In a world full of reboots and first time live action productions, there’s bound to be some differences between the source material and what we see on screen. It keeps the material fresh, speaks to the kind of world that we are living in now, and is meant to attract a wide and diverse audience. Not so surprisingly, some people loathe the changes.
I’m talking about when characters ethnicity is changed from the original source material. It doesn’t matter how badass the character looks or how promising their new story arc is, the color of their skin has been changed and that is enough for them to hit ‘cancelled’ on their favorite character and go into full boycott mode.
What is meant to be seen as inclusive and diverse is suddenly turned on it’s head by those that have always been privileged enough to see themselves on TV and in our movies. Fear grows inside of them that they are being left behind, that they aren’t being represented, without understanding that they aren’t the only ethnicity who has connected with these characters and who hope to one day see people like themselves on screen, kicking ass, and saving the day.
Whenever a beloved character gets changed people have this knee jerk reaction where they feel attacked and like a part of their childhood is being destroyed. They don’t stop to think for a moment that their favorite character is still there and will still go through the same struggles they have gone through before. They just have a different color skin. They’re still human and they’ll still fight for the same things that you’ve always loved. They just look a little different.
Your childhood is not being destroyed by choosing an Afro-Latinx actress to play Valkyrie, a hero who is primarily a Caucasian female with blonde hair, for Thor: Ragnarok. You’re seeing a new side of your character and thousands of people are seeing themselves in a medium that they never thought people that look like them could be part of.
At the heart of this issue is ignorance. People who are up in arms about the change of their favorite character have never thought about what others might be experiencing. They’ve always looked at things from a perspective of privilege where they end up on top. Few have ever thought or had any reason to think about what minorities are experiencing when they go to watch a movie or turn on the TV to watch a show. They’ve never experienced what it is to be told without words that people that look like them always are the sidekick to the white hero.
For the ignorant, seeing people that look like them has been a norm their entire lives. Opposition or questioning of this norm by minorities is seen as an attack instead of an opportunity to open dialogue and talk about how TV and movies can be more inclusive. The United States of America is a richly diverse country whose media ignores or prefers those that are not black, Hispanic, or Asian.
The people that are asking for equal representation on TV are not trying to erase or replace anyone. They simply want to stand side-by-side with the people that they’ve seen on TV or movies their entire lives. And because, believe it or not, the same thing that you love about your favorite character is something that they see reflected inside of them. They want to be the heroes and they want to inspire other minorities like them to shoot for the stars like they’ve seen people with lighter skin do their entire lives.
Those who complain are also fearful. They might not want to admit it but they see the change in skin color as something that they can’t relate to. It makes them scared to approach this character or even try to understand their life struggle. They fear that they won’t be able to relate to the hero they’ve always loved and connected with. They don’t stop to think for a moment that the minorities on screen have had to deal with that their entire lives and that someone’s skin color shouldn’t stop you from understanding their loss, their pain, or how much they fight to survive the struggles that they face.
I always think about Walter White from Breaking Bad in moments like this when people can’t connect with the unknown or a character that doesn’t look like them. Most viewers of Breaking Bad have never cooked, sold, or consumed crystal meth. But we can all connect to the story of a person trying to survive every single damn day and make sure that his family is supported once he is gone. We understand the love that he holds for his family and how the world sometimes twists us into unrecognizable versions of ourselves. So if we can understand the story of a man that cooks crystal meth even though we’ve never done it, why is it so hard to relate to a Valkyrie who has darker skin and is no longer a blonde?
We can’t ignore the fact that some people are just plain ol’ racist. They know what they’re saying and they have this belief ingrained into them that they are superior than other ethnicities. Their comments are meant to be hurtful and bring down the altered version of the character they love and are disgruntled about. They don’t care about minorities needing representation and they’re very open about the fact that and they feel like they are being erased for the “other” to feel more comfortable and included.
At the end of the day the outcry over a character’s ethnicity being changed is rooted in our reluctance to accept that we are a diverse and multicultural society with more to offer then the stereotypical white male lead. It’s rooted in privilege, ignorance, and Hollywood’s continued whitewashing of any character that is a minority. It sets a precedent that anything but white isn’t welcomed in our TV shows or movies and that the people that consume this media can live in their perfect little bubble where all they see is people who look like them.
It’s unfortunate for those that hate change that it’s still going to come. Minorities are no longer the hidden or the quiet people that can be swept under the rugs. They are finding ways to tell their stories and be included in the conversation about what is needed and our TV shows or movies. They are here and there’s no turning back from proper representation and diversity in our media.
How do you feel about the change to Valkyrie? Does changing their ethnicity change who they are? Let us know in the comments below!