66 years. We’ve been waiting for 66 years to see the character of Wonder Woman, created by DC Comics in 1941, finally featuring a motion picture. The film will be released in Summer 2017. The most iconic of the female super hero will join the closed cast of Batman, Superman, Spiderman, Captain America, Iron Man and many others. Most of them had the chance to be the lead characters of 2, 3 or much more films in the last years – Batman is the record man with 9 films. We must admit the industry of comics has been diversifying itself in the last decade, after being obsessed by white, male and heterosexual characters, we’ve seen more and more secondary people or side-kicks showing more diversity. Short after Catwoman and Batgirl, even Thor became a woman, Miles Morales became the first black person incarnating Spider Man, Hulk is now Americano-Korean and has a sort of girlfriend now (She Hulk), Jessica Jones has her own series on Netflix and she is a Paki-origin teenager.
In parallel of the fight performed by the Big 2, a lot of underground publishers are developing characters that would talk not only to the WASP America – Nigerian super heroes of Comic Republic in Kwezi, living in South Africa, introducing Virgil, a black cop in an homophobic Jamaica or Priya’s Shakti, a woman that dedicates her life to fight rapes in India…we’re far from Bruce Wayne, Peter Parker or Clark Kent. In October 2015, the New York Times was publishing an article ‘The Year We Obsessed Over Identity’, listing all the news related to races, genres or sexual orientation that shook the United States of America and the world. In this context, it is far to be surprising to uncover more super heroes coming from minorities – claiming identities leads to identification. A pragmatic marketing approach from the publishing houses and the studios: with the rise of the social networks, the need for more varied heroes had come to a peak. In 2010, a campaign supported by the hashtag #donald4spiderman became viral, asking for the actor Donald Glover to become the Spider hero in a motion picture. Finally Miles Morales was chosen but we can observe a change in the approach. More recently, the adaptation of Doctor Strange became controversial by appointing Tilda Swinton in the role of a Tibetan monk. Of course, not all the reactions reveal some fans, definitely against racism and consensual. When a feminine Thor and a black Captain America were in development, the main fandom became slightly aggressive. But the need and the wish for diversity gets real, more you have different heroes, more you can touch different audiences. But nothing is more precautious than a giant of mass entertainment: before motion pictures, a lot of pilots are released in magazines and fan papers. For Lois Bilat, sociologist, ‘it is possible for publishing houses to test new types of heroes. Beside the classical heroes on which we’re sure they will bring return on investment, we can definitely see the possibilities brought by the more diversified heroes’. The relative risk is also motivated by the constraints of the genre ‘super heroes storytelling are inherent to initiation processes where the characters are looking for their honest and true identities, and they go through adversity to build themselves.’ By using some known mental structures, we propose to the fans some new marginal proposals, adding a clear effect of surprise.
According to the American blog Comic Beats, 47% of the super heroes are already female, so we reached certain equality here. We can add some addiction on top of it, like alcoholism for Jessica Jones. Now that new recipes were proved to work, like Kamala Khan (woman, new comer and from visible minority), everybody wants to be leading the game. The approach is cynical but shows a strong understanding of the importance of the fights intersectional pattern – theory that says that dominations on race, genre, class, age or ability are interconnected. Something is sure, it shows very well our cultural paradigm in which we can say that ‘everybody is looking for his own super heroe’. It is true that Umberto Eco wrote in 1976 that super heroes are together gods and humans. But we don’t want them to penetrate too fast in the human life. So the new and diversified super heroes have to build their own mythology and origins, a referent history on which they can base their individuality. The pattern is complex (influenced by the disability studies, the studios and the fan groups) but the emergence of a different kind of storytellers and writers, the change is on its way. And the role models are changing. You don’t have to be American and white to save the world. You can imagine the spectrum of opportunities suddenly.
And certainly, we come back to something that is crucial to marketing and business.