The Brown Main Supporting Character & The White Side Protagonist

I watched The New Mutants a few days ago.

Based on the trailers, I was expecting something unique and hoping for something cool.

What I got was something a little meh.

And a lotta racist.

Yeah, New Mutants really pissed me off.

Because it starts and we’re introduced to Dani Moonstar, our brown protagonist, and immediately, the part of me that went, “Oh, man! Awesome!” was curtailed by the fact that, having watched the trailers, I had no idea she was even in the movie.

That’s a really bad sign, the old, embittered part of my brain told me.

And as the movie rolled on, that part of my brain was absolutely justified.

Because, on one hand, Dani was prominently featured in the movie as a protagonist.

But, on the other, she was suffering from a phenomenon that I’ve seen somewhere else recently: The Falcon & the Winter Soldier. Something I’m going to call . . .

The White Side Protagonist /
Brown Main Supporting Character Syndrome

I’m going to call it “WSP/BMS” for short. I know. Doesn’t roll off the tongue. But it’s 4:45 in the morning and I’m angry.

If you haven’t seen New Mutants, I’ll spare you spoilers.

Suffice it to say there’s a white character in this movie who gets an inordinate amount of attention.

And, of course, it’s a team movie–so everyone in the team is going to get some attention.

But one character, Anya Taylor-Joy’s Illyana Rasputin, aka Magik, blows the idea of unfair character bias out of the goddamn water.

In a film that is supposed to center around Dani, Magik–a blonde white girl–is the center of many, many scenes.

When the titular mutants are quietly coexisting in a common room, Magik comes in and starts saying openly racist shit to our protagonist, starting a fight.

When the titular mutants are momentarily free to blow off some steam because someone (Magik) drugged the person in charge of them, it’s Magik’s idea to use the lie detector the scene is based around. And the conclusion of that scene is that Magik stoically tells everyone about something dark from her past that leaves everyone in stunned silence.

When people start getting chased by living nightmares, Magik’s are the most unique and prevalent ones.

And, at the end of the film, even though no one else has any, Magik has a series of ridiculous, over-the-top hero shots that watch like ridiculous, at moments cringey, fanfiction.

All of this–especially the ending–left me with a pretty clear idea of what happened behind the scenes:

Someone, at some point during the production of this film, wrote this story entirely for Magik. It was basically Sucker Punch 2, pulling for that same vibe. Even if they didn’t put it down to paper, someone wanted to make that movie.

Then, someone else told them, “No. Actually, we want Dani Moonstar to be the protagonist.” And that Magik-obsessed writer was super pissed.

So they did an edit of their original script that pulled some focus from Magik to give to Dani . . . but then pulled focus away from the rest of the cast to give more to Magik (because, seriously, the other characters get very little development in comparison).

So, in the end, we wound up with a weird, extremely hokey moment at the end of the story, where Magik goes full super hero, complete with wind-swept-hair close-ups that feel wildly out of place with the rest of the film. There’s even a heavily contrived super hero name drop that the supporting cast awkwardly sets up for Magik (“You can’t fight that thing! It’s magic!” even though literally no one in the entire film suggested the thing they were fighting was magical, just so Magik could follow up with, “So am I.”).

Or absolutely none of this happened. Maybe instead, a few Hollywood writers got together, researched some characters, picked a diverse mutant for their protagonist, but then just fell in love with their rendition of a white character. And they saw absolutely nothing wrong with giving that white character a ton of attention.

Writer A: “I mean, she’s not even the protagonist.”

Writer B: “Right.”

Writer A: “So it can’t be racist if we give her a ton of attention! She’s a side character!”

Writer B: “Didn’t even need to say it! Clearly not racist!”

A: “So, yeah, wouldn’t it be so cute if she talks to Lockheed at the end and he reacts!? Like, not once, but twice!?”

B: “Yes! OMFG! And we can have her shout at one point that she’s the most powerful mutant in the team!”

A: “Essential! And we can have her murder the final threat in the third act by stabbing it with her sword!”

B: “YES! And–actually, wait . . . Shouldn’t the protagonist defeat the final threat in the third act?”

A: ” . . . Oh! Right! Pfft! I’m so stupid–totally forgot! Magik isn’t the protagonist! That Native girl is our protagonist! Ha ha! Slipped my mind somehow!”

B: “Ho ho! No problem! A mistake anyone would make!”

A: “Yes. An honest mistake and, most importantly, not a racist one!”

B: “Again, didn’t even need to say it, my friend!”

. . .

Yeah, either of these scenarios are bad.

If a writer wedged in and then steadily undermined a brown protagonist with a white side character, that’s bad.

And if a writer accidentally pulled focus from a brown protagonist to give more attention to a white side character they loved, that is also bad.

And, of course, to finally put a stamp on it, that’s what WSP/BMS Syndrome is. The tendency for writers in charge of a story with an ethnically diverse protagonist . . . to focus so much on a white side character that said white character might as well be the protagonist.

Now, most people can see right off the bat why that’s bad. But for anyone who doesn’t get it, WSP/BMS is an evolution of the practice of studios dooming minority-led or woman-led projects to fail by assigning terrible writers and artists to them. It is the act of demanding writers who don’t care about or don’t understand the need for diversity to write diverse stories. And then either not caring when those stories sideline their protagonists or . . . not even realizing that it’s happening.

And it sucks, because what gets lost in translation are a lot of great opportunities for telling that protagonist’s story.

Dani Moonstar’s entire personality focuses exclusively on the night when her reservation was destroyed. It makes sense she would think of that night a lot (it is the inciting incident of the plot). But . . . we see literally nothing else about her past and know nothing else about her as a person. She is a mutant whose reservation was destroyed. That is her character.

The same way that Sam Wilson’s character came dangerously close to being boiled down to, “He’s the guy Steve Rogers gave his shield to.”

Yeah, I’m bringing all of this around to something recent. Because The Falcon & The Winter Soldier comes dangerously close to being . . .

The Winter Soldier & Falcon

I am aware that this is the freshest of hottakes. The show isn’t even over yet.

However, it is very strange to me that in a show where the Falcon is the protagonist, there is a full episode where he just stands in the background.

And his personal arc with his family starts in Episode 1 and isn’t picked up again until Episode 5.

While, in the meantime, his partner, Bucky Barnes, gets intense, heartfelt moments in almost every episode. We get looks into Bucky’s past, intensely emotional moments of him coping with that past, complexity between him and Baron Zemo, questions about how much of the Winter Soldier is still inside of him.

While Sam Wilson is, for a bizarre amount of time, just standing in the background.

Sam gets a handful of good character moments, but 5 episodes in, we still don’t know why he gave up the shield. What he was feeling–why he thought it was the right thing to do, which I thought he’d explain in an emotional exchange with literally anyone by now.

We get Sam using his experience as a therapist for soldiers, which is great . . . but somehow, the plot does absolutely nothing with the fact that Sam was a goddamn soldier. Which is insane to me. Even in moments where he could easily relate to John Walker’s Captain America, we don’t get a story from Sam about the one time he had to make a hard choice while he was on a mission. No admission to anyone about how he felt when he came home from war. No former war buddy Sam calls to talk. No venting about how coming back from being an Avenger and finding corporate America ungrateful feels like coming back from defending the country abroad and finding the same social injustices are still in place. The latter is conveyed by another character entirely while Sam just stares at him and shakes his head, as if Sam would not have experienced any of that himself.

And all of this is a major bummer. Especially when a white villain, Baron Zemo, joins the cast and sucks up even more screen time (in a show that already gives time to another white villain, John Walker). Seriously, I know the Zemo dance became a meme, but at that point in my viewing experience, I threw up my hands like, “Why the fuck am I watching Zemo dance!? More of Sam’s family drama, please!”

Of course, a part of me should be like, “Whatever! It’s cool that we got a show prominently featuring Falcon and they are, at this point, doing a good job showing him becoming Captain America.” And also, a total surprise: they actually have the MCU’s first Hispanic super hero getting a tiny origin story of his own in the background (which, wow, no one is talking about at all–probably because Torres will forever be in the background [I know how these things work–I call it ‘Star Trek style’]).

But, at this point in my life, that bitter side of me can’t help thinking, “They could’ve done more.”

With New Mutants, that’s extremely obvious, what with the one character saying blatantly racist shit and other characters being white-washed.

But, with The Falcon & the Winter Soldier, even though it’s subtle by comparison, it’s still something we need to fight.

Because I don’t want to live through, like, ten years of movies with Black and brown protagonists who aren’t actually protagonists. With writers who ignore entire facets of their lives so they can give tons of screen time to a white side character.

Seriously, I want to get to the point where we get an MCU film or show that’s headlined by a Hispanic super hero before I die.

And, when I get it, if that hero gets shoved aside in their own show or movie so their sidekick or villain can get more of the attention they’ve no doubt gotten already in the source material, I will fucking scream.

~~~

Man, it’s been a while since I wrote something . . . angry. But goddamn, I really want the world to nip this one in the bud.

If you’re new here, and you were expecting something chill, yeah, I was too when I turned on The New Mutants. Wasn’t expecting to get a bunch of racist shit in my silly horror movie about super heroes in a haunted hospital–that’s for goddamn sure. But, hey, that’s the experience. The fun of being a minority and trying to watch anything.

Anyway, I’m definitely going to wind down for next weekend. Unless the last episode of The Falcon & The Winter Soldier really pisses me off. Who knows.

Either way, you can find out by stopping by next Sunday!

Until then, take care, stay safe, and if you haven’t read it, oh man, The Raven Tower blew my mind. It takes a while to get going, but once it gets good, it gets so good. Anyway, bye!

Published by

Louis Santiago

I'm a fantasy writer based in New York. One of my short stories, "Aixa the Hexcaster," was published at Mirror Dance Fantasy. You can read it here: http://www.mirrordancefantasy.com/2016/09/aixa-hexcaster.html.

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