Sidekick Status

I spent my break like countless other exhausted Andover students must have spent theirs: lounging in bed and binge-watching Netflix. As I made my way through movies in lengthy, unhealthy marathons and devoured episodes of the latest TV shows, I was pleased to find that many of the shows I encountered included a visually diverse cast. But under this seeming improvement in diversity in the media, however, when it came down to it, the main protagonists of these shows and films were always white.

In “Arrow”, the main character, Oliver Queen – and all of his many love interests – are white, while black David Ramsey is relegated to Queen’s bodyguard and sidekick. In “Penny Dreadful”, the only black actor, Danny Sapani, is similarly given the role of a servant, with minimal screen time and close to no lines. In “Age of Ultron”, Samuel L. Jackson and Anthony Mackie both appear for a few dismal minutes, with the rest of the movie dominated by the overwhelmingly white Avengers. In “Hunger Games: Mockingjay”, the most memorable characters were all white, even when Katniss and Gale were described as “dark haired” and “olive skinned” in the books. “Pitch Perfect” and its sequel were applauded for including racially diverse females, but the three main characters – Beca, Emily, and Chloe – and their love interests were, again, white. People of color make appearances in all of these movies and shows, but they are rarely dominant characters or main love interests.

What makes this continued discrimination even more harmful is that it is often ignored or unseen, as Hollywood appears to be making an effort to be more racially diverse on the surface. The roles given to people of color are seldom the same quality of roles given to white actors. It even seems as though actors of color are being employed merely to fill quotas so that TV shows and movies can claim diversity without having to compromise more important lead white roles. Though directors are increasingly incorporating diversity in cast selections, when it comes down to the main characters, whose faces will be printed on posters and whose names will be boldfaced, people of color are again excluded from the industry.

It is the 21st century; we should no longer merely be grateful that directors have given roles to people of color. Instead, we must demand true justice and equality. The talented actors and actresses of color deserve to star in movies, not to support from the sidelines. They should be cast as heroes and heroines, not awkward sidekicks only desired because they are people of color. When browsing movie posters at the cinema, I should not feel relieved and surprised to see one face of color amongst a sea of white lead actors.
Of course, some shows have set a standard of true diversity. Of Netflix’s “Sense8” cast of eight main characters, four are people of color. The leading ladies of “Empire” and “How to Get Away With Murder” are black, and so are the love interests in “Flash” and “Jessica Jones.” But for every “Sense8”, there are five “Trainwreck”s, in which Amy Schumer leads an overwhelmingly white cast and cameos Lebron James, one of the few persons of color in the movie. For every “Jessica Jones”, there are ten “Jurassic World”s, where all the Asian actors are confined to stereotypes in lab coats while the white actors dramatically save the day.

Although this may be low on the priority list of an Andover student, the next time you start watching a TV series, buy tickets to the newest blockbuster, or hear critics praise a show for its visual diversity, ask yourself if this is truly racial equality. To me, it still seems as though the Blacks, Asians, Arabs, Hispanics, and Native Americans are confined to sidekicks and supporting roles.

Andover students can be the future to every trade – past students have gone on to become leading professionals in the film and TV industry. One day, many of our names will be splashed on the opening credits of blockbuster movies and among the nominees of the Golden Globes. When that day comes, it is crucial that we understand the nuances and importance of racial diversity. We cannot be complacent when people of color are haphazardly thrown into the supporting cast to feign diversity. Instead, we must ensure that people of color are given the same opportunities to play main characters, to win Oscars, and to be cast as the stars of the show.