of good intentions in the idea, but it all came together into something appalling.  As Tony tells the story, Isabella asked his editors if they really wanted DC's First Black Hero to be a White Bigot?  They gave him 24 hours to come up with something better, and he gave them Black Lightning.

    Isabella knew that he was doing something important, and so he put a lot of effort into making things right.  At the time, most black role-models in popular culture were sports figures; Tony made his character a teacher.  He talked extensively to black friends and tried his best to make his characters sound like real people and not just some white guy's idea of what a black guy sounds like.

    Some aspects of the character are still cringe-worthy relics of the '70s, such as his name, (back then adding "Black" was supposed to make it sound cooler; now, it seems stupid and obvious); and his "Afro mask", an Afro wig attached to his mask that was part of his costume, (which his  black artist, Trevor Von Eden hated).  But Tony still regards the character as his favorite creation.

    Sadly, relations between Isabella and DC did not go well, and partially because of these differences, Black Lightning has gone through unfortunate periods of obscurity.  Isabella returned to the character for a very good revival of the comic in the '90s with artist Eddy Newell, but it did not last terribly long.  More recently, Black Lightning has been a part of the JLA, (minus not only his Afro but the rest of his hair as well; a different fad for a different era).

    Read my webcomic, "Hannibal Tesla Adventure Magazine" at

    by quarkstomper on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 09:06:29 AM PDT

    •  Was Satic Shock (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Matt Z, MT Spaces

      a bit of a homage to Black Lightning?

      •  I would imagine so (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Matt Z, Anjana, MT Spaces

        I know that the makers of the animated version of STATIC SHOCK wanted to have Black Lightning appear in one episode, but DC wouldn't permit it.  So they created a similar character named "Soul Power" who was a BL tribute.

        And this touches on the reason why there is never likely to be a Black Lightning movie.  Under the agreement between DC and Tony Isabella, Tony is supposed to get a cut every time his character is used outside the comic book.  The result is that when the cartoon SUPER FRIENDS wanted to add some ethnic characters to its cast, they invented a different black electric guy with a different costume and name ("Black Vulcan"???) instead of using the one that already existed in the comics.

        There have been occasional licensed uses of BL in toys, artwork and such, but these have been pretty rare.  He did appear in the recent BRAVE AND THE BOLD cartoon, but there he was an angry punk rather than a responsible role-model.  

        Read my webcomic, "Hannibal Tesla Adventure Magazine" at

        by quarkstomper on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 12:07:01 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I mentioned this in a diary the other day (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    shanikka, portlandzoo, Matt Z, MT Spaces

    on this subject.

    As Mark points out, many of the sci-films with real human characters derive from comic books.  And, who reads comic books?  Hint: one commenter above referenced his "comic geek son" and millions like him.. That was me in the sixties.

    While I did read Wonder Woman and Supergirl (Action Comics and Justice League as well) stories, I most identified with the male heroes.  Duh.

    And duh again at the discovery that sci-fi films play to this nearly all-boy fandom grown up.

    Girls didn't read comic books.. may a few did, but I never met one.

    Film making, especially today, is a business first.  And producers will back a known product when available.  The feministing article concludes there's some sort of nefarious plot by a small cabal of producers against women of color in sci-fi films.

    It was a dumb article and a dumb conclusion.  Just follow the money.

    And one more thing..  They don't call romantic comedies "chick flicks" for no reason at all, and they don't call sci-fi/adventure movies "guy movies" for no reason.  Let's not overthink this.

  •  Much of the Hollywood over-rep of males (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wader, k9disc

    is primarily due to Americans' love of military or law-enforcement situations for their films' content, only then and secondarily about gender representation. European movie subjects (on the whole, at least) are more life-like, and so the gender representation more like-life. But their military and police dramas, drug operas, etc are just about as male-driven as anyone else's. Goes with the subject territory, it seems.

    Hollywood is just delivering what its paying audiences want. Dumb, yes, but that dumbness has a cause (I won't say "a reason").

  •  As a life long reader of SF (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    shanikka, wader

    I have to say that any problem with lack of diversity is not the fault of the majority of SF writers,  especially those who write fantasy SF. Hero's come in all colors, shapes and size and genders in Science Fiction and no subject is off limits and it has been that way for the close to half a century I have been a reader of SiFi.  The problem is how the film industry chooses to interpret the original story line and they are influenced by what sell and makes money.  It is one of the reason I so seldom go to see movie based on books I have read. I am almost always disappointed.   I cannot speak to comic book, since I have never been a fan.

  •  Looking at comic/hero movies.... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sfbob, annieli, Pi Li

    1966 - Catwoman in Batman
    1978, 1980, 1983 - Lois Lane in Superman films
    1984 - Supergirl in Supergirl
    1989 - Vicki Vale in Batman, Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent
    1992 - Catwoman in Batman Returns
    1994 - Sue Storm in Horrible Fantastic Four
    1994 - Blankman
    1995 - Tank Girl
    1995 - Mighty Morphin Power Rangers included an Asian man and a Black woman
    1995 - Black Scorpion with a female lead
    1996 - Barb Wire
    1996 - Vampirella
    1997 - Black Scorpion II: Aftershock same female lead
    1997 - Batman & Robin with Poison Ivy and Batgirl
    1997 - Steel staring Shaq
    1997 - Spawn with Jai Michael White
    1998 - Power Rangers Turbo, women and Asian man.
    1998 - Blade with Wesley Snipes
    1998 - The Mask of Zorro with Antonio Bandaras
    1999 - Mystery Men with Jeneane Garofalo, Hank Azaria, Ben Stiller
    2000: X-Men with Rogue, Mystique, Storm.
    2000: Unbreakable with Sam L. Jackson
    2002: Blade 2
    2003: Daredevil, a blind hero
    2003: X-2 with Rogue, Storm, Mystique, Deathstrike by Kelly Hu.
    2003: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen with Naseeruddin Shah as Nemo, Peta Wilson as Mina
    2004: Hellboy with Liz Sherman saving the day
    2004: Spiderman 2 with Alfred Molina, a Spanish man
    2004: Catwoman with Halle Berry
    2004: Blade Trinity

    (As a note, 2004 was almost the first year with a film that either had a minority actor in a lead or a minority protagonist. It misses the mark due to The Punisher)

    2005: Elektra
    2005: Constantine with John Constantine who is bisexual and starred by Keanu Reeves, a Hawaiian with Chinese ancestry. Papa Midnite is Black.
    2005: Sharkboy and Lavagirl with Lavagirl
    2005: Legend of Zorro with Antonio Bandaras
    2005: Fantastic Four with Sue Storm
    2005: Sky High with Layla, Gwen Grayson
    2005: V is for Vendetta with Evey Hammond
    2006: X-Men: The Last Stand with Storm, Rogue, Jean Grey, Mystique, Callisto, Kitty Pryde, Psylocke, Arclight, Dr. Rao
    2006: My Super Ex-Girlfriend with Uma Thurman
    2007: Fantastic Four with Sue Storm
    2008: Wanted with Angelina Jolie
    2008: Hancock
    2008: Hellboy II
    2009: The Spirit with Sam L. Jackson as The Octopus
    2009: Watchmen with Silk Spectre
    2009: X-men Origins:Wolverine with Silverfox, John Wraith, Blob (the first, by the way, representative of an obese person with any substance in comic movies, but he was still a bumbling moron), Agent Zero
    2010: Kick-Ass with Hit Girl
    2010: Super with Ellen Page as Boltie
    2010: Iron Man 2 with Pepper Potts, James Rhodes, and Black Widow
    2011: Green Hornet with Kato
    2011: Thor with Idris Elba (not a main character, but still remarkable as he became the representation for the character)
    2011: X-Men: First Class with Mystique, Darwin, Emma Frost
    2011: Power Rangers: Super Samurai with two Asian actors and main characters
    2012: The Avengers with Sam L. Jackson (and by this time, Nick Fury became Black in the comics), Black Widow
    2012: The Dark Knight Rises with Catwoman and Talia al Ghul
    2012: Dredd with Judge Anderson and Ma-Ma
    2013: Iron Man 3 with Pepper Potts, James Rhodes
    2013: The Wolverine with Mariko Yashida, Yukio, and Viper
    2013: Kick Ass 2 with Hit-girl
    2014: X-Men Days of Future Past with Storm, Mystique, Kitty Pryde, Rogue, Bishop, Sunspot, Warpath, Bolivar Trash, Blink.
    2014: Guardians of the Galaxy with Zoe Saldana (Latina/Hispanic), Dave Bautista (Filipino ancestry), Vin Diesel (multiethnic/multiracial), Nebula, Korath
    2014: Lucy

    And to come:

    2015: Avengers: Age of Ultron with Black Widow and Scarlet Witch
    2015: Fantastic Four reboot with a Black Johnny Storm, Sue Storm
    2016: Batman vs Superman with Wonder Woman
    2016: X-Men Apocalypse with rumored mutants including Jean Grey, Storm
    2017: Justice League likely with Wonder Woman
    2017: Guardians of the Galaxy with the above casting.

    So I invite you to show me where it is that comic movies have such a problem representing people from multiple ethnicities and genders.

    By the way? None of the above characters were gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Only Constantine had it in comics. Only one was obese. Only one had a disability. None were a gender minority.

    Yet all I hear from people who want to criticize comics and movies is how women and "PoC" (a highly racist term that lumps anyone not white into a group) aren't represented. I think the problem is less the representation and more the propensity of a certain group of people to demand they be present in every single movie while ignoring anyone else.

    "Without alienation, there can be no politics" ~ Arthur Miller

    by jwalker13 on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 09:32:02 AM PDT

    •  By "gender minority" I mean transgender. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:


      "Without alienation, there can be no politics" ~ Arthur Miller

      by jwalker13 on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 09:36:07 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Not a flagship character, but... (0+ / 0-)

        ...Shining Knight was an intersex hero in the DC universe (2012's Demon Knights).

        The word "parent" is supposed to be a VERB, people...

        by wesmorgan1 on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 01:03:56 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  There were a couple of oddities in the Golden Age (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Madame Fatal, for instance, was a middle-aged (male) actor who dressed up in old-lady drag to fight bad guys. He was also coded in ways that can be read as "straight gay" - lived alone, stage background, no visible female associates other than his daughter.

          Then there was the original Red Tornado, a middle-aged (and clearly working-class) housewife who rousted gangsters from her neighborhood while wearing a set or longjohns and an inverted stewpot for a helmet. Everybody else ASS-umed that such a tough and burly character "had to" be a man.

          It should be noted, though, that Madam Fatal was usually presented tongue-in-cheek, and the Red Tornado was a flat-out spoof of superheroes (she was spun out of, and took over, a humor comic).

          If it's
          Not your body,
          Then it's
          Not your choice
          And it's
          None of your damn business!

          by TheOtherMaven on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 01:45:09 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Ma Hunkel Rocks (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            She is considered by some to be a Founding Member of the Justice Society, by virtue of her making a walk-on appearence in its first issue.

            Read my webcomic, "Hannibal Tesla Adventure Magazine" at

            by quarkstomper on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 01:57:57 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I'm very fond of her myself (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              not least because she stood so many superhero conventions so thoroughly on their heads. :-D

              The way things are going at DC, we will never see anything like her again. More's the pity.

              If it's
              Not your body,
              Then it's
              Not your choice
              And it's
              None of your damn business!

              by TheOtherMaven on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 02:08:09 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

    •  Professor X (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      shanikka, Chitown Kev, wader, Pi Li

      was/is in a wheel chair.

      •  as for disabilities (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        shanikka, Odysseus, Pi Li

        there is also Geordi LaForge, the Avatar protagonist.  I feel like there must be more.  The bigger problem with disabled protagonists in SciFi is usually the first thing[or second after becoming disabled] they do is get a superpower/science tool to completely negate the disability instead of actually dealing with it.

        •  I strayed from bringing in Sci-Fi (0+ / 0-)

          Only because it'll really balloon the representation of women and different ethnicities and races. I tried to stick to just comics and heroes as set by a nice list on Wikipedia of comic book films.

          The point, overall, is that women are very well represented in movies. They may not be in the titular role or the main protagonist, but if we start restricting that far then we're starting to discount some really quality roles such as Sam Jackson as Nick Fury, Ian McKellan as Magneto, etc.

          "Without alienation, there can be no politics" ~ Arthur Miller

          by jwalker13 on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 10:21:59 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  And in no way is the list exhaustive or in full. (0+ / 0-)

            I undoubtedly skipped over a few in trying to not take all day on the list.

            "Without alienation, there can be no politics" ~ Arthur Miller

            by jwalker13 on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 10:24:23 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Bechdel test is instructive. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            women are very well represented in movies
            "represented" doesn't mean represented well.  My sister hated the Daredevil movie because "the chick dies halfway through".  She loved Tomb Raider.

            There's a qualitative difference, and formulations like the Bechdel Test say some very valuable things.

            -7.75 -4.67

            "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."

            There are no Christians in foxholes.

            by Odysseus on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 11:00:56 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  Barbara Gordon/Oracle (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Ahianne, trumpeter

          There was a lot of fan griping about DC's decision to return Barbara Gordon to being Batgirl.

          She had been crippled by the Joker back in the late '80s in the Alan Moore graphic novel THE KILLING JOKE.  Writer John Ostrander and his wife editor Kim Yale disliked how the character had been dumped, and so brought her back in a new role as Oracle, who although confined to a wheelchair, used computers to provide information and back-up for other heroes.  In the comic BIRDS OF PREY (which was briefly a TV series, sadly one which did not live up to the comic), Oracle became a team leader in her own right, and we would occasionally see her confounding thugs who assumed that because she was a paraplegic, she was incapable of kicking butt.

          Under BoP creator Buzz Dixon and later writers like Gail Simone, she was a very good, and well-written, example of a character with disabilities who was nevertheless a hero.  But her situation was something of a logic bomb itself.

          In a world in which advanced technology, biological super-science, bionic parts and advanced exo-skeletons are common, how believable is it that Barbara couldn't get her mobility back?  Especially considering she's good friends with billionaire Bruce Wayne?  Especially considering that Bruce himself had his spine broken  and was able to get it fixed?

          Logically, Barbara should have gotten legs back in one way or another long ago; but she made such a good character as Oracle, the super-hacker.

          Well, for better or worse, The Powers at DC decided that for their New 52 Reboot, Barbara Gordon would Get Better and resume her former career as Batgirl.  

          She recently staggered the fannish community by doing something female super-heroes rarely do:  She got a practical costume.

          Somewhere Power Girl is frowning:  "Can she do that?"

          Read my webcomic, "Hannibal Tesla Adventure Magazine" at

          by quarkstomper on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 11:05:55 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  You're right. Flat missed him. (0+ / 0-)

        I guess that speaks to the problem of the focus of representation only on sex and race. Xavier and Daredevil have been pretty much the only two in movies, I believe.

        "Without alienation, there can be no politics" ~ Arthur Miller

        by jwalker13 on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 10:16:12 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  as for LGBT (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Odysseus, k9disc, trumpeter

      While not a movie, Captain Jack Harkness had 4 seasons of his TV series plus his time in Doctor Who proper.

      •  Jack Harkness is not a comic character. (0+ / 0-)

        He's a TV character belonging under the Sci-Fi categorization.

        I was not attempting to make an exhaustive list of all representations in all media. I was making a quick list on comic book and super hero movies.

        "Without alienation, there can be no politics" ~ Arthur Miller

        by jwalker13 on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 10:25:47 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Guardians of the Galaxy was AMAZING! n/t (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not? -Robert F. Kennedy

    by JSCram3254 on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 09:32:45 AM PDT

  •  The problem with that Infographic (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    shanikka, dopper0189, wader, Mark Sumner

    As numerous comments elaborated, including my own, is that it was a poorly researched piece of work and fundamentally wrong, not only about minority women, but also minority men.

    Certainly SciFi and Fantasy films are far from achieving ideal ethnic, gender or sexual orientation balance, but I think there is a strong case that the genre has been ahead of feature films in general in introducing minorities as lead and feature characters, and it's partly because writers have often used the genre to tackle subjects difficult to address in mainstream feature films.

    I also think there is a bit of a problem in judging on the basis of "Top 100" anything, because that reflect not what gets produced, but simply what sells, and some of the best SciFi films actually did terrible at the box office by gained followings as cult films or DVD releases.

    Take a writer like Philip K. Dick; several films have been produced from his novels/stories and only one I can think of, Majority Report, did reasonably well in theatrical release. The remainder lost money or made only modest profits in theatrical releases, but are ranked consistently high by critics and fans.

    So I'd suggest you take another look at it and maybe use a ScFi critics poll .

    Another point you touch on is quite a few ScFi films have, essentially ensemble casts with numerous main characters, so the lead if whom? This was a source of debate in the original diary.

  •  While it's a little off topic, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I never read any of your SF books. I would like to. Would you please recommend your favorite book so I can buy it and read it? Enjoyable diary once again.

    •  Bless you (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      IB JOHN

      Everything I've ever written is out of print (I think that's now true of even the stuff I ghosted).

      I'd say that Devil's Tower & Devil's Engine are my favorites.  They appeared in 1996 / 97 and were my best received works.  I'm hoping to soon have them out again in some form or another, but in the meantime there always seem to be used copies floating on Amazon, generally for the princely sum of $0.01.

  •  Related to the comics code... A friend, his aun... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wader, Odysseus

    Related to the comics code...

    A friend, his aunt worked for them when he was a kid. This was forty and some years ago. She would bring him the submissions from the comic companies that crossed her desk. The versions that were rejected for content and had to be revised, original penciled artwork folios in binders, sometimes the line drawings that had not even been colored yet if time was running short till publication. He loved getting to read them before anyone else. The one detail I recall off the top of my head was he had original folios for the first handful of silver surfer issues.

    He kept it all. Boxes and boxes and crates and tubs and such.

    And somewhere between him moving out and him marrying his wife, his mom tossed all those "silly picture books" in the dumpster.

    The topic came up one day when I was there and his mom was there recuperating, and she really did call them silly picture books, completely unfazed that she had tossed what was easily several hundred $K if not over $1M.

  •  Wonder Woman (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I could have sworn she had a TV series, but it may have just been an unaired pilot.  Witchblade/Birds of Prey/Highlander - The Raven, all female protagonist SciFi/Comic book tv series, were all short-lived.

    •  Yes, Wonder Woman had a series. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      shaso Wonder Woman (1974)

      Lynda Carter had a bit to say about her cultural role too.

      Once tabbed the "World's Most Beautiful Woman," Lynda was never comfortable with her image as a sex symbol. She told US magazine that she never intended to be a sexual object for anyone but her husband.

      She agreed to release a sexy photo that sold more than a million posters, but later complained to NBC, "(Someone) having that picture up in his bedroom...  I think would be hard for anyone to deal with. I never thought a picture of my body would be tacked up in men bathrooms. I hate men looking at me and thinking what they think. And I know what they think. They write and tell me."

      -7.75 -4.67

      "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."

      There are no Christians in foxholes.

      by Odysseus on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 11:32:47 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman... (0+ / 0-)

      ...ran for four seasons - 1975-79.

      The word "parent" is supposed to be a VERB, people...

      by wesmorgan1 on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 12:48:21 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  This reminds me... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ...of the frothing controversy provoked among Hindus by Peter Brook's film adaptation of the Mahabharata, with actors of many varying ethnicities.

    People really hate it when you mess with their myths.

    Freedom isn't "on the march." Freedom dances.

    by WarrenS on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 10:42:14 AM PDT

  •  on the female Thor (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    My only issue here is, there is plenty of history of folks taking on the "Thor" role while maintaining their own identity.

    Why create a "female" Thor? It doesn't make sense quite frankly. What WOULD make sense is creating a female hero who takes over the mantle of "Thor" which is more about whomever it is that holds the Hammer and has the power (and the responsibility) of "Thor" as opposed to actually being Thor, son of Odin.

    It's what they are doing right by making the Falcon, into Captain America, not into Steve Rogers.

  •  Benedict Cumberbatch is NOT Khan. Period. (0+ / 0-)

    That was the original reason I refused to go see Star Trek: Into Darkness. (Turns out the reaction from appalled Star Trek fans of my acquaintance means I made the right call.)

    There's a definition of Whitewashing - turning a character that was written as, and portrayed by, a POC 40 years ago into yet another whiter-than-white character? There are precious few film roles for POC actors to begin with ("color-blind casting" my ass, that's Hollywood-speak for "cast another white male") - and handing it off to not just a white actor, but one who had about 50 other films to fall back on just in 2013?

    Yes, Khan was a villain, but a SYMPATHETIC villain. Can't have a POC doing that! Funny how Hollywood has NO trouble casting black and brown actors when they need Somalian pirates or Iranian terrorists to wave guns and jabber at the nice white people being held captive. But a magnificent bastard of a villain? Get a white dude with a British accent.  

    “[Sir Arthur Conan Doyle] created Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson - which proves he was way ahead of his time on gay marriage.” - Bill Maher

    by gardnerhill on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 11:45:37 AM PDT

  •  something that jumps out (6+ / 0-)

    What do all of those comics on the list from the 1960s have in common? That's the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Thor,  Iron Man, X-Men, and The Avengers. They were all Stan Lee and/or Jack Kirby creations. Kirby also created Captain America back in the 1940s. What do Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and the creators of Superman, Batman and Green Lantern have in common? They were Jewish, the children of immigrants. Just about all of our blockbuster modern comic book characters grew out of the Jewish immigrant experience in the US. The people of the book, indeed.

    Until the 1980s, or even more recently, comic book work wasn't really considered art. Art was when Roy Lichtenstein or someone like him painted a panel and sold it in a gallery. Comic book artists were just guys, and they were mainly guys, trying to make a living and drawing on their own experiences and ideas to come up with something that would sell. The Stan Lee-Jack Kirby partnership was particularly fruitful. I know people who worked with Jack Kirby, and he was full of story and character ideas.

    Jack Kirby was also the creator of those dreadful "romance comics" aimed at "socializing" young women after World War II. The woman, or now and then, her mother in law, was always wrong and in need of correction. It was almost Maoist. In real life, Jack Kirby was supportive of women in comic books and quite liberal in his politics. He also had to make a living, and he was one of those people who knew how to grab something from the spirit of the times and create stories and artwork that people would pay for.

    If you are following the evolution of the industry, you are following the story of our nation and its changing attitudes. You are also following the story of a handful of working Joes, the children of Jewish immigrants as they became American.

  •  The reason mass-market SF sucks so bad... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sfbob, k9disc, MT Spaces because it's produced by people who don't give a fuck about it in order to sell it to other people who don't give a fuck about it either.

    That's why Hollywood either writes their own shitty stories like Star Wars or totally fuck up decent stories like Starship Troopers or make six movies from one insane writer who wrote totally out-there stories. (I really shouldn't be griping about all the P K Dick stories being movie-fied, but the fucking moguls decide to give us only the weirdest shit written by the weirdest SF writer ever, THEN they fuck up perfectly good titles, just WTF is wrong with "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale"?)

    "Ronald Reagan is DEAD! His policies live on but we're doing something about THAT!"

    by leftykook on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 12:03:33 PM PDT

    •  I have numerous (0+ / 0-)

      friends who write mass market SF who would differ with you.

      I am not religious, and did NOT say I enjoyed sects.

      by trumpeter on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 10:37:20 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I think we're talking past each other. (0+ / 0-)

        I am referring to SF presented to the REAL mass market by Hollywood and Burbank, not written SF produced as paper and electronic books.

        What the industry refers to as "mass market" has a minuscule number of consumers compared to the "asses in seats" watching the latest big-screen debacle or watching a series on teevee.

        Your friends probably produce stories that are GOOD STORIES, unlike George Lucas' billion-dollar vanity project.

        "Ronald Reagan is DEAD! His policies live on but we're doing something about THAT!"

        by leftykook on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 04:33:09 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Poor research and false conclusion. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    If you gauge by Box Office Gross then you are really measuring what the AUDIENCE will pay money for. That is not the same as measuring what is produced and who is cast.

    There are a number of color, LGBTQ, and female starring films cast and produced and distributed but if all you count is "top grossing" films you will be pretending no one made them.

    The soccer moms and fantasy fans are the ones keeping those other films out of the top 100.  They are not a "small minority", they are the ones who buy most of the movie tickets.  Go bitch at them about their excessive interest in white men.

    "...Hollywood won’t even give us diversity in casting..."

    Hollywood has tried many times but those films are at the bottom of the box office gross list where the infographic people are not looking.

    •  But it's also about (0+ / 0-)

      what kind of budget those films get, what kind of advertising, how it's distributed, etc.

      Which are based on what the companies think will be a megahit, but then we're back to their problems with diversity.

      The Empire never ended.

      by thejeff on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 03:48:57 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Science fiction is about the present. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sfbob, Mark Sumner

    Since the setting is often in the distant future or what we imagine the distant future to be like, it is easy to forget that science fiction isn't about the future. It's about the present. Satire is not about overdrawn characters or events. It uses exaggeration and other techniques to say things about the real world. Science fiction works similarly, extrapolating to provide insight.

    In fact, you can often learn a lot about a society by reading its science fiction. In the 16th century, it involved the conquest of the New World. California was named for an imaginary country in a sci-fi novel. Jules Verne explored the optimism of his times and the rise of our modern, industrial civilization. (For better or worse, it was European.)

    My favorite take on this is:

    It's from 2007. Read down to the space chimp.

  •  I suppose it would be too much to ask (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mark Sumner

    to think we'll ever see film adaptations of any of Samuel Delany's works. Delany (gay and African-American) tends to populate his novels with characters who are all sorts of minorities, racial and sexual. Not to mention all sorts of sexual activity. And (I didn't even know this until I looked it up just now) wrote a couple of issues of Wonder Woman for DC Comics in the 1970's.

    Someone should try making a movie out of "Dhalgren." Good luck with that.

  •  The whole genre was created by Jewish kids (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    quarkstomper, MT Spaces

    who couldn't make their characters Jews.

    It isn't surprising that they couldn't do a good job on inclusiveness.

    •  The Thing has always been an exception (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Elwood Dowd, MT Spaces

      Jack Kirby (who created him) thought of him as Jewish from the get-go. About the time Marvel started hyping their "diversity" for all it was worth (c. 1970s), little hints started creeping into the Fantastic Four books - like Ben, in a moment of annoyance, asking Reed if he had "halavah in [his] head".

      They finally came out and said it outright some years ago. But astute fans picked up on the hints long before that.

      If it's
      Not your body,
      Then it's
      Not your choice
      And it's
      None of your damn business!

      by TheOtherMaven on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 01:55:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Cover Date: November 1, 1944 (0+ / 0-)

    There was a war on, and a lot of highly racist shit saw print as a direct result (to the extent that even Dr Seuss was temporarily caught up in the madness).

    Left to right, the characters are: The Black Terror, The Fighting Yank, American Eagle, and Tom Strange (no, Alan Moore didn't invent him).

    They all disappeared once the war was over, as there was no more need of them and the vogue for superheroes had begun to wane (superhero comics were all but dead by 1950, with only DC's Big Three managing to hold their own titles).

    Regarding Green Lantern, the most familiar version is NOT a Golden Age survivor. Hal Jordan the Lensman Expy is a Silver Age creation recycling a then-unused name. It was only later that DC started mining its history (as did Marvel) to add some depth and variety.

    If it's
    Not your body,
    Then it's
    Not your choice
    And it's
    None of your damn business!

    by TheOtherMaven on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 12:53:53 PM PDT

  •  Excellent piece here Mark. (0+ / 0-)

    I'm a sci-fi and fantasy fan. I was a voracious fantasy reader in my youth, and the sci-fi I got was mainly from the TV.

    Both have delivered important stories and lessons to me.

    One of the things that is interesting about fantasy is that it is usually about the scullion in the kitchen, or the stable boy, who assumes a leading role in a world shaking drama. The fantasy genre is all about it being you, your friend, or someone like you who grows in power and affects change.

    That is just not allowed today. Regular people should not have that kind of story giving them hope and shit. All of the movies that have made it to the big screen in the fantasy realm feature a chosen, or special protagonist, and that ain't you.

    Game of Thrones? They're all royalty.

    The Hobbit? Chosen by Gandalf, rolling with royalty.

    Harry Potter? The boy that lived. It was obvious that he was special when he got to Hogwartz.

    Are there even any other Fantasy movies?

    Oh, Percy Jackson, the Demigod.

    John Carter may have fit the fantasy model in a genre bending amalgamation, and it was a film that I liked. But it went absolutely nowhere and seemed to be left hanging from a marketing standpoint.

    Anyway, I've been thinking about this for a long time in the fantasy genre.

    I also like the Comic based movies, maybe I'll tie this in with another comment...

    Thanks again for a thoughtful read, Mark.

    Democracy - 1 person 1 vote. Free Markets - More dollars more power.

    by k9disc on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 01:03:51 PM PDT

  •  "Top grossing" distorts the analysis a bit (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mark Sumner

    When you use that yardstick, you're going to see a list that favors the blockbuster. It doesn't adjust for real dollars, for one thing. Also, Hollywood accounting has changed to ensure that films from the 1990's to today get higher grosses than anything before, because their worldwide openings are counted, along with DVD sales. Thus, "2001: A Space Odyssey" is on the AFI list as one of the greatest films of all time, and it continues to sell DVD's every year, but taking its 1969 dollars all together won't come close to "Transformers: Revenge of the Moons" over a single weekend.

    (You didn't mean "pronouns," did you? "Man/men" are common nouns.)

    Science fiction film making currently has been swamped by the comic book movie, but if we think about what was being made in the 1990's - 00's, with all of the independent films -- whether we're talking about "Sunshine" or all those dystopian films or "The Road" (not an independent, I know) -- I think we're still white, still male, and not comics based. I'm not sure why, except that in such movies there are strong exceptions as well.

    "for all the murders, rapes, and thefts,/ Committed in the horrid lust of war,/ He that unjustly caus'd it first proceed,/ Shall find it in his grave and in his seed." -- Webster, "The White Devil," IV i 8-12.

    by The Geogre on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 01:08:45 PM PDT

  •  By the hoary hosts of Hoggoth - (0+ / 0-)

    "Doc Strange" in a 1943 comic?

  •  Starting with the Wrong Metric (0+ / 0-)

    Unfortunately, the original study is a pretty bad use of statistics. It takes as its basis how much the the films gross, which largely conflates how much the studios put into the films (which is certainly a factor in their ultimate success) AND how much viewers were willing to pay to watch the films (which is the actual measure of that ultimate success). Then, it seems to blame studios for something that's in the end up to the whims of the viewing public.

    If you measured just the costs of the films, that might be a better indicator of studio investment in SF diversity, but even then you've got the problem of studios not investing in diverse films because they think the viewing public won't want to see it. Still, that'd be a lot better than the original study, which I found almost worthless due to what it measured.

    Of course the study also didn't talk about how SF's numbers compared to hollywood films in general, which again made it of questionable utility.

  •  Best not to get upset at box office numbers (0+ / 0-)
    Really, what bothers me the most as I look though this list of the top grossing sci-fi films is that there are very few titles in the list that are either good films or good sci-fi. Can you seriously draw any reasonable judgments from a list that includes Armageddon, a film that gets my vote for the worst atrocity ever committed in cinema, along with the hamster-centric G-Force, but which doesn't include 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Alien or even ET? It's a pretty awful list.
    For one thing, the lack of inflation adjustment skews the list toward newer films. For another thing, the box office numbers aren't a good measure of long-term success, and how fondly people remember a film over time (e.g. Blade Runner).

    Adjusted for inflation, Star Wars and E.T. are, I believe, number 1 and 2. E.T. definitely should be there by any measure, but for some reason didn't get classified as scifi.

    But anyway, lists like those aren't representative of much of anything.

  •  self-reinforcing (0+ / 0-)

    Authors write for an audience used to certain standards (or so they assume); the audience demand of authors what they are familiar with (unless the novelty is refreshing).

    I once counted male and female characters in a novel series recommended for unusually high proportion of female characters, so high it supposedly bothered some male readers as out of proportion. Female characters in there were less than 50%, with no female protagonist. That's readers' perception.

    A moderately successful novel author told me once all his female characters need to have names ending '-a', because anything else would be too difficult for readers. Female chars need to be flagged a female, because the standard is male, and you clearly can't demand of readers to work out by reading a sentence further whether a char named 'Robin' or 'Jamie' is male or female, can you?
    That's authors' perception.

    Together, they keep the standard.

    Freedom is not just a word. 'Freedom' is a noun.

    by intruder from Old Europe on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 08:36:14 PM PDT

  •  A minor point (0+ / 0-)

    Specifically regarding this comment in the diary:

    That charming cover up there at the top of the article is one of Superman's and Batman's contemporaries from 1943, the Fighting Yank. Covers from Superman in the same time period were sometimes not much better.
    By today's standards, those comic book covers are racially offensive.  I have an old compilation called "Superman from the 30s to the 70s", which was published in 1973 and included a large collection of Superman covers from 1938 up to the time the book was published, and virtually every cover from 1942 to 1945 has a wartime theme, often along with a call to buy war bonds to fight the "Japanazis".

    The US was on a wartime footing when these comics were published, and I think that they should bluntly be considered wartime propaganda, because that's exactly what they are.  It's strange for us to see it today, because we've not been "all in" on a war to that extent since WWII.

    If Democrats proclaim the the Earth is round and Republicans insist it is flat, we will shortly see a column in the Washington Post claiming the the earth is really a semi-circle.

    by TexasTom on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 08:52:54 PM PDT

  •  There is an error in this diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mark Sumner

    You shouldn't have relied entirely on IMDB's list for box office figures.  The reason ET is not on the list is that the figure IMDB posts for ET's box office is only for a later re-release.  ET's actual domestic grosses, by which the IMDB list is ranked, were $435M (NOT adjusted for inflation).    It is still the #9 all-time all-genre domestic box-office.  Your analysis is very good, but IMDB, in this case, is not very good source material.

    In addition, as has been pointed out, the list would be different if adjusted for inflation.  Adjusted for inflation, 2001: A Space Odyssey beats Iron Man 2.  Not adjusting for inflation overstates the box office impact of the explosion of comic book movies over the last few years.

    "It is easy to sit up and take notice, What is difficult is getting up and taking action." Honore de Balzac

    by Vega on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 08:16:23 AM PDT

  •  From a Black Comics fan from way back .. (0+ / 0-)

    I've often said to people who see the lack of diversity in comics and SF as 'racist', that they need to start writing/drawing/creating their own characters. People invent heroes that reflect themselves: it's no mystery that most of the major SF/comic characters are 'White', because their creators are, or identify as such. With the exception of characters like Jack Kirby's Black Panther, oddly created just before the party formed in the real world, they create what they want to see themselves as in some way. I identified with Iron Man/Tony Stark: that cool as hell armor, for one. The physical handicap. Being smarter than most people around you (I started reading at two: I was reading college texts in sixth grade. Not a path to popularity.) It made me feel better, though, to see a 'normal' Black character like Robbie Robertson in Spider-Man. I always  thought that was a better advance than making Nick Fury Black...

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