It’s recently been announced that F. Gary Gray, director of Straight Outta Compton is being looked at to direct upcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe film Black Panther, the first film in that universe to have a black character in the lead role. Ok, sounds good, Straight Outta Compton was a pretty decent film, he handled a large roster of characters well, and built drama nicely. Who was the other person they were looking at to potentially direct that film again? Ava DuVernay. Ok, she directed Selma, a film I didn’t personally like, but I’m pretty much alone in thinking that way, as it got a lot of critical acclaim, and many people were shocked how little consideration it got during awards season. So what do both of these directors have in common? I’m just going to come straight out with it, they’re both black.
Is that an issue? No, of course it isn’t. But there is a bit of an issue here. How many black directors have Marvel hired to date? Or even spoken to? While I can’t be 100% sure about that second question, the answer to the first one is none. Is anybody prepared to say that there’s no link between a) Black Panther being a black character, and b) the first two black directors they’ve spoken to both being considered for that black character. Continuing with the subtlety that I’ve displayed so far, I have the ask the question: are they only in consideration because they’re black?
Without wanting to be a pessimist, it would be hard not to answer this question with a yes. I agree with the vast majority of people in thinking that there is a diversity issue in Hollywood, particularly behind the camera, but this kind of discrimination (which when you think about it is exactly what this is) can only negatively impact everybody involved.
Firstly, audiences. As an audience member, who would you prefer to have directing a film you’re excited to see, somebody who has a great track record and a great idea for the film, for somebody who is ‘appropriate’ because of their gender or ethnicity? That’s not to say that somebody can’t be both, that would be stupid, but there are definitely people who are better suited. Personally, I do think F. Gary Gray would make a good Black Panther film, but that’s because he’s made some solid action and drama films in the past, NOT because he makes what some people would call ‘black’ films.
Secondly, the film’s they’re making. Much like for audiences, these films deserve the very best directors, who are the most appropriate for the properties they’re adapting. Once again I’ll say this doesn’t mean that this can’t be a black director for a ‘black’ film, that would be stupid, but, keeping with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the directors they’re chosen so far have usually been a good fit, and not someone who makes sense socially. For example, they’ve been picking a lot of comedy directors recently, because they have a strong comedic vibe in most of their films. F. Gary Gray doesn’t really have that vibe in his filmography, Friday aside.
Finally, the directors themselves. Now I completely understand that people want to tell the stories that they’re interested in, and the stories that effect them the most, but there is a line where telling stories you’re interested in, becomes being typecast or stereotyped into a certain genre. If F. Gary Gray chooses to make Black Panther next, he’s going to be known as that guy who makes ‘black’ films. If it had been Ava DuVernay, it would’ve been the same thing. If Marvel are truly confident in him as a director, why not give him Inhumans? Something else Straight Outta Compton did well was the relationships between characters, so that could translate very well.
I feel like I’m repeating myself a lot but let me be clear, I’m not saying that somebody black should not direct a film starring black people, the same way I don’t think women shouldn’t direct a film starring women, I’m just trying to say that choosing a director should be a colour-blind choice.
Wouldn’t it be great if all directors were chosen because of their talent, and their fit with a project?
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