The Legacy of Black Panther: Non-White Actors and Attention

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When Marvel released its Black Panther trailer, it immediately ranked among the studio’s three most-watched trailers ever. The trailer, which features a cast consisting primarily of non-white actors, generated such a buzz that the film is expected to make massive headway with regards to the representation of non-white characters – in a similar vein to DC’s representation of women in Wonder Woman, currently the highest grossing live-action film directed by a woman.

Whilst it is wonderful to see such studios as Marvel striving for representational equality, many studios and their publicists still relegate non-white actors to the background despite their fantastic careers and tremendous talent. Here are some actors who should get more attention both from the studios and the public.

John Boyega

Credit: Jeff Vespa

John Boyega is best known for playing Finn in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This year, his 2014 film Imperial Dreams – which won the Sundance Film Festival’s Audience Choice Award – finally debuted on Netflix and has been positively received, with Boyega being praised for his “knockout performance”. Boyega has also appeared in Netflix’s The Circle alongside Emma Watson and Tom Hanks, before returning to the West End to star in The Old Vic’s production of Woyzeck. Later this year, he is set to star in Kathryn Bigelow’s historical film Detroit as Dismukes, a real-life cop who found himself failed by the very system he was a part of during the 1967 Detroit riots.

A charismatic and grounded young man, Boyega is clearly passionate and enthusiastic about his work, and has earned his stripes as a capable actor with a bright future ahead of him.  For those reasons, he deserves our fullest attention.

Mahershala Ali

Mahershala Ali is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after actors in Hollywood for his extraordinarily diverse skillset and experience spanning across a wide array of film, television and theatre properties.

Credit: Henny Garfunkel

Making his big film debut as Tizzy in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), Ali has gone on to appear in A Place Beyond the Pines (2012), The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (2014—2015) as Boggs, and contenders for the 2016 Best Picture Oscar Hidden Figures and Moonlight. His performance as mentor Juan in Moonlight —which won Best Picture — brought him universal critical acclaim and earned him numerous awards and nominations, culminating in his Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, which made him the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar. In addition to his decorated film career, Ali has brought life to a range of television characters including lawyer/lobbyist Remy Danton in House of Cards (2013—2016), and Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes, a suave nightclub owner/kingpin with delusions of grandeur in Marvel’s Luke Cage (2016).

In many ways, it would be easier to list the properties Ali hasn’t appeared in. However, despite his critical acclaim, very little attention has been paid to his upcoming projects, and that is a shame. Ali is a fresh face in Hollywood and one of the most versatile actors working today, so it would be truly wonderful to see him continue to get the recognition he deserves.

Chloe Bennet

Credit: Tommaso Boddi

Known for her small-screen role on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Chloe Bennet has become a household name for Marvel geeks everywhere, and a beacon of hope for many non-white women wanting to break into the creative industry. Born Chloe Wang, Bennet is a Chinese American (which she clarified as English, Irish, Cherokee, Portuguese) who has spoken about her upbringing in a multi-racial household with her Chinese father, two black brothers, and one Filipino brother.

Before she wore Quake’s gauntlets and kicked butt with her Inhuman powers, Bennet had a successful career as a teenage popstar in China. Throughout her career, Bennet has used her fame as a platform to talk about the lack of racial diversity within the creative industry, speaking candidly about her experiences in Hollywood following her return from China. Many casting directors judged her by her looks, commenting that she was neither white enough for leading, roles nor Asian enough for Asian roles despite many studios often then giving these roles to white actors. In an interview, she recalled how her attitude during her early career often reflected that of casting directors:  “I remember agreeing, like, oh yeah, I’m not white enough for this part. This should go to the person who’s white.”

Her attitude has since changed having been cast as Skye, later known as the Inhuman Daisy Johnson/Quake, in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The show is noticeably diverse with characters, cast and crew all displaying different ethnicities, genders and sexualities. Bennet has praised the show’s writers, as her character has been written around her ethnicity (e.g. Daisy’s father is American, her mother is Chinese), thus enabling her to completely embrace who she is and her heritage.

To get where she is today, Bennet has had to work exceptionally hard to find her own strength and her voice within Hollywood. She is now a role-model for young women everywhere. Whilst her credits are still noticeably low (which she attributes to the rarity of ethnically ambiguous roles), Bennet has proven herself to be a talented and versatile actor. I would love to see Chloe take on a wide array of roles that, despite living in an ‘enlightened age’, are still unavailable to her. She is a fantastic actor and role-model and deserves more than just type-casting and ignorance.

In fact, there are so many other non-white actors who deserve way more than that, and it’s high time studios woke up and did right by these talented, passionate, versatile individuals. Black Panther will definitely be a step in the right direction, yet there is still a long way to go.

Black Panther is due to be released in cinemas on the 9th February  2018. Watch the trailer below.

 

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Graduate in Film and an MA student in Creative Writing. Avid reader of YA novels. Cosplayer. Storyteller. Netflixer. Browncoat. Bucketlist includes flying an X-Wing, completing a novel, and working with Joss Whedon and Michelle Fairley.

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