Within the new hot topics of entertainment, you’ll have a hard time finding any press interviews for new movies or TV shows that lack the words “diverse” or “female empowerment.” Let me just start by saying that there’s nothing wrong with creating diverse and feminist media, nor using the terms when describing such content, if done correctly. However, entertainment is often mislabeled and sold by using these buzz words in order to capture wider audiences. So, here’s what marketing teams are doing wrong and how we can shift entertainment towards actual progress.
According to Merriam-Webster, diversity is “the condition of having or being composed of differing elements, especially the inclusion of people of different races in a group or organization.” The main misuse of this term is by labeling an all-minority cast as “diverse,” with Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians being prime examples. Let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with these casting choices given the settings and stories that these films are trying to depict. However, there is a problem with calling the casts “diverse,” as one race dominates both the main and supporting casts. If anything, it can be overcompensation for a lack of diversity in other projects and ends up going to the other end of the spectrum. Anthony Mackie talked about this development in the production crew on Black Panther, saying, “I’ve done seven Marvel movies now…Every single person has been white. We’ve had one black producer. His name was Nate Moore, [and] he produced Black Panther. But then when you do Black Panther, you have a black director, a black producer, a black stunt designer…And I’m like that’s more racist. Because if you can only hire black people for the black movie, does that mean they’re not good enough when you have a mostly white cast?” The goal is to have content that includes multiple races with equal opportunity for character development given the story arc. That means that relegating minorities to token roles shouldn’t be allowed, but we also shouldn’t stunt a character’s growth just because they’re white. The color of one’s skin is not a crime, and that should be taken into account for everyone.
Similar problems emerge when tackling feminism or female-empowerment. Merriam-Webster defines feminism as “belief in and advocacy of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes expressed, especially through organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.” Feminism should be more content-focused instead of being considered more of a casting choice. Just because women dominate the screen time in a film or TV show doesn’t mean that those characters are given good development or are even likable. For example, Sex and the City was considered ground-breaking when it first aired in 1998, as it focused on four female leads and wasn’t afraid to talk about topics that had previously been avoided. However, when reexamined, the show barely passes the Bechdel test, which requires that two or more women have a conversation about something other than a man. Most modern iterations of female icons, like Black Widow or Wonder Woman have complex arcs but lack any traditionally feminine qualities, appealing to male audiences by being physically tough as well as attractive. Don’t get me wrong, I love both of those characters, but not all female heroes have to be tomboys in order to be embraced by the culture. Elle Woods is a terrific example. She’s smart and capable, yet her return to pink at the end of the film indicates her embrace of her feminine side. The “tough girl” vs the “girly girl” dynamic doesn’t have to exist and often pits women against each other instead of connecting them.
The biggest problem regarding using terms like “diversity” and “feminism” is setting them on a pedestal and therefore further alienating them from societal normalities. The goal of creating such content is to make it common in entertainment to the point where attention doesn’t need to be drawn to a lack of such inclusion. However, by claiming every new movie that comes out is making these advancements, we’re making it seem unobtainable, a goal that can never quite be reached, and allowing a generation to grow up considering misuses of these terms as normal. Annihilation is a film that does an amazing job of creating a movie with an all-female team without patting itself on the back for doing so. It succeeded in not mentioning “feminism” in the movie or the marketing. And audiences didn’t argue about the casting, instead letting the focus be on the message and the cinematography.
Ultimately, entertainment should be allowing its content to speak for itself instead of trying to advocate, which contributed to the downfall of many films like Charlie’s Angels and Mulan. Instead of swinging the pendulum between publicized all-white casts, all-minority casts, and all-female casts, we should be aiming for the actual definitions of “diversity,” a collection of different backgrounds that contribute to a story without having to proclaim our intentions.