Most people would agree that 2016 was a particularly rough year, however, there happened to be one beacon of light. It was a great year for diversity in TV and movies, including our favorite genre, sci-fi. Women, people of diverse ethnic backgrounds, gay & lesbian, transgender, and other marginalized groups found representation on the big and little screens. In the past, movies and TV shows have had a tendency to represent mainly an overwhelmingly white cast and predominantly a white male lead, but things in Hollywood are changing to better reflect the world around us. In honor of these great victories, here’s a list (not in any specific order) of some of the best moments for diversified representation in 2016:
1.) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – The main and supporting characters of this standalone spinoff of the Star Wars franchise were played by actors from a variety of diverse backgrounds. For starters, Rogue One featured a female lead, Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones. This is the second year in a row that LucasFilm has released a Star Wars film featuring a strong female lead. Such a decision to promote female empowerment is due to Lucasfilm president, Kathleen Kennedy and her executive team that’s made up of a little more than 50% women. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Kennedy comments, “When you have a balance of men and women, there are all sorts of things that enter the discussion.”
But LucasFilm did more than just give women a stronger voice in the world of Star Wars. They strengthened the voices of people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds with their other casting choices. Diego Luna, a Mexican actor, plays Cassian Andor, Jyn’s main collaborator in the film. Usually when someone with a thick accent acts in a film, they try to mimic an American or British accent, but Luna doesn’t do that. He plays the role without altering his native, Mexican accent. Donnie Yen, a Hong Kong actor, martial artist, film director, producer, action choreographer, and multiple time world renowned wushu tournament champion; played Chirrut Imwe, a blind monk and true believer in the force that helps Jyn and friends retrieve the blueprints of the Death Star. Other cast members include Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, James Earl Jones, Mads Mikkelsen, Ben Mendelsohn, Alan Tudyk, Jiang Wen, Jimmy Smits, and more. In her interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Kennedy added that “diversity was ‘very much important to this story’ because the characters were meant to be disparate, showing how their different walks of life and backgrounds could reach common ground for a higher purpose.” I couldn’t agree more, and I look forward to seeing what other progressive choices LucasFilm makes in future Star Wars movies.
2.) Star Trek Discovery – Keeping with Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry’s humanist ideals, the new series will feature an African American female lead, Sonequa Martin-Greene, who plays Sasha on The Walking Dead. Casting Martin-Greene fulfills the original showrunner, Bryan Fuller’s ambition to have an African-American woman play the lead role in a Star Trek film or TV show. Gene Roddenberry, and those that continued his vision after his passing, have always promoted representation of people from marginalized groups. Also, Michelle Yeoh, will play the captain of another ship, and Anthony Rapp will play the first openly gay Starfleet officer on TV.
3.) Supergirl – In season 2, Supergirl strengthens its central theme of confronting the issues of oppression, xenophobia, misogyny, and bigotry. Alien species on Earth, including Supergirl herself, are equated to immigrants or refugees. How humans treat the aliens is a metaphor for how people generally treat those that they view as different.
The lead character is a female superhero, and women in general play a huge part in helping to keep National City safe from impending dangers. Plus, the president of the United States is a woman, played by Lynda Carter. Many fans remember Carter as Wonder Woman.
The series even looks into the issue of implicit racism when Supergirl finds herself guilty of it. When an alien man, Mon-el, lands on Earth, Kara realizes that he’s from the planet Daxam. The Daxamites were enemies of Kara’s race, the Kryptonians. When the president is attacked, she immediately assumes it was Mon-el. When she eventually learns the attacker was someone else, Kara must confront her own bigotry and apologize to Mon-el. Supergirl brings to light our own prejudices, even the ones we’re not aware of.
But as if that wasn’t enough, Supergirl diversifies itself further when Kara’s adoptive sister, Alex comes to the realization that she’s a lesbian when she meets Detective Maggie Sawyer. Sawyer realizes it first, and calls Alex on it. At first, Alex denies it, but after Alex takes some time to reflect, she admits it to Maggie, and herself. All her life, Alex had thought she wasn’t good at dating, or good at being intimate, that it just wasn’t her thing. What she comes to realize is that she just wasn’t interested in being intimate with the men she was dating. In The Hollywood Reporter’s article, “Supergirl Boss on ‘Thoughtful’ Coming Out Story and ‘Bury Your Gays’ Fears,” it states that “Supergirl is going to be focusing on exploring Alex’s coming-out journey in a big way in upcoming episodes.”
4.) Luke Cage – This new Netflix original makes my list because there aren’t many African American superheroes, and I can’t think of any that have gotten their own TV show or movie. Luke Cage is the story about an African-American man with super strength and unbreakable skin who finds himself confronting his past and battling to save Harlem. It’s great that the African-American community has a superhero that represents them, especially one as heroic, brave, intelligent, virtuous, powerful, compassionate, and caring as Luke Cage. The show features a predominantly African American cast, along with Rosario Dawson, who’s of Cuban and Puerto Rican ancestry, and Theo Rossi, who’s background includes multiple ethnicities. Luke Cage also showcases strong, independent women such as Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), Detective Misty Knight (Simone Missick), and Mariah Stokes (Alfre Woodard).
5.) Agents of Shield – This Marvel series has always been good at representing people of marginalized groups, perhaps because it’s a show about inhumans, a fictional group of people that are discriminated against due to their superhuman powers. However, this season has gotten even more diversified. Showrunner, Maurissa Tancharoen, is an Asian-American woman. Ming-Na Wen, Chloe Bennett, Henry Simmons, Ruth Negga, J. August Richards, Dichen Lachman, and B.J. Britt, have all played important roles in the show, but now they’ve added on Natalia Cordova-Buckley, who plays Elena “Yoyo” Rodriguez, and Gabriel Luna as Ghost Rider.
6.) Ghostbusters – Whether this movie was successful at the box office or not, the fact that a movie was created featuring women in positions of power, and in scientific fields of study, is a huge victory for female empowerment. I’ve stated this in a previous article I’ve written, but I’ll say it again: ” It helps break negative stereotypes of women, and portrays them as capable, skilled, intelligent, and powerful. They give young girls role models to aspire to. It’s so great to see women playing scientists. When Gillian Anderson took on the role as the highly intelligent doctor, Special Agent Dana Scully on the X-Files, she had no idea it would lead to the Scully Effect, the influx of young women pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and medicine; career fields that were usually pursued by males. Anderson received many letters from girls telling her that they were pursuing science, medicine, or something similar because of Scully.” And hopefully that will happen again when young women and girls watch the all-female Ghostbusters. Paul Feig told Vulture, “I wanted for little girls to be able to see themselves up on the screen. The original one exists so you can see boys doing it, but how fun for girls to have this experience.”
Now I know that I didn’t cover every great moment for diversity in sci-fi for 2016, but this does make a good start. I hope that we see more of this in 2017.