From her breakthrough role in 2000’s Girlfight to this summer’s highly anticipated Furious 7, few women can work consistently in Hollywood the way Michelle Rodriguez can. She’s the tough girl from New Jersey with a swagger reminiscent of an old west gunslinger, a mega-watt smile, wild child personality and unfiltered opinions. Rodriguez made headlines with a very public relationship with British model Cara Delevingne, her yacht adventures with actor Zac Efron after years of casually dodging questions regarding her sexual orientation. She made a valid point that who she had relationships with was none of anyone’s business, one of the few times she’s been able to clearly explain her reasoning behind staying in the closet of sorts.
She’s brash and bold but she’s shown her ignorance in the world of comics pop culture and what visibility, by any means, represents for people of color the LGTBQ community and women.
In the clip, obtained by TMZ (you know, the most reliable place in the world) Rodriguez said that minorities needed to stop taking white superhero roles and called for more creativity from the spectrum. Boiled down, she has a very very small sliver of a point. By race-swapping, gender flipping already characters, Hollywood and comics creators have gotten lazy and appear to be pandering to ever evolving cultural changes. More people want to see themselves as their favorite heroes than see the heroes as they’ve always been drawn. Captain America, now Sam Wilson (The Falcon) accepted the mantle from a downed Steve Rodgers. Comic purists cried foul on the change despite Steve continuing his run in his solo series; All New Captain America has been one of Marvel’s top sellers since it’s launch. When Thor lost the power to wield his hammer, Mjolnir, the hammer found a woman worthy to wield it. Again, purists cried blood in the streets; like Cap, Thor is continuing his book run with former WWE star CM Punk at the writer’s desk. The are stories being told with new names and new viewpoints and they are being told organically within that world. No one is forcing the change, the change is happening. If you were to translate Michelle’s comment that kind of move does seem like pandering and her rebuttal (included in the TMZ link) shows the actress attempting to back peddle and explain her side but she still fails to understand what she’s saying.
Watch Loud posted what Rodriguez got wrong about the the race swapping, pointing out the very whitewashed casting of Jake Gyllenhaal as Prince Dastan in the live action movie The Prince of Persia. I’ll let that sink in.
Rodriguez’s point is that you can’t change the perceived racism in race bending a character but she’s wrong in saying that minorities are stealing roles. Roles are being stolen by people who are committed to continuing a widely held belief that what has always been the ‘norm’ is what works. “We’ve always done it this way.”
I sense that some of it is that Rodriguez was passed for roles that she is the archetype for. Fellow Dominican (from New Jersey) Zoe Saldana famously played a blue alien (alongside Rodriguez) in Avatar and is Gamora in Guardians of The Galaxy; tough girls with take no shit attitudes. Rodriguez pushed herself out of Gamora because she doesn’t play the game well while women who land in her lane (tough, no nonsense) continue to be front runners for parts like Captain Marvel, She-Hulk, Wasp and other female superheroes in what’s soon to be a full work schedule for whoever is cast.
There are dozens of writers and creators working tirelessly to create a safe creative space where their characters thrive and live on the pages of comics and in animated series. They are all diverse, they are all inspired to create worlds and they work tirelessly to spread the message that these stories all carry. There are non-white heroes in the pantheon of superhero universe and they have had successful runs and continue to break out as new generations of comic fans actively seek out these stories. Michelle’s co-star, Vin Diesel IS GROOT for god’s sake. An avid nerd, he set out to personally finance the last two Chronicles of Riddick entries and while they were disappointing at the box office, they are movies that were made by a diverse group of people with a diverse enough cast with the goal of telling a story.
Rodriguez forgets her place in the spectrum; as a woman of color in a position of power she has the ability to bring new stories to the table. If she feels that she is fully capable of funding non-white protagonists that don’t jack jobs from obviously struggling white men and women, she needs to get out and find them, she needs to fund those projects. She needs to collaborate with Robert Rodriguez (no relation) and make the super hero movies they want to make, with original characters and people of color in the starring roles. She needs to read more comics, meet more creators, she needs to understand that Cap, Blade, Storm, America Chavez, Helena Bertinnelli, Kate Kane, Carol Danvers, Natasha Romanov can be anyone and they are everyone and if she wants to make a better monster, she needs to use her connections to do so instead of criticizing a system that feeds her. The best way to change things is by climbing into the machine and dismantling it from the inside.
The strange thing is, Michelle doesn’t seem to realize that she’s already IN a superhero movie with Furious 7 and it’s cast of rag tag every person. The cast is literally Dave Chappelle’s Racial Draft lottery and everyone has a skill, everyone has a power, everyone has a responsibility. I like the girl, I do, she’s an outcast who keeps living her life as she wants it but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to defend the actions of someone who doesn’t see their full power when you, as a TRUE outsider, would love a small piece of it.
Perhaps this will be the real takeaway from this micro controversy is the need for Hollywood and creators to find the medium that best suits their needs. Consumers need to be vocal with their wallets when it comes to stories from across the map, whether it’s with comics or with films. We all want to see our stories told to a wider audience and the way we continue to create newer and better material is by supporting the female led action movie, the African American spy, the Asian American superheroes. No one is interested in taking anyone’s job but no one is interested in the same story told with the same faces either.