#3. Non-Heterosexual Characters Either Die or Are Murderers
A few decades ago, it was still extremely rare to see gay or bisexual characters in movies, and if you did, they were never acknowledged as such -- you just knew it because they all acted like raging queens. Today, things are different, and Hollywood is more open to gay characters ... as long as they die or are psychopaths.
Seriously: Think about all the movies where the gay character ends up dead. First there are the obvious examples, like Milk and Boys Don't Cry, which are based on real-life hate crimes, so those get a pass ... but what about Brokeback Mountain, or Philadelphia, or A Single Man? Or the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where they spent two and a half seasons setting up one of the most healthy and complex lesbian relationships in the history of television, and then randomly killed one of the women and made the other murderously psychotic, abruptly fulfilling both stereotypes out of goddamn nowhere.
They go from "hugging" to "flaying a man alive" in one commercial break.
Then you have movies like Pulp Fiction and The Silence of the Lambs, where the only gay characters are murderously enforcing their gayness upon the straight folks and must die. There's also Basic Instinct, The Talented Mr. Ripley and Jennifer's Body, which use non-heterosexual tendencies as an explicit signal that a character is about to get stabby. Obviously there are plenty of movies with gay characters who aren't violent or dead, but the fact that this is even a thing is still troubling.
Gimp suit troubling.
So What's the Deal?
Simply put, killing gays is Hollywood's way of being progressive.
From the '80s to the early '90s, there was definitely a tendency to use gay characters as villains, from the gay serial killer in Cruising to the evil lesbian vampire in The Hunger. But then in 1995, the highly influential documentary The Celluloid Closet pointed out this problem, and its release coincided with a series of protests about the depiction of gay people in movies like The Silence of the Lambs and JFK (where a gay conspiracy is responsible for killing Kennedy).
Hollywood caved to the pressure and began including more non-psychotic gay characters, but only in supporting roles -- author Brent Hartinger argues that today, non-heterosexual characters are more likely to die simply because they are rarely the protagonist. Harting even points out that within a period of a few weeks in 2010, the shows Spartacus: Blood and Sand, Big Love, Law & Order: SVU and NCIS: Los Angeles all killed off minor characters who happened to be gay.
And to fulfill yet another stereotype, two were hung.
If a movie or show has to kill someone, obviously they'll go for the least important person, i.e., Willow's girlfriend in Buffy. So, in that sense, gay is the new black.
#2. Anything (Including Death) Is Better Than Being Disabled
In movie universes, there's two ways to get disabled: Either you get a sweet superpower out of it, like Daredevil, or it makes you absolutely miserable for the rest of your life. One of the most infamous examples is Million Dollar Baby, which ends with (spoilers) the protagonist becoming a quadriplegic and Clint Eastwood euthanizing her because, you know, what's the point of living like that? Never mind the fact that millions of people do just that every day.
Man, Clint Eastwood really hates chairs.
But this also manifests in subtler ways: Take the character of John Locke in Lost, a paraplegic who would rather stay on a remote island filled with smoke monsters, displaced fauna and all sorts of crazy bullshit because he can walk there, which many actual paraplegics found offensive. Something similar happens in Avatar, where the paraplegic protagonist leaves his entire life behind and travels across the universe to get a shot at walking again in the body of a blue alien. There may be other reasons why he made that decision, but they don't really tell us because "he can't walk" is enough.
"Actually, I just wanted a couple of extra inches down there."
Lots of times, the disability exists as something for the characters to overcome and show that they've changed: In The Goonies, when Mikey throws away his inhaler, we're supposed to understand that he's a stronger person for not needing it. What it's really showing is that Mikey is going to end up in the hospital if he doesn't get a replacement soon, because asthma is a goddamn medical condition. The people still using their inhalers aren't doing it because they're not brave enough to have their Mikey moment.
So What's the Deal?
Showing someone using sheer willpower to overcome something is a great character arc, and Hollywood applies that to everything, from learning kung fu despite being an overweight panda to "beating" a real-world disability. The problem is, this arc has some tragic implications for the real-world people who come out with the message that they are "too weak" to overcome their disabilities.
"The fact that your spine isn't regenerating says a lot about your supposed 'bravery,' Timmy."
The result is that moviegoers think that disabilities are way worse than they actually are, and filmmakers have to cater to that: For example, while filming an episode of Dollhouse where Eliza Dushku was blind, the producers brought in an actual blind woman to show the actress how to move and get around, but the result was that "she didn't look blind," and they had to make her act clumsier so the audience would buy it.
In the end, they just showed her a bunch of Mr. Magoo episodes.
Even in Avatar, real paraplegics thought that Sam Worthington's character was making way too much effort transferring from his chair, but that's the way we're used to seeing it in movies. It's a vicious cycle, and it isn't going to stop until either Hollywood wises up or people with disabilities stop living happy, fulfilling lives.
#1. In Fantasy Movies, Everyone Has to Be White
You've probably noticed this before, but there are no black characters in The Lord of the Rings. The only black actors involved in the movies are covered under 3-and-a-half inches of makeup.
The same approach they took with the black characters in Friends.
But, you know, those movies are based on books written in the '40s ... so how about something a little more recent, like Game of Thrones? Well ...
That lady in the middle is winning the game.
The only non-white characters that have shown up so far are the Dothraki (who in the show at least are more like mocha) and a couple of shady foreigners who come to the land of rich white folks to take their women and their throne.
Or both at the same time, if possible.
Then you have The Chronicles of Narnia, where the only black character is a monster. The Harry Potter movies, on the other hand, do have black characters, like that one kid who announces the Quidditch matches, and, you know ... that other kid ...
Does Gary Oldman's character count?
So What's the Deal?
It's all Tolkien's fault, basically. Most fantasy is still pretty heavily based on the stuff Tolkien came up with, and even though he was pretty vehemently anti-racist in his life, he's still a product of his era: Because of him, when we think "fantasy," we think "white people with British accents dealing with savages and fighting monsters."
A good example of Tolkien's influence is the fact that the characters in Game of Thrones speak in British accents ... even though George R. R. Martin is from New Jersey.
Which does explain this douchebag.
This problem is a lot more noticeable in the adaptations than the books themselves because in TV and films, everything has to be standardized -- just like there's a special type of lighting that screams "THIS IS A SOAP OPERA," fantasy shows need to follow a certain aesthetic, and part of it involves "everyone is white." The Thrones books do have non-white characters, but so far they've been almost entirely written out of the show. On the other hand, the two shady black guys we mentioned before are white in the books ... and coincidentally, they have a much bigger role there.
And then there's the opposite scenario: Here's Harry Potter's classmate Lavender Brown as shown in the first five movies ...
... and here she is in the sixth movie, where she gets a bigger role and hooks up with Harry's friend Ron. Notice any differences?
"I suddenly require much, much more sunscreen."
Now, in the early movies she was just a background character with no lines, so there's a chance that the producers didn't even notice that her role had been cast before. Also, her race isn't described in the books. However, isn't it a little telling that when she was a minor character they said "Sure, let's make her black," but when she became important they automatically assumed that she was white?
Again, that's because this is the default mode for a fantasy movie: White people with British accents, fighting monsters.
For more things that Hollywood needs to let go off, check out 6 Groups Who Don't Work as Movie Bad Guys Anymore and 5 Old-Timey Prejudices That Still Show Up in Every Movie.
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