Get your geek on: crowds on the way into San Diego Comic-Con 2013. Photo: Getty
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Where’s Wonder Woman? How comic book diversity has failed to translate to the big screen

With over 75 years of history, comics boast a multitude of inspirational female, black and even disabled characters. Superman is, at its heart, an immigrant tale, while X-Men is an allegory of the fight against fascism. 

San Diego Comic-Con International, which takes place every July in Southern California, is the largest, longest-running and best-known comic convention on the planet and, as befitting both its name and history, attracts an audience from a plethora of national and ethnic backgrounds, both able-bodied and disabled, and over 40 per cent of whom are female, all united by a shared passion for pop culture. And yet some would say the inherent irony of Comic Con is that the diversity of its attendees – so visible on the convention floor – is not necessarily reflected in the very pop culture that fans are there to celebrate.

Gal Gador as Wonder Woman in Batman v Superman

This year nowhere was this more evident than at two of the most highly anticipated Comic Con panels: Marvel and Warner Bros. While the film studios were there to promote, respectively, The Avengers: Age of Ultron and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, many fans were hoping for news of a Black Widow or Wonder Woman movie. Unsurprisingly, given Hollywood’s relationship with female-fronted films, the studios were not forthcoming. Mind-boggling though it is, Batman v Superman will be the first time Wonder Woman – the most famous female superhero in the world – has appeared on the big screen.

Anthony Mackie as Falcon in Captain America: the Winter Soldier

Earlier this year, Anthony Mackie, who played Falcon (AKA Sam Wilson) in Captain America: the Winter Soldier spoke of his joy at being able to give young black boys a superhero to look up to and said girls should have the same opportunity: “There should be a Wonder Woman movie… ‘cause little girls deserve that. There’s so many of these little people out here doing awful things for money in the world of being famous. And little girls see that. They should have the opposite spectrum of that to look up to.” Meanwhile, Marvel is equally reticent to commit to a Black Widow film, despite both the fans – and Scarlett Johansson, who plays Black Widow – publicly calling for one.

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow

While lack of diversity in Hollywood is not news, it is more noticeable in comic-book movies than the usual blockbuster fare because of the contrast that can be made between the films and their source material. Comics have long been regarded as a highly progressive medium – it is no coincidence that the first comic book (Action Comics #1 with Superman on the cover) was published in 1938, a year before the Second World War – and provided a forum for exploration of race, gender and even disability. Superman is, at its heart, an immigrant tale while X-Men, which recently had its fifth box-office outing starring Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart, is an allegory of the fight against fascism.

With over 75 years of history, comic books boast a multitude of inspirational female, black and even disabled characters – one-time Batgirl Barbara Gordon was for many years confined to a wheelchair. Last year Abraham Riesman, writing in the New Yorker, noted that Marvel’s comic books are “more ethnically diverse, feminist, and queer-positive than they’ve ever been” and that was before last month’s announcement that, in the comics, Thor is to become a woman and Mackie’s character Sam Wilson will step into the Captain America suit.

Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell in Game of Thrones

To some extent the diversity portrayed in the comics has been preserved on the small-screen, however. While based on a fantasy novel series rather than a comic book per se, fan favourite Game of Thrones has led the way in this regard, with the actress Natalie Dormer, who plays the controversial Margaery Tyrell on the show, saying during a Comic Con panel, “The best female roles I think are in television at the moment, I really do… Where television is fantastic and is way ahead of film, it doesn’t feel the need to polarise women so much.” The series has also turned Peter Dinklage, who was born with achondroplasia, a form of dwarfism, into a household name.

Matt Ryan as John Constantine in the forthcoming Constantine

Even television has its limitations, however, no doubt in part due to the prevalence of conservative groups in the US such as the Parents Television Council. Thus, despite its legions of fans, Game of Thrones has been criticised for being “too white”; while Constantine, a forthcoming NBC series heavily promoted at Comic Con this year, has been blasted after producers refused to confirm whether the title character will remain bisexual, as he is in the comic series on which the show is based.

Ultimately, setting aside the complex question of whether it is even possible for artistic endeavours satisfactorily to reflect the audience that consumes them (and spends money on DVDs, cinema tickets and merchandise), from a purely critical view, what’s disappointing about on-screen depictions of comics straying from their source material is that they inevitably suffer creatively. For it is the very diversity of the characters – their individuality and their struggles – that gives them depth and, in turn, longevity.

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Rising crime and fewer police show the most damaging impacts of austerity

We need to protect those who protect us.

Today’s revelation that police-recorded crime has risen by 10 per cent across England and Wales shows one of the most damaging impacts of austerity. Behind the cold figures are countless stories of personal misery; 723 homicides, 466,018 crimes with violence resulting in injury, and 205,869 domestic burglaries to take just a few examples.

It is crucial that politicians of all parties seek to address this rising level of violence and offer solutions to halt the increase in violent crime. I challenge any Tory to defend the idea that their constituents are best served by a continued squeeze on police budgets, when the number of officers is already at the lowest level for more than 30 years.

This week saw the launch Chris Bryant's Protect The Protectors Private Member’s Bill, which aims to secure greater protections for emergency service workers. It carries on where my attempts in the last parliament left off, and could not come at a more important time. Cuts to the number of police officers on our streets have not only left our communities less safe, but officers themselves are now more vulnerable as well.

As an MP I work closely with the local neighbourhood policing teams in my constituency of Halifax. There is some outstanding work going on to address the underlying causes of crime, to tackle antisocial behaviour, and to build trust and engagement across communities. I am always amazed that neighbourhood police officers seem to know the name of every kid in their patch. However cuts to West Yorkshire Police, which have totalled more than £160m since 2010, have meant that the number of neighbourhood officers in my district has been cut by half in the last year, as the budget squeeze continues and more resources are drawn into counter-terrorism and other specialisms .

Overall, West Yorkshire Police have seen a loss of around 1,200 officers. West Yorkshire Police Federation chairman Nick Smart is clear about the result: "To say it’s had no effect on frontline policing is just a nonsense.” Yet for years the Conservatives have argued just this, with the Prime Minister recently telling MPs that crime was at a record low, and ministers frequently arguing that the changing nature of crime means that the number of officers is a poor measure of police effectiveness. These figures today completely debunk that myth.

Constituents are also increasingly coming to me with concerns that crimes are not investigated once they are reported. Where the police simply do not have the resources to follow-up and attend or investigate crimes, communities lose faith and the criminals grow in confidence.

A frequently overlooked part of this discussion is that the demands on police have increased hugely, often in some unexpected ways. A clear example of this is that cuts in our mental health services have resulted in police officers having to deal with mental health issues in the custody suite. While on shift with the police last year, I saw how an average night included a series of people detained under the Mental Health Act. Due to a lack of specialist beds, vulnerable patients were held in a police cell, or even in the back of a police car, for their own safety. We should all be concerned that the police are becoming a catch-all for the state’s failures.

While the politically charged campaign to restore police numbers is ongoing, Protect The Protectors is seeking to build cross-party support for measures that would offer greater protections to officers immediately. In February, the Police Federation of England and Wales released the results of its latest welfare survey data which suggest that there were more than two million unarmed physical assaults on officers over a 12-month period, and a further 302,842 assaults using a deadly weapon.

This is partly due to an increase in single crewing, which sees officers sent out on their own into often hostile circumstances. Morale in the police has suffered hugely in recent years and almost every front-line officer will be able to recall a time when they were recently assaulted.

If we want to tackle this undeniable rise in violent crime, then a large part of the solution is protecting those who protect us; strengthening the law to keep them from harm where possible, restoring morale by removing the pay cap, and most importantly, increasing their numbers.

Holly Lynch is the MP for Halifax. The Protect the Protectors bill will get its second reading on the Friday 20th October. 

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