As off 2019, the two biggest cultural phenomena of the year were Avengers: Endgame and the final season of Game of Thrones. Both the film and television series pushed the boundaries of how stories could be told in a visual medium.
Unfortunately, for all that GoT and Avengers got right, they got a whole lot wrong too.
Hollywood has had issues with its portrayal of people of color as long as Hollywood has been around (insert reference to Birth of a Nation). While we’ve made tremendous strides in these regards, it still seems like the biggest pop culture pieces have some catching up to do.
Throughout the eleven year run of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there’s been a clear struggle in how to portray their non-white characters. However, this isn’t for a lack of trying. Black Panther was a groundbreaking film that pushed Hollywood forward with respect to the representation of Black characters.
Although, for all that Marvel got right with Black Panther, they got a whole lot more wrong in pretty much every other movie — especially in their latest installment.
In Endgame, Black characters, even the mighty King T’Challa, are relegated to sidekicks and background characters. Their sole purpose in the film is to prop up the white male superheroes, who ultimately get to save the day, take all the credit, and live happily ever after. Well, I guess Tony Stark doesn’t get that last one, but you get the point.
The sidekick role isn’t just for Black characters. Other non-white characters serve as the trusted right-hand man for superhero buddies across the MCU. Luis in Antman, Wong in Dr. Strange, and Ned in Spider-Man: Homecoming all fill the role of the funny ethnic best friend of white heroes.
While Marvel has done an admirable job in including characters of color, they fall short of fully developing them as interesting characters that fans can identify with. With the exception of Killmonger in Black Panther, they are for the most part one dimensional characters with poor arches and very little agency.
It’s easy to understand the difficulty in developing secondary characters in an overcrowded and highly ambitious cinematic universe, but it is still extremely disheartening to continuously see characters of color boxed into lazy tropes and unfulfilling roles.
Then there’s GoT, where non-white characters are essentially nonexistent. Countless arguments have been why the show chose to handle this issue the way that they did — all of them more nonsensical than the last.
In a fantasy world with dragons, snow zombies, a dude who turns into ravens, and motherf*cking face swapping assassin moves, you would think there would be some room for non-white characters. With the exception of the Dothraki, a nomadic group of warriors, and the Unsullied, a race of slaves, everyone on the show is white.
The heinous nature of these being the only representations of people of color are fairly self-evident. The showrunners would have been better off just making the entire show white.
Not only are these representations extremely disturbing, but these characters also suffer from similar treatment to that of the characters in the Marvel movies. They are secondary characters who are not afforded the same levels of depth or development that characters like Jon Snow, Arya Stark, Tyrion Lannister, or even Daenerys Targaryen are allowed.
Ultimately, Game of Thrones and the Avengers franchise fell short in giving fans the satisfaction of getting to know interesting and well-rounded characters of color. Works like these should be held to a higher standard with these regards.
The most disappointing thing about the poor representation of people of color in these works is the support that different minority communities have demonstrated to them. Countless people in the community are huge fans of both Games of Thrones and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The creators and producers of shows and films like these owe it to ALL of their fans to represent characters of all backgrounds equally and fairly. Until that happens consistently, it’s on us to continue to call them out on these shortcomings.