Without question there is still much, much progress to be made when it comes to representation and inclusion on film. It’s great that so many of this year’s Sundance Film Festival award winners were women, but female characters in 2016 only accounted for 38% of on-screen speaking roles and too many studios are not making significant progress on improving that number this year. Both Fox and Paramount have no films by female directors on its release slate for the rest of this year, for instance.
Still…there are shafts of light appearing in the cracks formed by the recent shifts in conversation that hold men accountable for their terrible actions instead of rewarding them while blaming, shaming or dismissing the victims. Those signs of hope are coming from a few recent movie marketing efforts.
There’s been a decided shift how Marvel Studios/Disney has been selling Black Panther in the last few weeks. While the focus is still clearly on Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa and his adventures, it’s also included more and more of Nakia and Okoye, the bodyguards and confidence played by Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira. That’s evident in this featurette released recently as well as in some of TV spots that continue to trickle out. All show more of the two warriors and feature comments on the film and its story from the actresses that play them. Those two were also the central figures in one of the first clips released from the movie.
Right around the time the movie was getting its initial limited release a featurette was released that was focused not on the work of the male journalists at the heart of the story but on the women of the cast and crew who made the movie happen. Meryl Streep, Alison Brie and others are interviewed about the female producers, technical crew members and others whose hard work contributed to the final product. Streep is of course included in that number herself, and this seemed to be a concerted effort to turn the attention from an on-screen cast where she’s the lone female, at least based on what the marketing has shown.
Again, a featurette leads the way. A recent short video features interviews with Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson and other members of the cast, all of whom are talking about the mysteries contained in this upcoming sci-fi drama. It wasn’t even until the video was almost finished that I realized there wasn’t a single dude – white or otherwise – to be found in it. That’s especially notable since sci-fi as a genre has long been…reluctant…to embrace anyone who isn’t a Caucasian male out of fear of a backlash from “fans” who are and who feel anything challenging that status quo is deeply disturbing.
So what to make of all this?
It’s certainly an interesting little micro-trend, but whether or not it’s the vanguard of a new wave of films by, about and for not just women but men and women of color remains to be seen. A few featurettes and short interviews aren’t exactly indicative of a sea change in the industry, especially not when there’s still so much work to be done.
One hopes that there’s a realization that films need to be made and sold in a way that appeals to all audiences, not segregating movies as only appealing to certain racial or gender groups. If so, these examples could be the first steps into a broader embrace of groups traditionally shut out of some areas. If not, these are simply the cynical moves of studios looking to latch on to a current cultural conversation and improve a film’s opening weekend box-office.
I’m fearful it’s the latter but hopeful it’s the former. We’ll just have to stay tuned.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.