Kate McL. sent us a link to this comic commenting on Hollywood casting and race.
Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Louisa — September 12, 2009
Or sometimes, the darkest skin type will be the magical negro trope.
John Stark — September 13, 2009
This comic is making a connection that doesn't exist. You'd be hard press to find a recent, non-historical film where the villain is black or dark skinned. Let's look at some of the most popular film of 2008/2009 where there is a clear human villain:
Harry Potter 6: White villain
Star Trek: White villain
Wolverine: White villains
G.I. Joe: White villains
Taken: White villains
Angels and Demons: White villain
Watchmen: White villain
Dark Knight: White villains
Iron Man: White villains
Hancock: White villain
Twilight: White villains
Quantum of Solace: White villains
Gran Torino: Asian villains
Incredible Hulk: White villain
Wanted: Black villain, we finally have a winner
This comic holds no water, but says what you want to hear.
Tamar — September 13, 2009
Less graphically visible but also very noticeable is the fact that the villain has, more often than not, some sort of a "foreign" accent - the classic villain is British, German, Italian, Arab - anything but having a plain neutral American accent. True, there are some movies where both the villain and the hero are White Americans with "plain" accent.
A challenge: find me a movie where the hero has a "foreign" accent and the villain the plain American one (not Zohan-style comedies).
Tamar — September 13, 2009
@ John Stark,
I haven't seen most of these films, and I must agree that while the caricature itself is anachronistic (and in anyway, Hollywood race relations are not Black and White - please save this pun for my paper on the subject...), *my* point still stands:
G.I. Joe - character played by Christopher Eccleston (British), with English accent
Taken - some Albanian (or Kosovar, whatever, foreign) gang, and it happens in France, a country full of frog-eating-foreigners, an Arab sheik "buys" the girl
Angels and Demons - The Vatican, Italians, and other foreign-accented people
Hulk - Russian born British officer (two in the price of one!)
Watchman - Adrian Veidt - British (Tom Goode) actor playing a villain originating from a European country (Germany?)
Hancock - villain is played by a British actor
Quantum of Solace - "foreign" accent (French actor)
By the way, in Star Trek, the villain is Romulan, not "White"-White.
I think that I hit the jackpot, especially given the fact that Harry Potter has an almost all-British cast.
Adam — September 13, 2009
I think this comic works if you make a distinction between arch-villains and their lackeys. Yes, most of the time heroes are white men and most of the time the main villains are white men with foreign accents or some sort of otherness made obvious. It's pretty common for their lackeys to be people of color, though. And I think it's important that the assumption here is that only white men (however other) are intelligent enough to mastermind evil plans--that middle class America will not as readily accept the fact that a person of color could come up with some complex plot. People of color can be their lackeys and get killed in funny ways for comic relief, but they generally aren't in charge.
I'm sure you could find more exceptions to this than have been mentioned, but I feel like as a general rule it holds up pretty well.
Titanis walleri — September 13, 2009
In a lot of cases, dark skin is just another expression of the association of darkness with evil. You see lots of villains *themed* darker than the heroes (darker and/or more sinister-looking clothes, evil-sounding names, etc).
Villains also, interestingly, tend to have more features that are coded "evil" (or at least "sinister" or "untrustworthy"). It's most obvious with animal characters, since their features allow more exaggeration than ours (think of how Scar from the Lion King has a much longer, narrower face than the other lion characters, for example).
opminded — September 13, 2009
Does this mean Will Smith is White.... ???
Andrew — September 13, 2009
re -"In a lot of cases, dark skin is just another expression of the association of darkness with evil. You see lots of villains *themed* darker than the heroes"
If it weren't for the comic's reference to "casting," I think it would actually be a good expression of what you're talking about with theming. You notice the use of dark colors to signify evil in Western films even more when contrasting them to similar Asian films, which often have very different associations with color. Red, especially - it's an ominous color in American and British mise en scène, used sparingly for a jarring effect, but it's used heavily to suggest vitality and sensuality (plus millions of other things) in the cinema of Asia, Latin America, and much of Europe.
re -" And I think it’s important that the assumption here is that only white men (however other) are intelligent enough to mastermind evil plans–that middle class America will not as readily accept the fact that a person of color could come up with some complex plot."
You'd think middle class America's 9/11 narrative would shatter that assumption!
But I think there's quite a lot more to it. Because of the frustrations of the times, villains in a lot of current movies (for example, anything with George Clooney in it) are corporate executives, politicians, sleazy attorneys, or just plain Nazis. They're largely typecast as white because, well, a hugely disproportionate number of their real-life counterparts are also white. Audiences like to project their fantasies about real-life "villains" being defeated by the Everyman, and in that scenario a nonwhite arch-villain is not as effective. The "incompetent nonwhite crime syndicate/terror cell" cliche may be what you're thinking of, but when that one is deployed the mastermind tends to be the same color/nationality as the disposable lackeys.
When a black lead villain takes on a "good" white lead (think Denzel in "Training Day" and "American Gangster," or Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin, all hugely acclaimed roles) he is likely to be more of an antihero, anchoring the audience's interest and making the ostensible hero appear bland and ineffectual in contrast. There's a lot that can be debated about how this reads in our thoughts on race, but I don't think the last generation's blacks-are-buffoons stereotype is the right fit.
Also, a black villain is far more likely to appear in a film with at least one black hero. That's just covering the bases; they don't bother to cast black actors in high-profile roles if they're not angling for the *cough* "urban" market.
Jesse — September 13, 2009
If you really care about evaluating the validity of a hypothesis, you need to think about potential counterexamples. It is very common for people to just run through examples that confirm the hypothesis -- this is known as "confirmation bias."
It's actually not that hard to come up with movies with heroes played by black actors or British actors. Nor is it the case that diabolical plots can only be thought up by white characters. One incredibly popular action hero had a very funny accent and is now governor of California.
That's not to say that racial stereotypes don't show up everywhere in Hollywood. But if you want to test your theory, you need to actually try to prove that it's false.
Peter Merholz — September 13, 2009
Agreed that this comic is bullshit that plays to left-leaning sympathies (and I say this as an avowed liberal). Hollywood has been afraid of villain-izing darker skinned folks for a while (well, Arabs are an exception). The most common villain in movies always has been, and continues to be, the white rich businessman (going back to at least Mr. Potter in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, if not before).
I think the thing that upsets me most about Sociological Images is that it us hung up on a remarkably narrow range of commentary, commentary only barely suitable for introductory graduate seminars.
Blogwhoring… « random babble… — September 14, 2009
[...] Sociological Images: Race, Movies, Good, and [...]
ow — July 12, 2010
It's true that there are plenty of white villains; but you also have to look at what kind of villains they are. One of my favorite things to note is how cop procedurals handle race and the criminals.
Most of the time, if a criminal is in any way cunning, or had some thought out reason of passion to commit a crime, that criminal is white. If the criminal is just out to do violence with nothing other than say a gang initiation or blind rage as motive, that criminal is of color. No, this doesn't happen 1005 of the time, but it happens enough for it to be pretty noticeable. And with so many cop shows on TV, this is reinforced at least a couple of times every night on most major channels.