Diversity is arguably the mostly hotly debated issue in Hollywood right now. Audiences are more eager than ever to see a broader array of representation in the movies they consume, while studios struggle to overcome old ways of thinking and embrace greater diversity both in front of and behind the camera.
For director Chad Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad, ensuring that John Wick: Chapter 2 embraced diversity was a key issue. At the press conference for the Keanu Reeves-starring action sequel, Stahelski said they “wanted to create a mythology that serviced the entire world” when expanding the unique universe of assassin's established in the first film to an international scale.
As a result, John Wick: Chapter 2 features a number of prominent roles for women and people of color, including Ruby Rose, Common, and Reeve’s Matrix co-star Laurence Fishburne. But Stahelski’s attention to diversity doesn’t just stem from awareness of the current debate consuming Hollywood; it dates back to his time working with Lana and Lilly Wachowski on The Matrix. Speaking about how the Wachowskis influenced his views on world-building, Stahelski said:
There's a lot of Wachowski alumni here, and I spent—as did some other people here—ten years of our lives with them, and most of what I know of world-building or world-crafting comes from their tutelage. And every frame in the original Matrix,from the color palate to the way they talk to the way they look to the way they dress, means something and I think that was a great learning experience. So, when you're painting your world, you have to first start with not really the visuals or the lighting or the set pieces, but with the characters.
The Wachowskis are a great pair of filmmakers to take a number of lessons from, and this is a perfect example. Building a realistic world for a movie starts with the characters, but it’s not just about making sure that their personalities and motivations make sense. It also means populating your movie with the same diversity that exists in the locations those characters are going to occupy. For a movie like John Wick: Chapter 2, which takes place in vibrant cities like New York City and Rome, it wouldn’t make any sense for the movie to be filled with only white guys.
Since The Matrix, the Wachowskis have only grown more attentive to diversity in their projects. Sense8, their fantastic Netflix series about a group of eight psychically linked individuals, is the most diverse piece of filmed entertainment currently being produced. It’s shot all over the world, and features actors of a variety of races, nationalities, sexualities, and gender identities. We can only hope that, if the world of John Wick continues to expand in additional sequels, that they diversity on display will expand to match.
- John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) release date: Feb 10, 2017