A White Man’s Chance

[cross-posted at POT]

I keep seeing people online complaining that superhero movies and tv shows are now completely dominated by women and minorities.

So let’s take a peek at what domination looks like. Here are the stats from the past 20 years. (In some cases assigning a show to a particular category was a judgment call, open to reasonable challenge; but the overall shape of the info seems clear enough.)

Superhero / comic-book shows, Marvel or DC only, live-action only, tv-shows or theatrical movies only, 2000-present only:

One lead, white male:
Smallville (2001-2011)
Spider-Man (2002)
Daredevil (movie; 2003)
Hulk (2003)
The Punisher (movie; 2004)
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Constantine (movie; 2005)
Batman Begins (2005)
Superman Returns (2006)
Ghost Rider (2007)
Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Iron Man (2008)
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Punisher: War Zone (2008)
The Dark Knight (2008)
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Jonah Hex (2010)
Constantine (tv series; 2014-2015)
Human Target (2010-2011)
Green Lantern (2011)
Thor (2011)
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011)
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
Arrow (2012-present)
Iron Man 3 (2013)
The Wolverine (2013)
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Man of Steel (2013)
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
The Flash (2014-present)
Ant-Man (2015)
Daredevil (tv series; 2015-18)
Preacher (2015-2019)
Deadpool (2016)
Doctor Strange (2016)
Lucifer (2016-present)
Logan (2017)
Iron Fist (2017-2018) [for season 1]
The Punisher (tv series; 2017-2019)
Legion (2017-2019)
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Deadpool 2 (2018)
Venom (2018)
Krypton (2018-2019)
Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)
Shazam! (2019)
Joker (2019)
Pennyworth (2019-present)

Mixed ensemble, leader(s) white and male:
X-Men (2000)
Mutant X (2001-2004)
X-Men 2 (2003)
Fantastic Four (2005)
X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)
Watchmen (movie; 2009)
X-Men: First Class (2011)
The Avengers (2012)
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013-present) [for seasons 1-5]
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Gotham (2014–2019)
Guardians of the Galaxy (2015)
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Fantastic Four (reboot; 2015)
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
Legends of Tomorrow (2016-present) [for season 1]
Justice League (2017)
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017)
Inhumans (2017)
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Avengers: Endgame (2019)
The Boys (2019-present)
Titans (2019-present)
Doom Patrol (2019-present)

One lead, white but not male:
Elektra (2005)
Agent Carter (2015-2016)
Jessica Jones (2015-2019)
iZombie (2015-2019)
Supergirl (2015-present)
Wonder Woman (2017)
Captain Marvel (2019)
Batwoman (2019-present)

One lead, male but not white:
Blade II (2002)
Blade: Trinity (2004)
Blade: The Series (2006)
Luke Cage (2016-2018)
Black Panther (2018)
Aquaman (2018)
Black Lightning (2018-present)

One lead, neither white nor male:
Catwoman (2004)

Two leads, both white and male:
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Two leads, one white and male, one white but not male:
Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

Two leads, one white and male, one neither:
Iron Fist (2017-2018) [for season 2]
Swamp Thing (2019)

Two leads, one white but not male, one male but not white:
Cloak & Dagger (2017-2019)

Three leads, all white but not male:
Birds of Prey (2002-2003)

Mixed ensemble, leader(s) white but not male:
Legends of Tomorrow (2016-present) [for season 2 onward]
Powerless (2017)

Mixed ensemble, leader(s) male but not white:
Runaways (2017-present)

Mixed ensemble, leader(s) neither white nor male:
Watchmen (tv series; 2019)

Mixed ensemble, one leader white and male, one white but not male:
X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)

Mixed ensemble, one leader male and one not, neither one white:
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013-present) [for seasons 6-7]

Mixed ensemble, no clear leader(s) :
Suicide Squad (2016)
The Defenders (2017)
The Gifted (2017-2019)

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9 Responses to A White Man’s Chance

  1. Brandon October 26, 2019 at 7:26 am #

    I wondered about the strange choices made in the MCU Spider-Man flicks, since it would seem to be undisguised pandering, but it turns out Sony can’t allow Marvel to use any of the canonical versions of most of the SM supporting characters, for instance Mary Jane Watson, Aunt May, Flash Thompson et al. due to a complicated agreement between Marvel and Sony. This is why the supporting Spider-Verse characters are so emphatically non-canonical. The details are here: https://youtu.be/CzjsEsdmYNk?t=640

    • Roderick October 26, 2019 at 7:36 pm #

      Right, but of course I don’t agree that, were it not for the legal restrictions, those choices would be pandering. On the contrary, it seems to me that it’s not the casting diversity for supporting characters, but rather the careful avoidance of casting diversity for the lead characters, that would be better described as pandering, i.e. to white fans.

      • Brandon October 27, 2019 at 10:48 am #

        I’m a bit puzzled by the objection you’re making. In my view, canon should be immutable, so that means no retconning history for any reason. Adding new things would be fine as long as the established facts about the characters are not deleted.

        When it comes to casting, I would not be in favour of a black Superman, a white John Shaft, or an East Indian Sulu, regardless if the reasoning has to do with pandering to blue checkmarks or adherence to contracts drawn up by bloodsucking lawyers.

        The fact that many characters in the western canon are white does not stop anyone from creating new characters that aren’t.

        I was not in favour of the “Winter Soldier” storyline, partly because of the fact that the writer, who may otherwise be excellent, had to turn Bucky Barnes into a cold blooded killer in WW2 (pre-Winter Soldier). Mark Gruenwald said in the 1970s or 1980s that it was Marvel’s position that Cap and Bucky didn’t kill anyone in WW2 — not even German or Italian soldiers (he said so in the letters page in one of the issues. I have about 200 Cap back issues). That may today seem naive and silly, but I would hold with it regardless. I guess I should check out a few issues of the ongoing Invaders series to see if they’ve also turned Cap, Namor, and Toro and the Torch into killers.

        In sum, I am not in favour of changing canon by retconning, which is addition by subtraction. I am in favour of adding to canon by creating new characters, while keeping the extant canon unchanged. On this issue, I guess I’m an arch-conservative. I guess you’d reject everything I’ve said, or most of it?

        Edit: I should have stipulated a black Clark Kent, since a black Superman who is not Clark Kent would be adding to canon without subtracting from it.

        • Roderick October 27, 2019 at 10:40 pm #

          Well, when dealing with comic-book characters, especially ones that have been around as long as Superman, Batman, and Captain America have been, and have been written by many different authors, retconning seems an inherent part of the genre. If we were to stick to the original canon, then, for example, characters like Batman and Lois Lane would now be either dead or incredibly old, or else all their stories would have to still be set during the 1940s. And Batman would still use a gun, and live in New York rather than Gotham; and he would still punish women by spanking them; and Two-Face would still be Harvey Kent rather than Harvey Dent; and Lex Luthor would be a foreigner with a full head of hair, etc.

          When it comes to characters whose stories are told by many different authors of different sensibilities over many decades, I think of them as being more like the mediaeval legends of Tristan and Isolde, which vary greatly from author to author. I’m glad that both the dark and gritty Frank Miller Batman and the goofy Adam West Batman exist, even though there’s no possible way to reconcile them.

        • Roderick October 27, 2019 at 10:45 pm #

          If it makes you feel better, you can think of all the different versions as happening on different worlds within the same multiverse, as the CW Arrowverse shows are now doing by retroactively incorporating Smallville, Birds of Prey, the 1990 Flash, etc., or as Into the Spider-verse did with all the previous Spider-Man movies. That way every retcon is really an addition to canon, not a subtraction from it.

        • Brandon October 28, 2019 at 1:41 pm #

          Floating timelines don’t bother me because they’re conventional in fiction. Altering details early in a character’s existence before they’ve become stabilized and entrenched by decades of recapitulation bother me very little. John Byrne made important and nontrivial changes to Superman’s canon in 1987 although Byrne is an advocate for my side in this if there ever was one. The changes were meant to return Superman to a state to which the reader could easier relate, and to supply a back story and motive to Lex Luthor where none had previously existed. Byrne also retold the origin story for Doom while working on FF, changing some details without fundamentally changing Doom, indeed only extending the qualities that had become part of Doom’s character over the years back into his past, thus strengthening him.

          You wouldn’t think remaking Golden Gun with Christopher Lee as Nick Nack and Herve Villechaize as Scaramanga would be a good idea in a film that was not intended ironically?

        • Roderick October 29, 2019 at 1:10 am #

          Villechaize isn’t a good enough actor. But, e.g., Peter Dinklage, sure.

        • Brandon October 29, 2019 at 10:21 am #

          How about a Trump biopic where Judy Garland plays Trump, and Denzel Washington plays Melania? Also, Busby Berkeley could set up some musical numbers, including “Lock her up”, “Drain the swamp”, and “I’ve grown accustomed to your fake news”.

        • Roderick October 30, 2019 at 12:51 am #

          It couldn’t be worse than the show we’re actually watching.

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