The problem with Michelle Rodriguez's statement about minorities and superhero roles
Michelle Rodriguez, who you might remember as Ana Lucia Cortez in LOST, said some really questionable things to TMZ on Friday when asked about her possible role for Green Lantern. Rumors had been going around that she was up for the part, which had previously been played by Ryan Reynolds —a white male. In response to this, she told TMZ that the rumor was “the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. It’s so stupid. It’s like, ‘Stop stealing all the white people’s superheroes.’ . . .Make up your own. You know what I’m saying?” It turns out, a lot of people didn’t actually know what she was saying, because the idea of a woman of color playing a traditionally white male role shouldn’t be that unfathomable.
While Rodriguez did apologize on Facebook, stating that she “stuck [her] foot in [her] mouth once again,” and that her remarks were made out of context, her apology raises new questions. In her statement, she essentially states that Hollywood is Hollywood, and maybe people of color should create their own superhero stories.
While her suggestion of laziness is offensive and misguided, her comment loosely (OK, veeeeeeeerry loosely) echoes a controversial and important argument playwright August Wilson made during a speech at Princeton University, where he opposed so-called “colorblind” casting, urging theaters to develop more new roles for actors of color that better defined the multicultural experience, instead of relying on parts created by and for white actors originally. “”It is an insult to our intelligence . . . we do not need colorblind casting; we need some theaters to develop our [black] playwrights,” he stated.
Rodriguez’ statement does not hold the same gravity as Wilson’s much more fleshed-out argument, and she’s not making a strong enough point that the entertainment industry needs to produce more work by people of color. (It’s not laziness to blame, it’s a history of Hollywood white-washing.) She’s also missing the point of the superhero genre: the backstories of superheroes don’t exactly belong to any race or gender. They are mythological creations and they deserve to be diversified, and to serve as representations of role models for a new generation.
Unfortunately, the majority of roles are filled by white actors, and progress is being too slowly made. Furthermore, most of these comics were created years and years ago, reflecting a less progressive, more patriarchal time period. For instance, the Green Lantern came about in 1940, imagined by a man named Martin Nodell. This was around the same time when Superman was also created. Then came Captain America, Spider Man, Batman. All men, all white. But why does that mean in 2015 we can’t recast these characters using diverse actors? Why is it when an actor of color is suggested for a superhero role, it’s considered “stealing”?
It shouldn’t ever be viewed this way, and we’re sad that Michelle Rodriguez, a Latina woman, would dismiss herself for this superhero role because of her race. While people of color can certainly create their own superhero stories, like Rodriguez suggested, that doesn’t mean they should be excluded from pre-existing ones.