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13/07/2020 The Communication Science magazine

The future is still white and heteronormative according to Hollywood movies

The percentage of POC and LGBT+ people is growing, but this division of society is still not represented in Science Fiction movies. But why is that?


We’ve all heard this sentence flying past our ears these last few years: ‘’White people will become the minority by 2045’’, that is, for the USA at least. In addition, the LGBT+ population continues to increase according to statistics as more people are comfortable coming out due to the emergence of social movements and representation. With this prospect of diverse futuristic societies, why do Hollywood science-fiction movies nowadays still continue to only portray straight, Caucasian people?

Rising percentages, rising representations?
White people currently make up around 65% of the American population and that will drop to 49% by 2045. People of color already are the majority in many major cities, but Caucasians slowly becoming a minority is not hard to believe if it would become true for some Western European and Latin American nations as well. Increasing immigration and interracial mixing are the contributing factors in diversifying populations. Jumping on to this trend is the rise in people who identify as LGBT+ – under millennials it’s 8.1% since 2017 and increasing steadily. But do we see this represented in film as well?

We have been blessed with a lot of media representation of these minority groups, but these are mainly films with a contemporary setting. Science-fiction films – simply any fiction taking place in the ‘future’ – do not seem to take this ongoing trend into their narrative and the result just doesn’t seem realistic at all (apart from the sci-fi-elements). In the future, people of all colors and sexual orientations should be the norm and no one would blink an eye when we see these people, right? 

If science-fiction has a role at all, it’s to reflect that reality, not deny it

Futuristic movies with their straight, white, main characters
So… a diverse future is far from becoming a reality when you look at movies and TV shows that have come out these past few years. It has been reported that there is a huge diversity gap in sci-fi and fantasy films. Of the top-grossing sci-fi movies before 2015, 8% had protagonists of color (they were mostly Will Smith) and 0% of all protagonists were LGBT. Now 2015 was a while ago, but when you look at some new films from the last three years, there isn’t much of a change either.

Big examples of these sci-fi movies are Blade Runner (2017), Passengers (2016), Ad Astra (2019), and The Martian (2018). All having white, male lead-characters. Now that wouldn’t be much of a problem if there were important gay or POC side-characters. But there aren’t, or they’re killed off. What’s more is that these movies also have in common their heteronormative love-stories. Whether it’s the concerned-wife at home or the insta-love with a two-day span; when it’s the end of the world, a heterosexual lovestory is the most important.

Backlash
When sci-fi representation does happen, some people seem to be seething at the fact that Caucasians are not the center of attention anymore. Remember when the new Star-Trek TV show came out in 2017 and racist fans were calling it ‘’white genocide in space’’, only because the main character was a woman of color? Adding to the theme of space, Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) also received a lot of backlash because of its main characters of color. This also happened for basically every Star Wars reboot that has come out since 2015. Are people of color just not allowed in space?

Old habits die hard
One of the main reasons for this lack of diversity is that these movies and TV series are adaptations from old works from the previous century, like comics, books, and original films. And the people that wrote these stories were mostly heterosexual, Caucasian men, so it’s understandable that they would self-insert them into creating these main characters. 

Are we all to believe that the Star Trek Enterprise-leading space crew would consist of five straight white men (okay, one is alien) and only two people of color, taking place in the 2200s? What’s even worse is that they also made the only POC one a woman and the other one gay. Great for them, but were other white characters not available?

Marvel and DC – which could be argued as sci-fi – are also guilty of this with their plethora of well-layered, straight, white male lead-characters, and their endless side-kicks of color. These Marvel movies that we are seeing are just the remnants of these narratives created in those times. But we are beginning to see a change with more Black, Asian, and Latino superheroes as main characters, and also plans for an LGBT superhero!

Sci-fi is more than just a genre
What we need to be seeing – and what’s already happening – is more diversity in the writers’ room. Women, people of color, and people with different sexual orientations all enjoy this genre as well. Science-fiction is a feeling of ‘utopia’ and post-modernism, where your gender and skin color, doesn’t matter. We should have actual things to worry about in the future, like increasing technology or climate change. And that’s what people like about sci-fi: it lets us escape from all the racism, sexism, and homophobia plaguing our society currently. 

So, if futuristic sci-fi movies won’t feature more diverse characters and stories, then what does that say about these people now?

Cover: Alex Iby

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