It’s gonna take some work.
Chill on the whitewashing.
This year saw Scarlett Johansson cast in Ghost in the Shell. It saw the entirety of the movie Doctor Strange. It saw Matt Damon as the lead in a movie about the Great Wall of China. And that’s just the shortlist of the ways Hollywood erased characters of color and put white characters at the center of PoC stories again and again.
At the very least, 2016 saw some people beginning to learn about the impact of these decisions. Tilda Swinton and Margaret Cho aired out an email conversation that discussed the controversy around Doctor Strange, and the film’s writer and director, Scott Derrickson, told The Daily Beast that he “didn’t really understand the level of pain that’s out there, for people who grew up with movies like I did but didn’t see their own faces up there.”
“The angry voices and the loud voices that are out there I think are necessary,” he said. “And if it pushes up against this film, I can’t say I don’t support it. Because how else is it going to change? This is just the way we’ve got to go to progress, and whatever price I have to pay for the decision I’ve made, I’m willing to pay.”
But Hollywood’s efforts to eradicate these issues have been nonexistent at worst and slow at best. The next step? Results, and preferably learning these lessons before the film is already made and out there.
Elevate more types of movie stars.
Every single time a movie gets made that, say, takes place in ancient Egypt and has a main cast of almost entirely white actors, the argument bubbles up that big Hollywood movies can’t get made without star power behind them. As Exodus: Gods and Kings director Ridley Scott said when defending the casting of Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, and Aaron Paul as Moses, Ramses, and Joshua respectively: “I can’t mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such. I’m just not going to get it financed. So the question doesn’t even come up.”
But every big name started as a no-name. Oftentimes they only gained recognition because someone took a gamble on them — taking the chance that they could carry a movie or TV show, believing that they had what it takes for audiences to connect with them. We need to give more people that chance, specifically people of different ethnicities, physical abilities, sizes, etc.
20th Century Fox
Put a moratorium on killing queer women characters.
Sometimes history just weighs too heavily on a storyline. And that is certainly the case when it comes to Hollywood’s tendency to kill off LBGT characters, especially on TV. This was particularly rampant in 2016 — so many fictional queer women died in such a short time that it almost felt like a concentrated effort. The 100, Orange Is the New Black, Empire, The Catch, The Magicians, The Walking Dead, The Vampire Diaries, Blindspot, Person of Interest, Pretty Little Liars, Masters of Sex — every single one of these shows and more killed off queer women characters in 2016. And fans stood up and demanded change.
The “bury your gays” trope elicits visceral reactions for a reason — including the heartbreak and exhaustion of seeing your sexuality so frequently associated with death, and the too-real ways the death of LGBT people is often on our screens as actual news. So we need a break. Preferably a long one. There are other ways to shake up your story than killing your queer characters.
Embrace more body types.
Really throughout the entire history of Hollywood, only a very small range of body types have been featured onscreen as desirable. And when Hollywood does decide to depict someone above a certain size — especially when that someone is a woman — they tend to make a pretty big deal about it. Think ABC’s sitcom American Housewife, the concept of which involves a Connecticut mother fixated on her position as the “second-fattest housewife in Westport.” Or NBC’s family drama This Is Us, which stars the talented Chrissy Metz, whose storyline revolves almost entirely around her obsession with losing weight.
When Disney strived to give its latest animated princess Moana a “more realistic body shape” — as director John Musker referred to it — the result was still an undeniably thin young woman. It’s a step forward from the notorious, physically impossible body images of Disney princesses past, sure — but a small one in the grand scheme of how far we have left to go. It’s impossible to be body positive if we’re not seeing the different types of bodies the world has to offer, and treating them with respect.
Around 67% of women in the United States are a size 14 or above, according to Refinery29’s 67% Project; only about 2% of images in the media reflect that. And of the movies and television shows that do, there’s an imbalance in the types of stories being told — they typically focus on the character’s size, and how the people around them react to it.
So much of what good film and TV does is tell human stories — so isn’t it dishonest to act like our bodies and the experiences that come from them don’t run the gamut?