Yesterday, I just finished my second cinema screening of “The Maze Runner”. Was it that great that it deserves two (very overpriced – in Australia anyway) viewings? Yes and No. To be honest, I only went a second time because my little brother is on school holidays and he didn’t want to go with friends because they talk during movies and he can’t stand it (and yet is too nice to tell them to be quiet). So out of sisterly love and any excuse to munch on more calorie laden snacks, I agreed to watch it a second time.
The interesting thing I found was that even though it was the second time I was watching it, it didn’t diminish my sense of smugness surrounding the racially diverse characters in the film (and book) – Which sounds weird, but hear me out!
I was having this conversation with a friend the other day, and we were marveling at how surprising it is to see Asians in big films that are actual characters as opposed to caricatures. In Hollywood blockbusters I’ve come to expect ethnic characters to suffer some untimely death or to succumb to some stereotype that makes me want to roll my eyes so hard that it stays permanently at the back of my head. It sounds awful, but that’s what Hollywood frequently presents. Ethnic characters take the back bench. They are rarely the protagonist. If there are some deaths happening, they bite the dust first.
And it’s not fair, but more importantly, it’s a damaging mindset in terms of representing racial diversity.
Enter “The Maze Runner” – a book by James Dashner that has been turned into a film. It’s about a boy named Thomas who meets a group of boys called the “Gladers”. The general point of the film/book is that their memories are erased and they have no idea what’s happening but they have to get out using the only route possible – a gigantic maze filled with these mechanical spider monsters called “grievers” (probably aptly named since they are very intent on giving you grief. Through death and exercise mostly.).
Putting aside the plot for a second, I was extremely impressed by the amount of racial diversity in the cast (and how casting directors for the film kept true to the books in this respect!). I was even more impressed that ethnic characters were not type cast because of their race.
It seems like I’m a fickle person. On one hand, I want diversity in what I read and see but on the other hand, I don’t want them exhibit “stereotypes”. Can I have it both ways? You bet your sweet bippy I can.
Thanks to James Dashner (and the film makers), ethnic characters are not only being represented but represented well. It may not be a groundbreaking first but it’s definitely something (so don’t take this away from me!)
Exhibit A – Minho
Played by Ki Hong Lee, the character Minho is not sidelined because of race. The below picture of an interview with him explains it best:
He is his own character, and his character and actions do not depend on the protagonist of the story (aka Thomas). He is athletic, strong and sarcastic. At no point does he suddenly start doing kung fu (Transformers: Age of Extinction, I am glaring at you) or start speaking with an accent. To see an Asian being one the main characters of a big film makes me so happy it’s almost ridiculous if it wasn’t so valid.
Exhibit B – Alby
Alby is the leader of the Glades and as an African American character, I am 1000% glad that he was not relegated to some damaging stereotype that the media feed us. He isnt’t a baddie, a violent man (except when he was, because he was saving someone else), the sidekick or comic relief. He, like the other characters, were their own person outside of their race. He wasn’t a harsh leader, but a compassionate one who pushed for harmony amongst the Gladers but made tough decisions when he had to. You go Alby!
So while these are only two examples, believe me when I say that there was a whole melting pot of ethnicities in the movie (and book, although it doesn’t go too in depth in terms of character descriptions for everyone) and boy was it beautiful. While this is only one movie in the grand scheme of a million, hopefully it sets a precedent amongst Hollywood directors who make young adult adaptions and movies. If I were even more optimistic, I hope that authors of YA books are more willing to incorporate racially diverse characters into their books because they are seeing that not only does it sell, but it feels hella good amongst readers and viewers to see some realism in books and media.
Till next time,
Not Another Mary Sue.
QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Have you watched “The Maze Runner”? Were you as impressed by the diverse cast as I was?