Hollywood and the Quest for Diversity
In August 2011, Marvel introduced a new half-black, half-Latino Spider-Man named Miles Morales.
Idris Elba played Heimdall, the Norse god, in the Thor movies.
Black actor, Michael B. Jordan, was cast as Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four reboot coming out this summer.
Elba was also recently suggested as a good choice for the next James Bond, an idea generally met with applause.
Now Kadeen Griffiths, writing for Bustle, says Hollywood could make a better choice than Chris Pratt for the rumored reboot of the Indiana Jones franchise.
My actual question is why that’s the only accepted portrayal of the classic hero. When children dress as Indiana Jones for Halloween, is it their skin color that matters, or is it the hat, the outfit, and perhaps a little combat whip that goes with the most iconic view of the character? If it’s the clothes that make the Indy costume and not the skin color, why is it that we see white male after white male portraying Indiana Jones without someone pausing to consider that, “Hm. Maybe an actor of color would make a great Indy?” Why is it that we haven’t seen a Hispanic Indy or an Asian Indy or a Black Indy or etc?
This is a tough one for me. As I have mentioned on this site before, Indiana Jones was the reason I became an archaeologist. Before I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark I loved dinosaurs and wanted to be a paleontologist. After Raiders, I told dinosaurs to suck it. Of course, it helped that archaeology is an amazingly awesome field that indulged my love of history and science and the outdoors…but it all began with Indy. So I am literally the poster child for why Hollywood should be more thoughtful in how they cast movies. Had Indiana Jones been cast differently, who knows, I might have become a chiropractor.
Where I have trouble with Griffiths’ suggestion is that historically-speaking there were very few African American archaeologists in the 1920s and 1930s. Did they exist? Absolutely. John Wesley Gilbert is probably the most famous example. Would it make sense to build a movie franchise around a black archaeologist? Meh. It feels a bit too much like a gimmick. Or that it will become the focal point of the movie. Why? Let’s look at two Westerns that went this route:
Wild, Wild West was a tragically bad parody of the original television series, which casts Will Smith in the lead role. At several points in the movie they make bad jokes about his color. It becomes a gimmick because you usually don’t see blacks in westerns.
Django Unchained was a pretty good movie by Quentin Tarantino that featured a freed slave that becomes a bounty hunter. Again, his race plays a major role in the film but it is used in such a way that it is interesting. At the end of the day though, it is still somewhat of a gimmick.
So Hollywood casts a minority Indiana Jones. His adventures take him to some exotic locale. Does his race play a part in the plot or does it just become something we ignore? The latter would be awesome but knowing how often Hollywood drops the ball, could we really expect them to get this right? And that is my real problem. If they do some kind of stunt casting of such a beloved character, any misstep in the plot makes it a fiasco. So, better safe than sorry? That’s not really a satisfactory answer either.
I think for me it comes down to wanting to protect something I love. I don’t want an Indiana Jones reboot to be a failed experiment. I want it to be awesome. It feels like the only way I can trust Hollywood with this is to hope they concentrate on the story more and the social context less. I guess that makes me hopelessly un-progressive? Probably so.
Mike Dwyer is a freelance writer in Louisville, KY. He writes about culture, the outdoors and whatever else strikes his fancy. His personal site can be found at www.mikedwyerwrites.com. You can also find him on Facebook. Mike is one of several Kentucky authors featured in the book This I Believe: Kentucky.