Even if Suicide Squad was a competent movie and not merely a series of disconnected scenes, it would still have one major problem: The way it handles race and nationality. Its cast of characters is nearly as mixed as the Fast and Furious franchise, which should be something to celebrate. It also does not white-wash — which sadly is still a victory, between Aloha, Gods of Egypt, Exodus: Gods and Kings, and Doctor Strange, to name a few recent examples. Suicide Squad rises above in its casting, but it never allows its characters to be more than stereotypes that range from tired (the Australian guy drinks, likes boomerangs, and says mate a lot!) to appalling (the black guy just wants to watch BET and is part animal; the Latino guy is a gang member). Critics have called it racist, let’s take a look at its most egregious portrayals.
Captain Crocodile Dundee
The Australian guy is named Captain Boomerang, says “mate” every two minutes, and is always drinking. This is like if the only Irish character was named Captain Leprechaun and stepdanced everywhere, or if the Chinese guy was named Captain Calculator and harnessed his superpowers by using Pokémon Go. If Captain America were in Suicide Squad, its take on him would be getting one of the Duck Dynasty guys to appear onscreen. If he was supposed to be a Chechen guy, the movie would have simply cast Ramzan Kadryov’s cat.
An Asian ninja assassin woman who is named for her weapons and barely speaks
Katana is an Asian woman who literally has no identity or name outside of her weapons — that’s like being named “throwing star.” And because Asian woman are obviously quiet and docile, Rick Flagg, a white guy, does most of the speaking for her; though it’s later revealed she understands English. If that isn’t enough of a face-palm, Katana speaks to her dead husband through her sword and is vaguely mystical in ways that are never fully explained — who needs an explanation, when “because she’s the Asian ninja one” should be enough? At no point is she given even a hint of a personality.
A latino gang member
The Latino guy — El Diablo — has elaborate Dia de los Muertos tattoos, is referred to as “hombre,” and was in a gang. El Diablo and Slipknot, who is played by an aboriginal actor and amounts to glorified canon-fodder, are the Squad’s only casualties.
A black guy covered by animalistic face makeup who just wants to watch BET
There is a myriad of appalling historical baggage that comes with making the black guy “the animalistic one.” Suicide Squad did not have to cast a black actor as Killer Croc — Ron Perlman voiced him in the animated series — but it chose to, and it then chose to make his dearest ambition watching BET music videos, because what else would he want to do?
And by covering Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje in such thick makeup and prosthetics, the film made him unrecognizable, which followed the dubious tradition of covering up actors of color. Almost all the Na’vi in Avatar were played by POC, even though they could have been played by literally anyone, and when Lupita Nyong’o appears in The Black Panther, it will be among the first times she’s actually shown her real face onscreen since winning a fucking Oscar. The one saving grace is that Killer Croc makes it to the end, unlike El Diablo and Slipknot — because God forbid he doesn’t get a final scene of admiring big butts. Jesus fucking Christ.
An angry black woman
Unlike Killer Croc, Amanda Waller is definitely a role for a black actress. And that’s a good thing, as is any opportunity to get Viola Davis onscreen. Davis’s performance was among Suicide Squad’s scant moments of grace. But she’s always described as “mean,” and at one point, she literally murders a group of office workers for no apparent reason other than the fact that she’s a mean lady. There’s a lot of cultural baggage around the stereotype of angry black woman, and subverting or commenting on that would be interesting, but at no point does Suicide Squad try to give her motives. She’s just mean and angry, okay?
A Jew with the powers to shoot money from her fingers
That last one was made up, but if you hadn’t seen the movie, you wouldn’t have been able to tell. Suicide Squad is so blatantly, outrageously, almost comically offensive, with stereotypes galore and cellophane-thin characterization, you’d think it was doing it on purpose to be subversive — only, it isn’t smart enough to. In that regard, it really is the summer tentpole that 2016 deserves.
Photos via Entertainment Weekly, DC/Warner Bros