ONCE upon a time, the idea of racial diversity in fantasy was to have some white people in fake pointed ears and some more white people digitally altered to appear short.
Only a few months ago, Star Wars: The Force Awakens actor John Boyega attacked Game Of Thrones for not being diverse enough — although that accusation did miss two beloved characters Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) and Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson).
But now there’s a new reality in fantasy — and it’s bringing some colour to what had been a series of one-dimensional worlds.
In television, former The Walking Dead star Sonequa Martin-Green is the new lead of Star Trek: Discovery, while we have the first black superhero series in Luke Cage and movie The Black Panther, coming out next year. The Avengers already featured War Machine (Don Cheadle), Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).
Westworld features black leads in Thandie Newton and Jeffrey Wright, while Stranger Things features Caleb McLaughlin as one of the four lead boys.
The Walking Dead has had many lead black characters and currently features Danai Gurira as fan favourite Michonne, a swordswoman who’s also the love interest of the hero Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln).
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And sister show Fear The Walking Dead stars Colman Domingo as Victor Strand, a smooth-talking businessman who has become something of a “zombie whisperer” and just happens to be black and gay.
Strand is a fantastic character, a man of hidden talents and flaws who is equally at home caving in the skull of a zombie as he is sipping fine wine while discussing a complicated business deal.
Domingo, who admits he knew nothing about the zombie genre before being cast in the show, says he is delighted to see a much better cast of characters on offer, especially on television.
“The TV roles I auditioned for were not really three-dimensional characters,” he says. “They were drug dealers and addicts.
“But TV has evolved. I came back from the West End (in London) and I’d never read anything like this character (Strand).”
He’s heartened by the way TV executives have decided that black actors “don’t have to be peripheral”.
“We are growing in that direction, having leads of colour and I’m very grateful to see these characters have so many dimensions and do not suffer the tropes of stereotypes.”
Fear The Walking Dead’s season three is exploring racism as a theme, with the main characters stuck on a ranch run by racist “Doomsday Preppers” and feuding with Native Americans as well as trying to fend off hordes of zombies. And their only source of water is run by Mexicans, who have cause to hate them both. The disparate groups know they need to come together to survive the undead but putting aside old prejudices is a massive source of tension.
The message is clear — we need to find common ground if we are to survive.
It’s especially powerful in America now, where President Donald Trump is engaged in a Twitter war with black sport stars who are protesting against police shootings by refusing to stand for the national anthem.
Domingo is careful not to be drawn into this debate but instead emphasises how shows such as FTWD can do their part in bringing people together.
“I never knew about the zombie genre but once I started to unpeel it, it’s really more about who we are as humans,” Domingo says. “We’re trying to get to the core of who we all are.
“Everyone in FTWD wants something simple or universal, whether it’s to keep their family safe, find food or water or just survive another day.
“Everyone can relate to that.”
As for his character Strand: “He’s not a superhero, he’s just trying to make another day”.
No, not a superhero but he — and other characters of colour like him — can have a magical effect on viewers.
Fear The Walking Dead season three continues on Mondays at 7.30pm on Foxtel’s FX.