There seems to be two important criteria for any actor aspiring to play a superhero on screen—a muscled, Zeus-like physique…and the name Chris. In the current pantheon of superhero-playing actors named Chris are Hemsworth (Thor), Pine (Steve Trevor from Wonder Woman), Evans (Captain America), and Pratt (Star-Lord). The amusing existence of Chris4 prompted a recent viral internet debate.
Looking past the immaturity of adults debating this question like a bunch of kids playing “kiss, marry, kill” at the playground during recess, the silly internet game quickly turned ugly. The unscientific consensus was that Chris Pratt won the undesirable sweepstakes as “Hollywood’s worst Chris.”
The criticism boiled down to two unforgivable defects: 1) Pratt is a Christian, and 2) he (allegedly) votes Republican. Many of the thousands of comments were vile and hateful, transforming the innocent debate into a sickening cesspool of insults, vitriol, and intolerance (browse at your own risk). Pratt is a big boy, and few of the insults are likely to penetrate past those chiseled superhero abs, but the viral moment exposes the glaring weak spot in the shiny armor of the diversity and inclusion movement: the intolerance for diversity of thought.
Loud Barks and Soft Bites
Moral homilies on the importance of inclusion, diversity, and representation are espoused from within the Hollywood bubble on a near-daily basis. In recent years, press tours have become righteous crusades for these issues rather than promotion of a film or television show. The comic book industry and fandom have traditionally been at the forefront of these crusades, marching on the frontlines and addressing these important issues long before it became “mainstream” in Hollywood to do so.
At the same time, progressive culture tends to present itself as a guru and lecturer of doctrines they have only recently adopted. Despite acting as a cultural mouthpiece for diversity and gender equality, the actual track record of the superhero film genre is uninspiring. Of the first 19 entries of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, only one was led by a person of color (2018’s Black Panther) and none were fronted by females (although one could argue that Evangeline Lilly was a co-lead in Ant Man and the Wasp). On the DC side, prior to Wonder Woman’s breakout success, the last notable female lead was Hallie Berry in Catwoman (2004), and the less said about that film the better.
Do as we say, not as we do.
In recent years, the industry has attempted to course correct. Captain Marvel and next year’s Black Widow put female heroes front and center, the upcoming Ms. Marvel show on Disney+ will feature Marvel’s first onscreen Muslim hero, and The New Mutants (2020) featured the first openly same-sex relationship.
While these examples may demonstrate an industry finally adding a bite to its bark, the Chris Pratt situation showcases that there remains at least one area of diversity and inclusion still militantly excluded from the table of tolerance—an openness to diverse thought.
How Far Does Inclusion and Diversity Reach?
The message seems clear: all skin colors, cultural backgrounds, and sexual identities are welcome—as long as no one dares to challenge the approved groupthink. There is freedom and tolerance to be different so long as you don’t think differently.
Several of Pratt’s Avengers co-stars—including Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldana, and Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn—were quick to jump to his defense. While they should be commended for their support, their loyalty stems from their personal friendship with Pratt, not necessarily an openness to divergent thinking. That the news of a Hollywood actor being “exposed” as a Christian and (perhaps) a conservative is noteworthy enough to trend on Twitter for several days reveals just how welcoming the tolerance-preaching Hollywood bubble is toward those who diverge from the approved script.
The social media responses to these co-stars’ statements of solidarity only amplify this unfortunate reality. A fandom and pop culture community that often holds Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters (the “mutant school” in X-Men) as a utopian ideal where all are included and accepted has found it difficult to apply similar standards to the real world. Diversity, inclusion, and representation are incredibly important and worth fighting for, but these battles are largely empty if they don’t also include an openness and acceptance of diversity of thought. Allowing all people the equal opportunity and freedom to conform to a singular ideology and worldview is not much of a freedom at all.
A Christian Response
Before standing as “those without sin,” ready to hurl stones at the empty talk of “tolerant” Hollywood, Christians should first evaluate whether they harbor the same deep-rooted hypocrisy. Is the Chris Pratt situation troubling because intolerance is wrong or only because the victim of the intolerance is “on our team”? The ugly treatment of Chris Pratt has demonstrated that society is not as tolerant or committed to diversity as it claims to be. Society still has a long way to go. As Christians, let’s do our part to show the world a better way.