It doesn’t take much for someone to argue that they are tired of “diversity for diversity’s sake.”
This time it’s the casting announcements for what will be the ninth movie in the DC Extended Universe, Birds of Prey, which is already being directed by Cathy Yan, and will star Margot Robbie who is famously well known as the first ever and currently the only live action Harley Quinn, introduced in 2016’s Suicide Squad.
Right off the bat, this movie’s very existence speaks volumes as to the “Wonder Woman Effect.” Now that Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that female-led comic book movies could succeed at the box office, the path has been cleared for more to be made and Birds of Prey will be the third one in the DCEU when it releases on February 7, 2020, just three months after the release of Wonder Woman 1984 on November 1, 2019.
We knew from rumored reports that Birds of Prey would need a Black Canary, Huntress, Renee Montoya and Cassandra Cain and that casting had begun in search of all of them, preparing for a January 2019 production start date. Based on the names we had heard, it sounded like WB/DC was going in a more diverse direction for its leads in the movie, and then two of those names were confirmed: Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Black Canary and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as The Huntress.
Most of the DCEU fanbase rejoiced and celebrated the casting of both actresses, particularly those who are fans of Winstead’s roles in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and 10 Cloverfield Lane to name a few, and fans of Smollett-Bell’s work in numerous TV shows, maybe most notably Underground, a WGN drama about the Underground Railroad that lasted just two seasons. I’m older, so I’ll always remember her as Michelle Tanner’s friend Denise Frazer in Full House.
Then of course, like clockwork, the angry, self-entitled, egotistical, bigoted and racist fringe “fans” gave their two cents on the casting, which can be summed up as “Black Canary is supposed to be white because she has always been white, and we are tired of white roles being race-swapped out just to fit a social justice diversity quota.” Of course, the troglodytes said this less eloquently, with lewd language and slurs, right on Smollett-Bell’s Instagram page.
Personally, I’m someone that believes in hell, and every one of those subhuman wastes can rot there for eternity as far as I’m concerned. That’s my anger talking, I apologize. Now, let’s calmly lay waste to their idiotic arguments that are anything but legitimate.
First of all, “diversity for diversity sake” doesn’t exist. It never has, and it never will. The reason is because for generations, diversity wasn’t a top priority to begin with and as a result, a very large imbalance between white representation and minority representation occurred. Over the years it has improved by leaps and bounds, but there is still a long way to go for equality and more and more people are realizing that. Diversity doesn’t occur in movie and TV castings just because studios want to appear more sensitive. That might be part of their public relations strategy, but the real reason is because the general audience is demanding it, and if you don’t believe that then you’re welcome to take a look at the box office numbers for the Fast and Furious franchise as a prime example:
Now, that’s a movie series that features a wholly multi-ethnic cast of white, black, latino and Asian recurring characters, and that’s a big reason the last two of its movies earned more than a billion dollars apiece. Representation matters and people like to see themselves represented on screen, which is also a huge reason why Marvel’s Black Panther grossed $1.3 billion earlier this year. For that matter, Suicide Squad, the most diverse movie in the DCEU earned $745.5 million worldwide, and that was with scathing reviews and no release in China, the world’s second largest movie market. It remains arguably the most profitable movie in the franchise to date so far.
So, diversity sells, plain and simple. The audience wants it and the studios are willing to cash in on it. It’s not exploitation, it’s audience evolution. Not everyone wants to see several movies headlined by a white guy named Chris, even if you do.
Then the idiots say, “well then why don’t they just make Black Panther or Cyborg white if we can change everyone’s race?” This is one of the laziest arguments a bigoted, or even simply misguided racist can make. Black Panther is about an African king of a sovereign African nation that avoided slavery and British imperialism to become the most technologically advanced nation on the planet. Cyborg is a young black man dealing with his disabilities and often involved with inner city complications in his stories. In both cases, being black is literally of the character design and can’t be changed for that reason.
However, let’s say that wasn’t the case. The bigger reason that you are not going to change a minority character to white is because it then goes back to the generations of imbalance between white representation and minority representation. You may think that it is unfair that traditionally white characters get to change to minority and not the other way around, but there are generations of minorities who have never known what that level of representation feels like that would greatly disagree. For equality to be the goal, white representation has to go down while minority representation rises. That doesn’t mean that white representation is being brought down to the level of minorities, it means that minority representation must go up to meet the level of white representation, which is so far ahead it’s seriously not funny. That’s just simple math and if you can’t understand that, then you are truly part of the problem here.
Getting back to Birds of Prey, there’s nothing about Dinah Laurel Lance AKA Black Canary that says she has to be white. Race has never been a critical part of her character and the only reason people argue against changing it is because they are afraid of that change, which means they are afraid of representation being equalized. Plenty of people in this day and age want to see white people keep their representation imbalance as it has always been, but that simply isn’t what the general audiences want, and it is not an accurate representation of the ethnic makeup of the United States. White people are still the majority but it’s not a constant, and minority numbers are actually increasing over the years. Not to get sociopolitical here, but the general audience of a movie is far more diverse in general now than it was 30, 20 or even 10 years ago.
If you are a person of color that is arguing against diversity in terms of races changing with roles, that’s also coming from a place of fear, but in this case it’s a fear of the imbalance going the other way and white people becoming the minority that is underrepresented on screen. The truth is that not only do we have a very, very long way to go for that to even be remotely possible, but it would also be extremely difficult given the representation imbalance that is even worse with studio owners and executives. Remember the #OscarsSoWhite controversy a few years back? That goes deeper than just the academy membership. Minority directors, producers and executives are not even close to even ground with their white counterparts in terms of numbers and power in Hollywood. It’s even worse when you look at that from a gender standpoint with men holding an extreme representation advantage over women.
You’re going to have people that say, “I don’t care about race, I just want to see the characters I grew up reading as they were originally intended to be.” Well to be clear, it’s not always about what you want as a fan. You represent a small part of the general audience that got the ball rolling for the intellectual property to be adapted, but it’s that rest of the general audience that doesn’t even know who Black Canary is who drives the decision making here. They in large part, don’t care that she was always white in the comics and are looking for a reason to watch Birds of Prey. This is just another one, and if you’re really a fan of the character in the comics then you know that just like many others, Black Canary has been written and drawn in several different ways by several different people. You are welcome to pick the version that you enjoy and stick with that as your personal favorite, but the studio decided to go in another direction for a movie that needs to sell to more than just the diehard Black Canary fans. Sorry. Business is business.
What this all boils down to is context, and honestly how many people are willing to ignore or dismiss it to make their point. The context of why representation is important and how equality has to be achieved is what makes “diversity for diversity sake” a false idea. The context of why people would be afraid of equality is what makes their hateful comments on the subject racist, along with their choice of words and slurs to use. The context of what the general audience is voting for with their dollars at the movie theater now more than ever is what makes diversity even more important and in the end, just good business these days. You want to cast a wider net, don’t you? Bring as many people to your movies as you can? What better way to do that than to break down representation barriers and give all people something they can relate to on screen in front of them?
If you agree with the sentiment in this piece, I stand with you. If you don’t, I have to accept that......but I pray that one day you will understand it.