The past few years have seen a surge in the number of #films and television shows that centre around women. Social media has raised awareness of the gender disparity on screen, and has empowered women in show business to speak up and demand better roles and representation. The change is visible and I couldn't be happier. Actually...maybe I could. Every rose has its thorn, after all.
Discussions surrounding diversity often eschew a certain demographic. Whether women or people of colour are being talked about, women of colour (WOC), the intersection of those two groups, are often overlooked. Despite progress, WOC are often excluded from the main casts of films and #TVshows. Usually, having white women fill the "strong female character" quota - a trope that has become way too oversimplified - is seen as satisfactory. Even when they are included, it's as supporting tokens or caricatured, one-dimensional leading ladies. Another pressing issue is the beauty standards WOC have to meet to earn inclusion, which often boils down to being light-skinned, perpetuating colorism.
Let's take a look at the current pop culture climate. The MCU, the most successful superhero universe at the moment, only has one prominent superheroine, Black Widow. She is played by white actress and serial whitewasher Scarlett Johansson. We're about to get a Captain Marvel movie, but she too is played by white actress Brie Larson. However, Black Panther, an MCU film with a predominantly black cast, features Lupita Nyong'o and Danai Gurira, so there's hope yet. The latest reboot of the Spider-Man franchise also has two black actresses as supposed leading ladies, but I'll withhold my commentary on that until I've seen how lengthy and substantial their roles are.
The #DCEU is still in its incipient phase and therefore hasn't had the chance to cover as much ground as the MCU, so my stance on it isn't as accusatory. In fact, the DCEU releasing a superheroine film before the #MCU is. Wonder Woman will hit theatres this year, yet the disappointment remains. WOCs are only seen as Amazonian extras in the battles scenes teased in the trailer, whereas the entire main cast remains white. The DC television front isn't any better. While many are quick to declare Supergirl the pinnacle of feminism - Buzzfeed claiming it to be the most progressive show on TV was hyperbolic to say the least- WOCs are noticeably absent. Even though The Flash gave us a black Iris West, she is regularly missing from the heat of the action and is too often relegated to nothing but Barry's love interest despite all the potential bubbling underneath the investigative journalist.
Then there's the trend in the kind of WOC that are ultimately cast. The recurring theme here is light skin. Most film-makers and showrunners seem to have found a vexatious loophole surrounding the outrage over the lack of WOC in media. Alexandra Shipp, Zoe Kravitz and Olivia Munn in the X-Men films, Tessa Thompson in Thor: Ragnarök, Thandie Newton in Westworld, Zendaya in Spider-Man: Homecoming, Meghan Markle in Suits, Ruth Nega in Loving, Kiersy Clemons in The Flash, Tracee Ellis Ross in Black-ish, Gugu Mbatha-Raw in A Wrinkle In Time, the list goes on. This is of course not the fault of the actresses, some of whom are extremely talented and deserving, but it exposes the mentality of those who call the shots. Dark-skinned women, particularly black women, remain at the periphery.
It's not all doom and gloom, though. There are some WOC on screen who have managed to break the ceiling of Eurocentric beauty standards. Viola Davis and Aja Naomi King on How To Get Away With Murder portray complex, three-dimensional black women whose morality often exists in a grey area. Fellow ABC network stars who tread a similar path are Kerry Washington and Priyanka Chopra on Scandal and Quantico, respectively. Mindy Kaling on The Mindy Project and Constance Wu on Fresh Off The Boat prove that WOCs can be funny in a nuanced and introspective manner rather than sourcing comedy from their ethnicity and playing into racist stereotypes. Most recently, Hidden Figures, a film about three black female mathematicians whose imperative involvement in the moon landing was ignored by society and history, has experienced critical and commercial success.
This not only disproves Hollywood's lame excuse of films with WOCs in the lead not doing well, but also proves that people want to hear their stories, that WOCs in the general public are more than longing to see themselves portrayed on screen with intricacy.