We need to have a very important talk. I'm worried you might be blowing a golden opportunity here, all because you're too afraid to take some much-needed, and well-overdue, risks. But I'm here to tell you that you don't have to be afraid.
It's about those comic book movies you've become so fond of making. In just the last decade there have been more than 50 films based on properties owned by the big two comics publishers (DC and Marvel). There's another dozen or so planned in the next five years, with more sure to be announced soon. That's a lot of movies, and if you're planning on keeping these franchises running for another decade or more, you're gonna need to make some changes in your approach.
Specifically, you need to start shaking up your casting. Maybe start casting actors who don't look exactly like the comic book character you're trying to capture.
I know what you're thinking. These movies make a boatload of money whether they're good or not. Why should you take any risks at all when you have a winning formula? When you can make nearly a billion dollars on something like Suicide Squad, what incentive is there to change things?
I'll admit that you've got a point. When you have an audience like the legions of comic book nerds (myself included) who will flock to these movies in droves even when they know they aren't going to be great. We do it because we love the source material. We do it because we want to see these things we love, these characters, these larger-than-life people, interpreted and adapted and blown up several feet high. In fact, it is because of those guaranteed audiences that I would argue you have a responsibility to take chances. We're easy to anger but hard to lose.
You know who you don't really see getting excited about the next Batman or Superman or Captain America movie? Everyone else. The passive fans. The reluctant audiences who go with their boyfriends, girlfriends, kids, friends, family, or just to escape the heat for a couple hours. You know who else? Potential fans who have avoided these films because they don't see themselves represented within them. Women, people of color, LGBTQ people. All of these groups are champing at the bit just waiting, hoping, grasping for their experiences to be depicted among the mainstream comic book movie universe.
The most highly anticipated comic book movies this year are Wonder Woman and Black Panther (I know, BP comes out in February), superhero movies focused on a woman and a black man, respectively. You know why? Because in the sea of whiteness that is the MCU and the DCEU, and whatever Sony is calling what they do, these films are something new and different. They are speaking to a different kind of fan, one that is underrepresented across the board.
With the success of Wonder Woman, and with the amount of buzz Black Panther is getting, the hope is that these films will spur you, the studios, on to make more films starring underrepresented groups. Of course, these groups are underrepresented for a reason. They're also underrepresented in the comics themselves. This is especially true for superheroes of color, even more so when we start talking about women of color. You can look just beneath the surface of both Marvel and DC, just beyond the publishers' biggest characters, and find a pretty good handful of white women to bring to the big screen. But you've got to do some unfortunate digging to really find anyone of literally any other ethnic group.
Obviously, there are the outliers. I know dozens of people who want nothing more than to bring Ms. Marvel to the MCU. But when you've made it obvious, oh Hollywood elite, that you aren't all that interested in mining the depths of either roster, then it's time to shake things up a different way. It's time to do what adaptation allows you the freedom to do. It's time to reimagine.
Let's take the upcoming Batgirl movie, for example. Anyone who knows me knows Barbara Gordon is, hands down, my favorite character. I've written about this fact. Several times. I tell you this not so I can give myself some shameless self-promotion (though it's a perk) but to impress upon you how serious I am about what I'm about to say.
I want you to cast a non-white actress for this part. Seriously.
A couple weeks back there was a rumor that a handful of actresses had made the short list for the role. They were, let's be honest, exactly who you expect to be on this list. They were young, pretty, mostly redheaded, and mostly white up-and-comers (or established talent), and I have never been so bored thinking about a live-action Batgirl. If I want to see a gorgeous white redhead donning the Batgirl cape and cowl, I have literally dozens of comic books that will let me do that. Hundreds, if you count all the comics I have from the decades when Babs was a wheelchair user.
It's something a lot of fanboys (and fangirls, to some extent) don't seem to understand about these movies. Changing things up in the adaptation doesn't ruin the source material. In some ways, it can enhance it.
You know when I was excited about a possible Batgirl casting rumor? Months back, when the announcement was first made, there was a near-immediate rumor that Lindsey Morgan from The 100 was being eyed for the part. That got me excited, not just because she's half-Mexican and distinctly non-redheaded, but because she is a hell of an actor. She's interesting, and she's largely unknown, so she could inhabit the role in a different way than someone like Elle Fanning could, for example.
This rumor also excited me because it meant that there was a chance little girls could see this character, a character who is smart and badass and amazing, and actually see themselves in the role. Something they might not have been able to do if the character was rendered as she has been for the last 50 years.
We don't lose representation when you choose to cast these longstanding, beloved characters differently. Instead, we gain new fans, new friends, new perspectives, new stories, and you give yourself the opportunity not just to expand your audience but to excite and inspire them.
I'd say that's a worthwhile cause.