Warner Bros.’ upcoming DC Extended Universe entry Suicide Squad features an eclectic mix of characters, thrown together because of the one thing they all have in common: they’re bad guys. Task Force X, assembled by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) and kept in line by Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and Katana (Karen Fukuhara), includes such unusual characters as human-crocodile hybrid Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), the heavily tattooed pyrokinetic El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), and fangirl fatale Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie).
As far as action movies go, it’s a notably diverse cast in terms of race, and also features four female characters in key roles. This is of particular note within the context of superhero movies, which have seen a demand from fans to divert from the largely unbroken trend of white male protagonists (a call to action that has been partly successful, with Wonder Woman, Cyborg, Captain Marvel and Black Panther movies all set for release in upcoming years).
One of the most common arguments in favor of diversity is that movies should reflect the society in which they were produced, and the audience that will see them in theaters – which, in the case of the US, is not only 50% female but also around 40% non-Hispanic whites. Speaking to USA Today, Suicide Squad director David Ayer said that the diverse cast of the movie is “less about ticking boxes” and more driven by his belief that “it’s important for kids to see people who look like them in movies.” Also speaking to USA Today, African American Critics Association co-founder Shawn Edwards praised the movie’s diversity as being “natural” and “organic,” adding, “I’m glad that finally a franchise in a comic-book universe has gotten it right. Marvel [was] very slow to the diversity party.”
Movies with diverse casts do more than just offer a more balanced reflection of society; they also make sense from a business standpoint. A recent UCLA study found that movies with diverse casts perform better at the box office, with one example being the hugely lucrative Fast and Furious franchise. Likewise, there have been a number of high-profile cases of movies with “whitewashed” casts that performed very poorly at the box office.
Diversity is also a valuable tool from a storytelling perspective – not only in terms of race and gender, but in terms of throwing characters together who have very different backgrounds and personalities. The trailers have teased potential friction between the hard-edged, well-disciplined Rick Flag and the self-described “vexing” antics of Harley Quinn, as well as showing Deadshot (Will Smith) getting into a shouting match with El Diablo in an effort to get him to unleash his powers. Likewise, the bulk of the marketing campaign (complete with cartoony skulls) has been based around highlighting each of the characters’ unique traits.
We’ll find out this weekend if Ayer’s push for diversity will help his film to achieve greater heights at the box office, but if nothing else it’s a gratifying step forward for those who have been a voicing a desire for more diverse casts. As Viola Davis told USA Today, all people are really asking for is representation that’s not so unnaturally skewed from reality: “I go through my regular day and I see white blond women with their curly-haired brown children, I see Mexicans, I see Armenians and Russians and Asians. It’s just a part of my life.”
Suicide Squad is scheduled to arrive in theaters on August 5, 2016, followed by Wonder Woman on June 2, 2017; Justice League on November 17, 2017; Aquaman on July 27, 2018; an untitled DC Film on October 5, 2018; Shazam on April 5, 2019; Justice League 2 on June 14, 2019; an untitled DC film on November 1, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps on July 24, 2020. The Flash and Batman solo movie are currently without release dates.
Source: USA Today