Diversity in Speculative Fiction, or Where the Hell is my “Black Widow” Movie?

by Patrick LeClerc

Recently, I saw one of the Avengers movies on TV, and started thinking about all the Marvel Universe movies, and kept coming back to the Big Question. No not “Is there a god?” or “What is the meaning of life?” or even “What the fuck happened to bring about the 2016 election?” but “Where is the Black Widow movie?”

Now, we have heard that female led action movies aren’t successful. We’ve heard that the studios are aiming for the male 18-34 year old demographic. We’ve heard a lot of bad excuses wrapped in marketing douchebag vernacular.

Now let me explain why this is all a pack of lies.

Working through this logically, there are people who will never buy a ticket for a super hero movie (hi Mom!) regardless of who the character is. So set that audience aside. You’re not getting their money. Concentrate on the millions of people who are showing up for the Marvel blockbusters. How do we make a film that those people will pay good money for?

If we look at the potential audience for a superhero movie, I think all of them fall into at least one if not both of the following categories: People who will think it’s empowering to see a strong female action hero save the day, and people who want to watch Scarlett Johansson kick ass in a black catsuit.

Now, if they get both of those groups, (most of whom overlap, really. I mean, the Venn diagram is pretty much just a circle) I think Marvel can maybe afford to lose the asexual misogynist market.

It’s time to stick a fork in the idea that main action movie hero has to be a man, preferably white. The signs are there that things might be changing, Wonder Woman made a ton of money, as did Black Panther. The latest Mad Max installment had a female characters front and center, moving Max himself almost to the sidelines. Aqua Man no longer looks like Flash Gordon in flippers. There’s a Captain Marvel movie coming out soon. Jessica Jones showed us that women can play damaged, cynical, alcoholic detectives every bit as well as men can.  These are all encouraging signs. The industry is starting to realize that people will pay good money for a solid action movie, even if the hero doesn’t look like Chris Evans. Or Chris Pine. Or Chris Pratt.

The science fiction and fantasy genre has struggled with this for some time. Insular and isolated, the largely white, largely male fandom has been too hesitant to admit the wider populace to its ranks. They want to see Elves and aliens. But not chicks or brown people, except as token sidekicks and props. Look at the internet outrage from the notoriously cranky Star Wars fan base at a black Stormtrooper or Rey, who is basically Luke, but with ovaries.

This attitude needs to die. We need to be better. We need to show that the Speculative Fiction genre is built on possibility. For everybody, even people who don’t look like Steve Rogers. I won’t say “who don’t look like us” because, honestly, not many of us look like Steve Rogers. So keep rewarding good choice with your book or movie ticket dollars, and help open up the genre, make it more inclusive.

So we can get 90 minutes of Scarlett Johansson being empowering and trailblazing.

In a catsuit.

(Apologies for the image. This is the sexiest, most empowering copyright-free “Black Widow” image I could find)

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