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Benedict Wong Talks Diversity And How It’s Changing Hollywood For The Better | DPCC 2019

When it comes to diversity in movies we really have never had a period like this before ever in history. Back in the days when movies began, the idea of whitewashing wasn’t even disguised. You literally had no chance of being a movie star unless you were white, and even then the men were always the leads with women generally playing second fiddle.

As we move into the more modern era, things did improve slightly, but it became a cliché of the token black character, or the strong woman, which amounted to little else than allowing black actors to play sidekicks and supporting characters, and the occasional female role that would not have the actress playing the damsel in distress. The odd movie that broke the mold was usually seen as somewhat controversial, and realistically we are only talking the last 10-20 years here.

Now we are almost into the roaring ’20s of the 21st Century, our society has changed and become more inclusive of all sorts of people from various walks of life. A movie can be successful without featuring a white male lead, women can be in action roles without having to be saved by a man who they reward in the bedroom later, and different sexualities are displayed with more confidence on screen. Though there is a still a minority of people out there who want things to go back to the old days, when women were sex objects and the lead of your film was an attractive white dude who could beat anyone up and had ladies swooning over them. Some of these people are so against the change into diversity that they will protest and complain about anything they see as progressive.

And yet, there are times when I myself have felt that instead of naturally making films more diverse, some studios seem to want to force it in with a hammer, which feels almost like forced product placement to me in a movie. If a movie has to go out its way to signpost that you are now watching a ‘diverse moment’, then I feel that’s taking you somewhat out of the movie experience.

At the same time I know many disagree with my view on this and it’s best represented by the girl power moment in Avengers: Endgame. I didn’t like this small scene, it felt to me like in the midst of this battle that somehow all the female characters got on social media and arranged a meet up to all be in that shot at the same time while the male characters were away doing…something else? My editor in chief Joseph ‘Jammer’ Medina totally disagrees with me here, (no big surprises there for anyone who regularly reads LRM, we never agree) as he feels that if this was a group of male characters, we wouldn’t have even thought about it. He has a point, I’ll concede, and perhaps that’s a perception thing, but I like to think (everyone likes to think well of themselves) if the same thing happened with only the male characters in the same way as this, I’d be calling that out too, but, maybe I wouldn’t, who can truly say?

One star of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame is certainly loving the more diverse Hollywood that’s appearing now. Benedict Wong was at Denver Pop Culture Con over the weekend and LRM were fortunate enough to present at his panel. Wong discussed what it feels like for an actor of Asian heritage to work in Hollywood right now.

“I went to LA to the premiere of Always be My Maybe with Randall Park and Ali Wong, and honestly you’ve gotta see it. It’s absolutely amazing. I just met loads of Asian and Asian-American actors. And you know what? What happens is, having watched it and films like it — and we’ve obviously watched Crazy Rich Asians — what’s wonderful is to sort of see it and feel that you’re actually being represented and that you’re just like everyone else. It was a wonderful experience. Increasingly, I think everyone has seen that diversity does work in film. And diversity includes all of us.”

I agree with Wong here that diversity is working in Hollywood, and that Hollywood movies are slowly becoming the better for it. The one undeniable aspect of this increased diversity is the way it educates our youth to feel differently about those who are different from them. I grew up in the ’80s and it was commonplace for movies to demean homosexuality for laughs and put down other characters by insinuating they were homosexual, and yes, this was in family movies. Whereas for my children’s generation they are growing up in a world that doesn’t do this anymore, and that educates them to be more accepting of those different from they are.

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Movies are not made for one sex, or one ethnicity or one sexuality, they are entertainment for us all, to take and leave as we see fit. Though it feels like it is going to take perhaps another generation before we stop with the negative backlash, protests and rebelling against the increase in diversity in Hollywood. I dream of a day when diversity feels natural and not planned in advance, and when studios don’t have those uncomfortable internal discussions where they ask filmmakers to switch character races and sexes because they are worried about the backlash from dinosaurs. However, let’s be clear, we have a long and difficult road left to travel to be more inclusive of each other as a species, I just hope I live to see the end to that journey.

What do you think of Wong’s comments on how great diverse Hollywood is and what are your opinions on diversity in general? Sound off (respectfully) in the usual hot spot below.

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