Artemis Fowl on Disney+ is just one in a long line of films to change the race of supporting characters while preserving the ‘white hero’ trope
Mainstream family entertainment has made progress when it comes to representation of non-white people, and Disney+’s lavish new fantasy Artemis Fowl ticks a lot of the right boxes, at least on paper. But some conversations still need to be had. Especially when it comes to taking white-centric stories and simply swapping out a few supporting characters while preserving the white, usually male, leader at the centre.
Artemis Fowl is a sort of high-tech Harry Potter, adapted from the bestselling books by Irish author Eoin Colfer and directed by Kenneth Branagh. Its hero is a boy genius (newcomer Ferdia Shaw) with inherited wealth and a smug sense of superiority. Assisting Fowl on his adventure to find his missing father is his “friend, mentor and bodyguard” Domovoi Butler. In the books, Butler is a hulking Eurasian figure; in the movie, he’s played by Nonso Anozie, a British actor of Nigerian descent. Even with Anozie in white hair and blue contact lenses, it’s not a great look casting the guy whose family has served the white Fowl dynasty for generations as a black man. Meanwhile the more central character of Holly Short, who is described in the books as having “nut-brown skin”, is played by white actor Lara McDonell. Again, not a great look.
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