Hollywood has a diversity problem. It’s not the one the industry attempts to tackle every time a “race” issue crops up. On the surface, the job is getting done. Like marketing teams scrambling to make sure that there are black and brown faces in the background crowds and on the film posters. I’ll admit that an impressive amount of melanin graces screens everywhere in every theater these days.
I am here for it.
Films released in 2021, no matter what the genre may be, have a range of skin tones and even genders. Army of the Dead delivers in this way. The film offers a range of melanated goodness in addition to a range of ethnicities and the inclusion of different depictions of women. Not all are girly and femme. There’s even some LGBTQ representation. Nevertheless, in his quest to make a diverse film, AOTD director Zack Snyder made the same mistake that the entire industry made in their quest for greater diversity. He forgot about Black women.
The Lack of Black Women Is a Problem
When I posted about my theory online, I immediately got those “Well actually” messages that come whenever you bring up race and Zack Snyder films. The excuses ranged from, “he can’t cast everybody,” to “we don’t know about the casting choices,” and “how do you know what he was looking for?” These excuses miss the point and here’s how. Think of the film like a bag of M&M’s. Imagine opening that bag to find every color but green. When this happens, what are we all thinking/knowing? That someone/something messed up at the M&M factory right? But, instead of getting an apology from the factory for the mixed up, I get excuses that are the equivalent of blaming the design of the M&M bag, or the factory meant to have a pack without the green ones.
Who does NOT want green M&Ms? What sense does that make?
That’s what the excuses to my tweet sound like. They are factually wrong. Black women are a prominent part of American society. That’s not just my opinion. Black women are 12.9% of the population. Latinas are 18%. Asians are 5% (that includes India and the Philippines). So, if the people we see in movies are supposed to be representative of our country, then the AOTD heist team should have at least one Black woman in it. Saying that the director had another vision for the ensemble is just another way of saying that he did not “see” Black women in his vision of a good heist team. That’s even worse.
Do you see how that’s worse?
AOTD has a Black Women Problem and So Does Hollywood
It’s also not a good time to forget about Black women, and yet Hollywood has. Army of the Dead offers a perfect example of how this flew under the radar. And, it’s not the only film in 2021 to do so. With the exception of films made with predominantly Black casts (the “Black Films” like Coming 2 America, Concrete Cowboy, Billie Holiday, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), no other popular film released so far this year had a prominent Black woman character.
Unlike many of these films, AOTD at least has a prominent Black man with Omari Hardwick and some strong Latinx representation which includes Ana de la Reguera and Raul Castillo. There’s also Indian actress Huma Qureshi, Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada, and of course Greek Filipino actor Dave Bautista. Tig Notaro and others even bring LGBTQ representation. All of these actors come together to make the cast more diverse than most. However, there are no other Black women in the film–aside from a few background characters, like Daisy Davis who is credited as “Refugee #1”.
We cannot continue to call Army of the Dead a diverse film with a diverse cast because it isn’t. In fact, maybe the industry needs to retire the word until we can have a meeting on what it really means. Right now, no one gets it.
The Wrong Time to Leave Us Out
The Army of the Dead film released at a time when the entire industry is under a magnifying glass. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association is currently in denial of its problem with diversity. It seems that every other week, The LA Times quotes an HFPA member declaring the group diverse as-is (before invoking “cancel culture” and other cop-outs). These people fail to see that diversity means more than having white (and white-passing) people from different countries. Their African members are white and racist, too! This is not diversity.
And, we know this by now. A year ago, the world watched as Minneapolis police officers murdered George Floyd. The murders of Breonna Taylor and Ahmad Arbery sparked a year of education on race, color, social justice. There were many conversations on why the world needs to start hearing and seeing Black people.
In the same year, there were several government offices filled by Black women seeking to affect change in the local and national levels of government. Remember how a Black woman named Stacy Abrams registered nearly an entire state to vote? Remember that organization founded by Black women, Black Lives Matter, which took the lead in educating and activating the world in the quest to value and protect Black lives? Black women saved the country from four more years of death and nonsense. How do you miss us when it’s time to snatch some zombies in a sci-fi flick?
We are Here, Just Turn on (Stream) the TV
Don’t even start with the excuse, “there aren’t enough Black women for these roles.” There are plenty of us to choose from if you look at television. Teyonah Parris just showed her ass-kicking skills in Disney+’s Wandavision as Monica Rambeau. Kaleeta Smith rocked with zombies as the first Black woman to lead a series on Syfy’s World War Z. Lara Rossi’s Lady Sybil is badass and witty in The Watch on BBC. There’s also Sonequa Martin-Greene from Star Trek: Discovery on CBS and Prime’s sci-fi limited series Solos that features both Uzo Adubo and Nicole Beharie in two eerily good (separate) episodes.
TV has brought so many Black women up to show how we can handle sci-fi and even zombie situations. So, to say that maybe Snyder didn’t find the right one in casting also feels like a lazy way of “nope-ing” your way out of including Black women. The same goes for every other director of a major film this year. (Looking at you Godzilla v. Kong. You too, Spiral)
The Film has Other Merits
Army of the Dead does a great job of centering women, especially single mothers, single fathers, and women of color (with the exception of Black women). Part of the last act follows Bautista’s character Scott as he and his daughter Kate (Elle Purnell) rescue a group of mothers captured by the “King” Zombie Zeus (Richard Cetrone). These women and Scott bring up the struggle to raise kids in a post-apocalyptic world, an important theme. And, in a refugee camp at that, which makes another important social conversation. There are also some great discussions of loss and grief waiting to happen from this film as well.
Zombies in the film seem to be faster and smarter. They are still primitive, but only enough to have a community and ritual. There are hints of indigenous culture, but not enough to disparage any culture. Snyder is only using the ritual to show that the zombies are beginning to evolve. Despite the good parts, the film does have several plot issues. But, it is still worth watching due to the fresh spin on the zombie story, and cinematic treatment of all the aforementioned social elements. The CGI also gets weird in spots (especially around Tig Natoro who was added in to replace Chris D’ Elia late in filming), but the action is big and loud. I can only imagine how grand this film is to watch in IMAX.
With that said, not even Snyder or Hollywood can escape the fact that they have a problem with Black women. We still exist in this society whether they see us or not. We deserve to be represented. I know that fans are going to be upset about my critiqued here, unfortunately, it’s only the tip of the iceberg for Snyder. Take a look at ZSJL. The three most prominent Black women exist in order to die (the Black women Amazons and Dr. Karen Stone who exists to give Cyborg an origin story), or they don’t speak at all (Iris West). I say that as an honest critic, who genuinely loved that movie–and all three scenes with these black women in them. But even I have to step back and set down my fan cap long enough to ask the question of the year, “Why don’t you see us?”
And, “What are you going to do to make this right?”
Rating 2.5 of 5
Army of the Dead streams on Netflix.
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