Where are the vis­i­ble-mi­nor­ity heroines?

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - DAVID FRIEND

TORONTO — “Doc­tor Who” fan Melissa Perez was ex­cited to hear one of her favourite TV se­ries had picked a woman for the lead­ing role.

But she couldn’t deny feel­ing a lit­tle dis­ap­pointed.

Even though the cast­ing of lauded Bri­tish ac­tress Jodie Whit­taker is widely con­sid­ered a step in the right di­rec­tion for the show, Perez points out she’s also an­other white hero­ine in a genre that has al­ready em­braced many.

“I see peo­ple talk­ing about how we’ve come so far and how roles for women have im­proved so much. And then I look at the ex­am­ples they give,” says Perez, who iden­ti­fies as Afro-Latina.

“All the char­ac­ters are white — they’re white women.”

Sci­ence fic­tion and fan­tasy gen­res have no bound­aries for sto­ry­telling and yet racial di­ver­sity among fe­male leads is a line few writ­ers or pro­duc­ers have crossed.

Whether it’s Won­der Woman, the cast of “Game of Thrones,” the heroines Rey and Jyn in “Star Wars” films, or fe­male-led TV se­ries “Van Hels­ing” and “Wynonna Earp,” there are plenty of ex­am­ples that prove vis­i­ble mi­nori­ties are widely ab­sent from the list of mod­ern heroines.

“You can have drag­ons and magic ... but hav­ing any­one that’s not white is go­ing too far,” Perez adds.

It took 36 sea­sons and 12 doc­tors be­fore “Doc­tor Who” cre­ators gave their char­ac­ter — who fre­quently re­gen­er­ates into the bod­ies of new ac­tors — the free­dom to emerge with the phys­i­cal traits of a woman. So it’s not sur­pris­ing that many fe­male view­ers are tread­ing care­fully when they crit­i­cize or ques­tion what’s be­ing per­ceived as progress.

Ash­ley Lynch hopes more women will work be­hind the cam­eras at the TV se­ries as well. She says it’s en­cour­ag­ing to see Whit­taker in the lead­ing role, but if “Doc­tor Who” in­tends to ex­plore new realms and dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter dy­nam­ics, it needs more fe­male in­put.

“It’s one thing to have that face,” says the Burn­aby, B.C., fan, who works in the post­pro­duc­tion in­dus­try on re­al­ity shows like “Un­told Sto­ries of the ER.”

“But take a look at ‘Jessica Jones,’ which is a fe­male-driven show — fe­male writ­ers, di­rec­tors and show run­ner. If you don’t have that di­ver­sity of voices you’re re­ally miss­ing out and pro­duc­ing some­thing that’s a lot more my­opic.”

Univer­sity of Ok­la­homa as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor Lisa Fun­nell can quan­tify some of the evo­lu­tion within the in­dus­try. Last year, the Hamilton-born Fun­nell had to re­work her “Fe­male Hero­ism in Hol­ly­wood” course to ad­dress the emer­gence of in­flu­en­tial new char­ac­ters in “Mad Max: Fury Road” and the “Star Wars” movies.

“We’re grow­ing up in an era where it’s not just a princess that I can look to as my hero,” she says.

Fun­nell points to the up­com­ing se­ries “Star Trek: Dis­cov­ery” as one show that could fi­nally el­e­vate two vis­i­ble mi­nori­ties into piv­otal roles.

“Based on the trailer, the se­ries cen­tres on two women of colour — Capt. Ge­or­giou, played by Michelle Yeoh, and Cmdr. Burn­ham, played by Sonequa Martin-Green — who lead the ex­pe­di­tion,” she says.

“When the trailer talks about fol­low­ing your des­tiny, it is speak­ing di­rectly about th­ese two women. This is a se­ries to look out for.”

Scott Hen­der­son, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at Brock Univer­sity, looks for­ward to more con­ver­sa­tion about di­ver­sity and women on main­stream tele­vi­sion.

“To me th­ese are nec­es­sary changes — it’s 2017 now and this is what we ex­pect,” he says. “We don’t need to have this kind of di­vide.”


Jodie Whit­taker is the 13th Doc­tor Who.

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