Tuesday, June 18, 2024

We Need To Talk About Racism in Superhero Media, Part 2: Classism Boogaloo

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Three weeks ago, I brought up the fact that many pieces of superhero media (namely movies and TV shows, because I don’t read comics) refuse to talk about racism despite highlighting issues that are inherently racist. However, there was one societal ill I accidentally left out, one that a lot of superhero media loves to talk about while excluding race:


Let’s revisit the Dark Knight Trilogy, since this is a series that focuses on this issue a lot. Remember Anna Ramirez, from The Dark Knight?


She was a rookie detective who worked under Jim Gordon in the Major Crimes Unit. Her role was originally going to be fulfilled by comics character Renee Montoya, but they changed it because Renee is a clean cop, and this character isn’t. Anna is actually on the mob’s payroll (specifically the Falcones, in this movie led by Sal Maroni), but not because she necessarily wants to be – she admits to Harvey toward the end of the film that they “got” her because she needed money to cover hospital bills for her sick mother. This is an act of classist violence – the Falcones are preying on the fact that Anna can’t afford her mother’s hospital bills and using that as leverage to force her to do things for them.

Yet, the fact that Anna is a non-white latina being preyed on by an all or mostly white organization? Never brought up.

In fact, the racial demographics of Gotham City, whether in relation to the distribution of wealth or in general, are never touched on. But race and class in America? They’re inextricably linked. You can’t talk about one without talking about the other, no matter what Kanye West or any assorted white people may tell you. The stratas of class in the US are further separated by race thanks to white supremacy. Not all poor people are treated equally, and not all rich people have the same opportunities.

Just think about it. Anna’s only other options would have been to get another job, which was probably impossible due to her first job, or to take out a loan. Predatory lenders have been shown to target poor people of color, so she’s at a high risk for getting ripped off. Besides, loans have to be paid back, and we’ve already established that she doesn’t have money, so she’d probably end up being caught by the mob anyway, just to pay off a different thing.

But if the movie pointed that out, if they talked about how Anna’s race plays a part in her lack of options, then they would have to talk about how racism affects other aspects of life in Gotham. Instead, Christopher Nolan and company seemed more interested in focusing on a more general group of “poor people” that is shown to be very, very white (Anna is, literally, the only woman of color with a notable role in the entire series), and bypass those issues completely. When you consider the moves made to make these movies as white as possible, it becomes clear that they weren’t interested in talking about the race aspect at all.

Except that they should have been. Because the two things are linked.

By ignoring it, Nolan and co. robbed their already decent movies of even more depth and nuance. Along with talking about Anna, what if they brought up how poor people of color may have been disproportionately affected by the attacks on the Narrows in Batman Begins, and what Bruce is doing to help them? Or what if Bane was biracial like he was supposed to be? His monologue to Bruce about being “born in the shadows” would have been doubly meaningful if he was Afro-latino. Hell, making Bruce non-white along with keeping Ra’s al Ghul Asian would have removed a lot of the troubling Mighty Whitey implications of that part of the backstory, as well as dealing with that whole white savior thing superhero media loves so much (not to mention that making Bruce black in particular would add dimension to his whole “I am the night” schtick”)[1].

But all of these interesting conversations were left by the wayside, because they weren’t “going for urban”. In their movies that center around a man trying to save his city.

I would love to ask why these writers are so hellbent on upholding the standard of the white default, but it would be silly for me to act like I don’t already know the answer – they don’t care. They don’t care about the intersection of class and race, they don’t care about racial bias in the justice system, they don’t care about racism at all, because to them these things aren’t as interesting as talking about how classism affects poor white people, or watching white people agonize over their moral choices (choices that would, undoubtedly, affect us too, but whatever right?). It also complicates the issues beyond what they believe Batman would be able to fix by himself, like I mentioned in my last piece, and fuck up the any conception of a “happy” ending. And god forbid they examine their own white privilege in the process.

What the casting people said to Zoë Kravitz, about how they weren’t “going for urban”, is so, so telling beyond just their racist casting practices – it betrays who Nolan and co. are writing for too. They aren’t “going for urban” = this story isn’t for people of color – it’s for white people who want to be challenged, but not that much. This Batman isn’t for people of color – he’s for white people who need to be saved from systems of oppression that their ancestors set up, and they continue to benefit from. What a hero.


Images courtesy of Warner Bros.

1. I am aware that the concept of white/good vs black/bad has existed for a long time due to the connotations of light and dark in some cultures, but in the West it has been used as a bludgeon against black people, and to this day it is getting people who look like me killed because we’re seen as backwards, evil, and unnatural. Yet another issue linked to racism that the movie doesn’t touch on, go figure.

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