It’s often easier to see who America’s perceived enemies are by going to the movies rather than turning on the news.
The country’s persistent paranoia can be reflected by watching psychotic Mexican drug dealers in this summer’s “Savages,” domineering Russians in the upcoming remake of “Red Dawn” or Arabic human traffickers in Friday’s “Taken 2.” The only common denominator in these films is that minorities can never be a hero.
It’s easy to label racial, social and ethnic groups as an enemy or a faceless other in film or media, but it takes some level of courage to make a non-white character into a compelling hero. It’s a sad fact that speaks volumes which makes it all the worse when it’s bungled so badly.
DC Comics worked up a media blitz when its announced its newest Green Lantern would be an Arab-American Muslim who had grown up outside Detroit. DC’s chief creative officer and Green Lantern writer, Geoff Johns, drew off of his own experience as an Arab-American when writing the story, showing new character Simon Baz dealing with anti-Muslim sentiments and stereotypes in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001.
The idea was sound on paper, with a character who’s faced adversity stepping up to become a hero, but “Green Lantern #0” drops the ball so thoroughly. Johns gives only lip service to Baz’s plight as a character facing prejudice. The issue builds to Baz, falsely imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, shouting “I’m a car thief, not a terrorist,” but it all feels like stereotyping. Johns is intending to have reader feel for a character dealing with prejudice but he doesn’t give room to actually know the character.
Both Marvel and DC have struggled for years with representing non-white, non-straight, non-male protagonists, and that might be OK. It isn’t easy to create complex characters and ideas without resorting to stereotype and the success stories are richer for that trial.
Readers were able to meet and get to know DC’s Kate Kane, a lesbian soldier kicked out of West Point under don’t ask don’t tell who became Batwoman. Marvel’s Nico Minoru was a great, well characterized teenager who dealt with her complicated love life, her burgeoning magic powers and the pressures of growing up in a strict Asian American household in Brian K. Vaughan’s “Runaways.”
Entertainment as a whole can be made richer through deep, well thought out characters that defy stereotypes and expectations. Fair, non-stereotypical representations of minorities helps readers and non-readers to accept and move past long-held prejudice.