I’m a white American male. About as typical as they come. As a white American male, I haven’t had to traverse the inherit hurdles that a lot of my culturally diverse peers have. Also, the world of American entertainment seemingly caters to my needs. Growing up I didn’t have to search high and low for a hero who looked like me. However, when I think back I don’t remember seeing my favorite heroes in this light. I didn’t see Batman as a white male hero. I saw him as the super detective protector of the innocent. He fought crime so that no other child would end up watching their parents murdered in front of their eyes. He punched faces in the name of honor and justice. I saw him that way and no way else because I didn’t have to try to see him in another way. As a boy, the television, the movie screen, the video games, and the comic books made the protagonists in my image. I didn’t know any other way, until I grew up.
Ghostbusters was released this year. It featured a female led cast of hilarious ladies set in a familiar world of hunting the paranormal. When news broke about this film being made I wondered why? Why do we need to reboot a movie and change all the lead roles to women? I wasn’t concerned that this would ruin my beloved original Ghostbusters film like the rest of the world seemed to be so fearful of happening. No, I wondered why couldn’t we make a new film separate from the Ghostbusters franchise with these same female leads in heroic roles? I didn’t get the importance of the franchise name. Without the name, people wouldn’t have taken the women or the movie as seriously. I didn’t get that when I was growing up watching this film in the 80’s, that there was a girl my age watching the same movie thinking that her only role in a situation like this was to answer the phones, or to be in peril needing to be saved by the boys. I didn’t get it because I wasn’t in her shoes…ever
It’s not just a gender driven predicament. Superman is white…AND an alien refugee. Wolverine is white…Canadian, but still white. Batman, Captain America, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Captain Kirk, Spider-Man, and on and on and on. All white men. In films, on television, in comics, the hero that captured my African American friends, or Asian friends, or Hispanic friends was hard to find. They were out there, but they were scarce and they still are to this day. Luke Cage and Black Panther are important characters, but I never saw them that way. They were comic books that I ignored because they didn’t appeal to me but they are extremely important to this world and to the kids and adults they impact on a day to day basis. Their introductions into the Marvel Cinematic Universe are monumentally historic and important to our society. Not just for the entertainment value, but for the impact they will have on children across the world. Children who see someone who looks like them, came from a similar place as them and who is acting bravely and being a hero against insurmountable odds. Someone they can look up to.
Part of the problem with our society today is we don’t see ourselves in anyone else’s shoes. The phrase “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” seems to have gotten lost. We worry about our own lives and to a certain extent, that’s to be expected and okay. We have a lot going on in our lives and to take time worrying about what someone else is going through, can easily get lost in the shuffle. However, we need to do this. We need to think about what our black neighbors are going through. Or what our female co-workers have to deal with in order to be respected in our same field. Just take a quick look at Hollywood. We already know actors make an extreme amount of money for the work they do. Actresses with the same amount of screen time get paid a fraction of what their male counterparts get paid. (I’m avoiding specific numbers because it’s unseemly to talk about people’s income, but trust me you can Google Robert Downey Jr.’s earnings vs Jennifer Lawrence’s. Specifically, what he made for The Avengers compared to what she made for the final two installments of The Hunger Games combined.) Even more simple, we don’t ever have to know what it’s like as a male comic book fan, for a female comic book fan to walk into a comic book store or convention and be looked at as someone who doesn’t get it. “She is just here for her boyfriend. She’s just here because she likes the sexy costumes and the attention they bring for her. She can’t possibly know as much about comics as I do. I should probably go over and explain who these characters are, she clearly has no clue.” More often than not, they know more than you. And they came to that store or con on their own because they love the content as much as you do…probably even more than you.
We have to work harder to understand each other. We need to step out of our own comfort zones in order to realize that while we all may be from the same city, state, or country, we grew up in a very different world from one another. We might as well be from alternate Earths in the Multiverse. Some of us grew up in a world where they have to be afraid to go out into public in fear of being treated as a thug or as a freak. Others grew up in a world being treated like an inferior person to the rest of society. At the end of the day, we’re all just humans going about our lives, wanting to be treated equally and with respect.