By: Amanda Wallace (This commentary is going to include some spoilers for the film Mad Max: Fury Road. If you haven’t seen it yet: what are you waiting for?)
If you’ve seen the film Mad Max: Fury Road you’ve probably gotten excited about Imperator Furiosa, the tough, bald-headed driver of the War Rig played by the indomitable Charlize Theron. Even before Fury Road came out, there was talk that Furiosa stole the show from the movie’s namesake and there’s a certain level of validity to that idea.
The character has had strong reactions from feminists (she uses Max as a prop for her gun at one point, a plot moment that had one of my fellow women watchers bouncing with glee) as well as amputees (there’s this pretty great post from a Tumblr user and fetal amputee talking about what representation means to her.) The representation angle is kind of important; if there’s one word among the countless to describe Fury Road, it’s “white.” Not in terms of palette, the film a riot of oversaturated hues, but in casting. Other outlets have covered the overwhelming Caucasian-ness of the cast, notable exceptions being two of the wives, but it’s an important discussion about a movie that has had a lot said about it.
What if Furiosa had been a person of color?
I can’t take credit for this thought; I found it in a tweet. After my own second watching, I was going through Twitter and found this tweet from game developer Rokashi Edwards:
@Bboy_Izilla Hell, If Furiosa was black I would have cried during Fury Road and I’m not fucking kidding.
— ʕ •`ᴥ•´ʔ (@Rokashi) May 24, 2015
Film as a default tends to go white rather than look towards diverse casting, and it’s especially interesting in a movie that has clear opportunities for non-white casting. The movie was filmed in Namibia, the story set in Australia (a country with a native Aboriginal population) but casts very few people of color even in the roles of the white-painted War Boys.
But what would it have meant to have cast a person of color in the role of Imperator Furiosa? Furiosa’s story is set as one of redemption, but it’s also one of homecoming and returning to her tribe of Many Mothers. It’s a story of returning what was lost — a stolen child back to her homeland, and I can see that as being a more powerful story if the casting referred to a POC heritage.
What would the film have been like if instead of Charlize Theron, Miller had cast Sophie Okonedo? Halle Berry? An Aboriginal actress? How would the story have deepened and grown with that kind of casting decision?
This is not to say that Charlize Theron’s performance was un-nuanced or lacking. She was a powerful force for good in a gritty, realistic take on a car-infused apocalypse, but it’s naive to completely ignore the lack of diversity in a film simply because we enjoyed it. Take this quote from Nashwa Khan in an In These Times article on the overall whiteness of Fury Road:
A big part of feminism is race, but these self-imposed blinders suggest that as long as a movie appeases white feminists, they will not question in solidarity why we women of color are absent.
Enjoying Fury Road does not excuse it from any criticism. Thinking critically about the things that you love is important to understanding them.
Next time you sit down to see a movie, take a moment to think about the casting. Ask yourself — wait, why is everyone in Chicago white (Divergent)? Why are most of the strippers in Magic Mike white (to the point that there is actually an African American version of Mike called Chocolate City that has a mostly POC cast)? Why is the new Transporter white? Why do we accept that in a post-apocalyptic world, most of the survivors were slim and Caucasian, from our titular hero to the guitar playing blind man?
The first step is noticing that there is a problem.
Amanda Wallace is an associate editor for Gameskinny.com, and runs her own websites Storycade and Wasabi Crunk that look at niche aspects of the gaming world (interactive fiction and indie games respectively). The best way to follow her work is via twitter, @barelyconcealed, where you’ll find great articles and witty banter.