Why Does a Minority Superhero Require a Minority Director?

By  · Published on April 3rd, 2015


Here’s something that, taken on its own, should merit nothing but a yeah, so? Luke Cage, the third of Marvel’s planned Netflix superhero pentalogy, just found itself a showrunner. That showrunner, Cheo Hodari Coker, is black. Say it with me now: yeah, so?

This time, add context. As a black filmmaker taking the lead on black superhero show, Coker’s the latest addition to a creeping trend in the comic book movie world: the minority superhero who requires a director/showrunner of the matching minority. There’s Coker. Melissa Rosenberg on A.K.A. Jessica Jones. Agent Carter, also a woman, has a ratio of two female showrunners to one male. Warner Bros was only interested in female directors for Wonder Woman; they eventually locked down Michelle MacLaren. Just last week, The Wrap’s Jeff Sneider scooped that Marvel was employing the same strategy to land themselves a female director on Captain Marvel. Even us regular folk outside the Hollywood system end up doing the same thing. Like that time Ava DuVernay mentioned that superhero movies were cool and sure, maybe she’d do one – and the public response was a near-unanimous shove towards Black Panther.

I hesitate to start jabbing my pointy outrage stick towards a trend where the end result is a net positive – greater diversity behind the camera in a genre that’s grown from large to giganto-huge and shows no signs of letting up (also, in an age where a couple hacky jokes from several years ago constitute a major media crisis, maybe there’s an argument for retiring our pointy outrage sticks altogether). But this is weird, right? In our frenzy to open up comic book movies to a broader group of filmmakers, we’ve created a funny kind of superhero segregation. At least that’s how it looks to me. We’re not hearing Marvel/DC wants a greater variety of directors across the board. We’re hearing Oh, a female superhero? THIS is the movie that needs a female director. Meanwhile, the women supremely qualified for, oh I don’t know, Spider-Man? Shit out of luck, I’m guessing.

Take MacLaren. She’s a smart fit for Wonder Woman (something I outlined back when she first got the gig). But- real talk here- she’s probably an even smarter fit somewhere else. Sure, MacLaren worked on Game of Thrones and Game of Thrones is about as Wonder Woman-y as TV gets right now (at least, the hard-edged, sword and sandals Wonder Woman I’m assuming we’ll end up with), but there’s no denying that her best work is all Breaking Bad. Not when MacLaren could turn a generic strip mall parking lot into a grim death arena in one of the most magnificent TV shootouts that will ever be.

What if you took the raw power in that scene- the unstoppable death machine presence of the Cousins, the oh fuck oh fuck I don’t want to die here fight or flight pushback from Hank – and amplified it to match Luke Cage? A character who could shrug off a 30mph SUV impact like it was nothing. How much more awesome would that scene be? MacLaren’s skill set would transpose nicely into The Punisher, too, if Marvel would get off their asses make an MCU Punisher something already (TV show, movie, series of GIFs, anything).

Same goes for DuVernay, who despite being both black and a woman, would probably be best suited for the probably-starring-Vin-Diesel Inhumans. At least if we’re going off Selma, which was rich in politics, power struggles and sudden, jarring violence – all stuff you’d want if your elevator pitch is “it’s like Game of Thrones, but in outer space.” And none of this will ever happen, because the current trends dictate that filmmakers are given superheroes that match their gender and ethnic background.

Granted, this whole director-protagonist matching game is a response to an even greater problem: the total absence of non-white non-men making superhero movies. And because I love scouring the Internet to create number-based factoids, I went ahead and gathered up every name that was every publicly in contention to helm a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie. 39 names in total, and of those 39, only four weren’t white men. If you’re curious: Guillermo del Toro for Thor (this movie desperately needs to exist), Pattie Jenkins for Thor: The Dark World (who officially signed on before leaving over “creative differences”), F. Gary Gray for Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Anna Boden, partnered with Ryan Fleck for Guardians of the Galaxy.

That isn’t just who got the job, it’s who was considered for the job (at least from who was discussed publicly). Minority filmmakers just aren’t getting the fair superhero shake they deserve. And that probably explains why everyone started cordoning off the female superheroes with the female directors and the black superheroes with the black directors. We’re better off than we were a few years ago, but I’m not sure this strategy will get us any farther than we are right now: a handful of minority filmmakers stuck in the corner making minority superhero movies while the majority still runs the show.

What would be great (and extremely unlikely) is if Hollywood could embrace total, world peace-level diversity. Cast a net out for filmmakers of every race, creed, color and gender, all the time, every time. It might be tough at first (like the inevitable barrage of pointy outrage sticks if a white filmmaker landed something like Black Panther), but eventually we’d reap the rewards: Thor: Ragnarok, directed by Guillermo del Toro. Because seriously. That movie desperately needs to exist.