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Diversity in remakes: the good, the bad, the ugly

Maximilliano Onofre February 6, 2018 February 6th, 2018

With award shows season, all eyes are back on the Oscar’s after the #Oscarssowhite incident of three years ago. This ideology of diversity has affected not only the Oscar’s however, but all of Hollywood. More and more studies show that diverse casts mean more money at the box office. But even with that, the entertainment industry still hesitates to diversify.

The last few years have been full of nostalgia, as remakes of old films and shows are produced. And although they don’t always succeed, they seem to have one thing in common: diverse casts. Most reboots now prominently choose to include characters that are living and breathing embodiments of the groups that are generally marginalized instead of falling back to the original ideas.

THE GOOD:

Ghostbuster’s came back in a big way. With women at the helm, the remake of the 1984 classic kept the original comedic but spooky tone. Thought the 2016 remake wasn’t a huge boost to the franchise, it helped engage a new audience. It offered fans a new version of their beloved characters.

Of course, this was not without some backlash. Leslie Jones got the most hostile response, having to leave Twitter momentarily due to racist abuse. Despite that, the women who worked on the film have all felt happy to bring women to the forefront of the franchise.

Steven Spielberg will also be creating a remake of West Side Story, without whitewashing. This was revealed through the casting call Spielberg put out, where he specifically sates that he is looking for Latino Actors to fill the roles of Maria, Bernardo and Anita. The 1961 movie missed the mark when casting, using only Rita Moreno as a Hispanic lead. This is not to say that this rendition will not make the mistakes of the original, using Mexican culture as the backdrop for Puerto Rican characters but the casting is the start for something better.

We are looking to give some voice to original Latino… we need to include those voices in the process.

– Chris Keyser, co-creator of Party of Five

Television will also be seeing their diversity expand. The show Party of Five is coming back with a pilot through Freeform. The original show, which ran from 1994 to 2000, focused on five children trying to keep their family together after their parents died in an accident. The reboot will now shift to Latino children trying to stay together after their parents are deported. Chris Keyser and Amy Lippmann, co-creators of the show want to focus on the reality of everyday life for many Latino families. The show has hired Michal Zebede- whose family originates from Costa Rica and Panama- to co-write and Rodrigo Garcia- of Colombian background- to direct so that they have input from Latinos.

“We are looking to give some voice to original Latino voices,” says Keyser. “We are not doing this alone. We feel some obligation to say that though we are interested in it, we don’t know it in the way other people do. And to be honest about it, we need to include those voices in the process.”

Apart from bringing more diversity, more women centered shows are getting reboots. Murphy Brown is coming back with a straight-to-series 13-episode reboot with CBS. Rosanne is returning in the spring to ABC. Charmed is getting a pilot order from the CW for the 2018 season. The shows will focus on feminism and will be more political than their previous iterations.

THE BAD:

However, not all diversity leads to good outcomes. Recently, one of the biggest scandals has been the upcoming Heathers show. The cult classic of the 80’s had the original Heathers as rich, white cisgender women. The remake however has made the bad guys out to be marginalized groups.

The new Heathers are composed of a plus-sized pack leader, a non-binary identifying student and an African American girl. The concern over the new diverse cast will make the marginalized groups as the bullies, when in real life, they are usually the victims.

This is not the only time diversity backfired. Disney recently announced that Le Fou from their new Beauty and the Beast movie was gay but this did not sit well with fans. He is a sidekick to the villain of the movie and the trope of villainizing queer characters was considered to be in bad taste. Furthermore, when fans saw the movie, they realized that the supposed “gay” character was nothing more than a prop for an otherwise bland character.

Diversity should not equate to offensiveness nor should it lend itself to further disparagement of marginalized groups.

THE UGLY:

Sometimes, the diversity isn’t just bad. It becomes non-existent.

The live-action remake of the previously animated series, Ghost in the Shell, was a prime example of remakes that white-washed an already diverse cast. The series was created in Japan and through the manga, animated films and video games, Major, the protagonist is a cyborg hybrid who looked Japanese. However, when the cast was announced, Scarlett Johannsson, an American woman was cast for Major, taking the role from an Asian actress.

This was not the only incident of whitewashing in a remake though. Most notably we have the whitewashing in The Mummy and The Great Wall where white people were cast for the African and Asian roles respectively.

Despite everything, diversity is getting its chance in the spotlight. Remakes and new shows and films are getting people in front and behind the camera to look more like the world does today. While this is not always done right, the more people of marginalized groups become involved, the better the entertainment industry can evolve.

 

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