Warner Brothers' CEO Kevin Tsujihara released the biggest movie news of 2014 at a meeting for investors. He revealed a film schedule leading to 2020, which included a minimum of two superhero films every year starting in 2016. In addition to the specific films listed on the chart, Tsujihara also mentioned that there could be multiple additions including Superman and Batman who were notably absent beyond the upcoming Batman v. Superman. It was and still is a lot of information to take in.
People have been talking and they have been talking a lot about this announcement. Discussions vary between subjects like how all of these films will tie together, what other characters will be featured, the notable divide between Warner Brothers' television and film properties, and a million other details. However, the thing that may be most intriguing about this lineup of superhero films is the diversity present within the list.
Of the seven films announced that do not feature an ensemble cast, at least three will be headlined by a character who is either a woman or a person of color. There also remains the possibility that Green Lantern may opt to feature John Stewart, Simon Baz, or Kyle Rayner (Kyle is latino, although many writers and artists tend to ignore his heritage). Warner Brothers' plans are diverse not only for superhero films, but for blockbusters in general. It's worth walking through the multiple noteworthy choices among the larger announcement individually.
Although Gal Gadot was cast as Wonder Woman in the Batman v. Superman movie last December and revealed in costume at San Diego Comic-Con this summer, there was no announcement of a solo film until now. Slated for summer 2017, Wonder Woman will be the first and last solo superhero film Warner Brothers releases before Justice League. It will be the first superhero film headlined by a woman since Elektra in 2005. Gadot is also the first Israeli actress to be cast as the lead in a superhero film.
Jason Momoa was also cast in the role of Aquaman earlier this summer and will receive his own solo picture in 2018. Momoa's father is of native Hawaiian descent. He will be the first Pacific Islander to ever be cast in the leading role of a superhero film. This marks a change in appearance for Aquaman, who has been traditionally portrayed with an Aryan appearance. Fans have responded with overwhelming positivity to his casting, though, noting how his appearance is much better suited to a character who rules over the seas.
Cyborg is one of the last films on the roster, scheduled for 2020. No director or writer has been attached with the film, but Ray Fisher has been cast in the role of Cyborg. Based on the currently available information, Cyborg will be the first superhero film to feature a black man in the lead role since Hancock.
The ensemble movies are worth noting as well. Justice League will be featuring all of the characters mentioned above, and the surprise announcement of Suicide Squad may be even more diverse. Although very little is known right now, rumors have surfaced about both the roles and casting of the film. There is little doubt that Amanda "The Wall" Waller, one of the most enduring creations of John Ostrander's original Suicide Squad comic will make an appearance. Since her debut, she has been praised as one of the most diverse characters in mainstream superhero comics, a large black woman from South Side, Chicago who is both a wife and mother. There are also rumors that Vixen, Bronze Tiger, and Mindboggler will all play significant roles in the film.
These four films all represent a lot of significant firsts, or at least recent changes in the landscape of the superhero genre. For the past decade, almost every superhero film has been headlined by white men. These movies will be more reflective of the wide variety of people who love superheroes, not just the stereotypical race and gender associated with their comic book origins. The closest a woman or person of color has come to the enormous boom has been in ensemble casts like those found in The Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy.
That leads to the obvious comparison to Marvel Studios. Marvel has been the leader in superhero films for the past five years. Starting with Iron Man they have had a string of successes and built an unprecedented expanded universe weaving together all of their films and television productions. All of their films have been headlined by white men. Women and people of color have featured prominently in supporting roles and in ensemble casts, but they have never once been the feature of a Marvel Studio’s film. Black Widow plays a significant role in The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but it’s no larger of a part than that of a talking raccoon in another feature.
Marvel Studios has a diverse set of characters to pull from, some who have already been introduced and others who are rumored to be coming soon. The Falcon, War Machine, and Black Widow have all been positively received by audiences, but still left in supporting roles. Other characters like Captain Marvel and Black Panther have been consistently rumored to be making appearances soon (as soon as The Avengers: Age of Ultron post-credit sequence according to some). Yet no formal plans have been announced to give any of these characters their own film. The closest the studio has come is with plans to launch series focused on Luke Cage and Jessica Jones on Netflix.
When asked about plans to introduce a franchise led by a woman Kevin Feige, President of Production at Marvel Studios, has responded by saying, “I hope we do it sooner rather than later.” He has explained his thoughts on diversity saying, “the responsibility is very big for anyone in a position of the ability to make product for the masses.” Feige is clearly interested in telling stories that include a diverse cast, but has still failed to launch a franchise focused on anyone who is not a white man. Major announcements, like those coming from Warner Brothers, are making the reasons for not launching a Black Widow or Captain Marvel or War Machine or Black Panther franchise seem more and more like poor excuses.
Marvel Studios is the studio that proved audiences can be relied to support all sorts of superhero stories. They’ve transformed C-lister Iron Man into one of the best known characters on the planet and D-lister Groot into the most beloved character of 2014. If they can make a movie featuring a sentient tree, then there is no reason that they cannot make a movie that focuses on a woman or black man.
It’s important to remember that this is not a battle though. Dozens of articles have been written in the last few days with the headline “Superhero Diversity Race is Over”. That headline is complete and utter nonsense. It completely misrepresents the issue in an attempt to create fake competition and clickbait.
Diversity is not a race.
Diversity is not a competition.
Diversity is not something you can win.
Diversity is a goal, but it’s one that should be shared by everyone. Diversity reflects the incredible variety of humanity. It not only includes quantifiable concepts like race, gender, and sexual orientation, but the wide collection of perspectives, thoughts, and ideas that make us human.
It does not matter whether Marvel Studios, Warner Brothers, or another studio produces a film headlined by a character who helps to expand representation in superhero films. When we are given a greater variety of experiences to share in movies and other stories, no one loses. The source material doesn’t matter, only the results.
Warner Brothers’ announcement provides a lot of reasons to get excited. Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg, and even Suicide Squad all have the potential to reflect a wider range of human experience. They are movies that will better reflect the society which we all share together. This isn’t the end of some imaginary race though, it’s just another step forward.
There’s still a lot of progress left to be made. There are currently no superheroes who identify as gay, bi-sexual, or transgender. There are no superheroes of Asian or Latino descent. The majority of superheroes are still straight, white men. But this Warner Brothers announcement is a good thing, something worth celebrating. It’s a step forward. It’s a step closer to a world where all of us can see ourselves reflected in the movies we share and love; it’s a step closer to a world where all of us can recognize ourselves in the heroes who inspire us to be better... together.