Have you ever noticed that movies with young male characters often have physically similar actors in the lead roles? These actors often have:
- Sensitive, well-defined features and large eyes
- Almost always white with really good hair that is usually straight or wavy and often blond or sandy brown
- Often slight in stature and delicate in appearance, some would say stereotypically feminine (possibly seen as less threatening to girls and women)
Then there are the sidekicks:
- The heavy-set kid, often with freckles, a flushed face, and/or messy hair
- Minorities: Asian American, African American, Mexican American (Very few movies have Native American child actors or Native American actors of any age.)
- The kid with thick, black plastic glasses
- The brilliant nerd
- The disabled kid
- The kid with unruly curly hair
I’m sure I’m forgetting a few stereotypes.
This practice of casting a certain “look” in most lead roles is harmful in so many ways, but primarily in regard to setting up the sensitive white kid as the “standard.” Most of us could look at cast photos before a movie is made and identify the lead character. This pattern also holds true in movies about girls and adults.
We shouldn’t underestimate the emotional value of movies such as Black Panther. Can you imagine never seeing a heroic lead with your skin color? Black Panther brought in 1.344 billion USD as of May 2018, which makes me hopeful that we’ll be seeing more diversity in the superheroes of the future.
Below are a few examples of lead characters, ALL of them white, most of them slight in stature with large eyes. Their sidekicks, or the secondary characters, are mostly white with single representations of the above-mentioned groups. For example, the television series, Stranger Things, has four white boys and one African-American boy as the main characters. To the show’s credit, the African-American character comes from a more stable, well-to-do family than the other boys. Of course there are exceptions to the preponderance of white, lead characters, but far too few.
Young White Male Characters:
- The Sandlot: Scotty Smalls/Tom Guiry
(Small in stature, sandy hair, and big brown eyes)
- Stand by Me: Gordie Lachance/Wil Wheaton
(Sandy brown hair and big brown eyes)
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Charlie Bucket/Peter Ostrum
(Small in stature with wavy blond hair and big blue eyes)
- The Goonies: Mikey/Sean Astin
(Small in stature with wavy brown hair, baby face)
- Back to the Future: Marty McFly/Michael J. Fox
(Small in stature with sandy brown hair and a baby face—played a teen at the age of 24)
- Empire of the Sun: Jim/Christian Bale
(Slender with straight sandy hair and expressive brown eyes)
- E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: Elliott/Henry Thomas
(Dark hair and big brown eyes)
- Footloose: Ren/Kevin Bacon
(Slender with spiky sandy hair, big blue eyes, baby face—played a teen at the age of 25)
- Holes: Stanley Yelnats/Shia LaBeouf
(Slender with curly brown hair)
- October Sky: Homer Hickam/Jake Gyllenhaal—The real Homer Hickam is white, so I have no issue with choosing a white actor to portray him.
(Light brown hair, big blue eyes, baby face)
- Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope: Luke Skywalker/Mark Hamill
(Small in stature, brownish-blond hair, big blue eyes, baby face—played 19-year-old Luke at the age of 26)
- War Games and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: Matthew Broderick
(Small in stature with dark brown hair and big brown eyes)
People come in an almost infinite variety of body types, nationalities, skin tones, and races. Hair color and texture and eye color and shape vary widely. So why shouldn’t lead characters in movies and television fairly represent the population? If that were to happen, minority actors would portray approximately 23% of all lead characters. We have a long way to go.
Racism can be blatant or subtle, but it’s harmful in any form or degree.