Episode 04 – Guardians of the Galaxy and Ensemble Movies – Part 2

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Hans, Marion, and Sarah. Recorded sometime in the early 1800’s.

This podcast has two parts. Part 1 and 2 are each about an hour. This is the second.

I tried to edit out as many spoilers as I could and then I gave up. So there are spoilers about Guardians of the Galaxy and X-Men 2.


  1. I was getting a little confused by the discussion of “ensemble” movies vs. “assemble” movies vs. “rag tag” movies vs. “all-star” movies. I felt like when Marion or Sarah (sorry I can’t distinguish which one was which from my memory) said that the Avengers was an “all star” movie I agreed with her in terms of the story and characters in that story, but I feel like the other panelists thought she was using the term “all star” as in like hollywood star power. Then I feel like the conversation switched to talking about movies with a bunch of hollywood stars in them, and how that is different from the “misfit, learn the power of friendship” trope. I don’t know, the conversation kind of bounced around a lot, and I think there is a distinction between the rag tag misfits assembling versus the all stars assembling that the panelists never got back too. If you compare the Avengers with the Guardians of the Galaxy, I think there are 2 very different dynamics at play. The Avengers really are all stars in their worlds; Thor is a god, Tony Stark is the richest man alive, Captain America single handedly won the secret WWII. They are an all star team that does need to learn to work together, but it is more about them each letting go of their pride and ego. The Guardians of the Galaxy is a group of misfits who are straight up outlaws that need to learn to work together through learning to trust each other despite their individual flaws.

    I also want to comment about the large issue of gender balance in films that was discussed at length. I don’t think the real problem is that movies that are male dominated are being made, the problem is that they are the ONLY types of movies being made, or a large majority of the movies, but I don’t think the movies and media themselves are the problem, I think the real issue is that there are not enough female creators of media. I mean writers are going to write what they know, and most writers are white dudes. It’s like you guys are looking at apple trees, and saying “I’m sick of this apple tree making apples, it should make oranges.”

    But maybe Marion and Sarah and Hans feel like there is something inherently wrong about a film that is not gender balanced? I agree with Hans’s first grenade statement that not every piece of media needs to be balanced because reality is not balanced. I feel like Sarah and Marion want media to show this ideal egalitarian world that the world should be like, but not all stories can or should be that. I guess maybe it’s a question of whether or not you believe media shapes society or if society shapes media. It is probably a bit of both, but this panel seems very sensitive to the possible effect media has on culture and society.

    • WBC – thanks for your comments! Our discussion did get a little confusing, I think because we all had different definitions in mind. But what you said about The Avengers vs. Guardians of the Galaxy makes a lot of sense. Sarah’s the one who said the Avengers are all-stars.

      I agree that there need to be more women and minorities in Hollywood – not just writers, but directors and producers as well. But I disagree with how you characterize what Sarah and I want. I don’t want the media to show an ideal egalitarian world – I want more representation. Wanting more female or minority characters isn’t exactly an egalitarian revolution. To tweak your apple tree analogy a bit – we’re asking why the media is only planting apple trees.

  2. Thanks for listening and commenting, WBC! Yes, you and I agree re: The Avengers All-Star status.

    I’d also like to echo Marion’s comments above. We are advocating for more diverse representation in mainstream media. I think it’s not only reasonable but necessary to identify a film’s attention, or lack of attention, to diversity. To your last point, yes, I believe that media are extremely powerful. For better or worse, the stories, tropes, and characters that are portrayed over and over again become part of a cultural narrative that contributes to how viewers see the world. There are several decades of research on media effects; I would recommend checking out the cultivation theory and social cognitive theory for more expert information on the subject.

  3. I think my wall pops up when I hear (not what is said, but what I hear) is something along the lines of how the movie should have been different when it’s a way that goes against how I related to it. If I’ve related to a character, like Rocket, I don’t want him to change, I’m good with him. So if making it more diverse means no Rocket as I related to him, up go the hackles.

    I think diversity is good. I think story and delivery is what draws me in and keeps me. I’d LIKE to think (can’t prove) I’ll watch whatever as long as it’s a compelling story. Male, female, Chinese, black, latino, whatever. Good story, I’m in. More diversity – yes, needed.

    We should do a podcast about great examples of diversity in compelling stories. There are a lot! They should be promoted. We could start with the Expendables.

    • You can kind of prove that you’ll watch whatever as long as there’s a compelling story – can you name any movies not focused on white men that you enjoyed and related to?

      I guess MY hackles go up when I hear someone saying that telling a good story and having a more realistic representation are at odds with each other. A diverse cast doesn’t stand in the way of a good story, and a good story doesn’t stand in the way of a diverse cast. When someone says “I just care about the story,” what I hear is “I don’t think there are good stories about people like you.”

      • Agreed, Marion.

        Also, many people rarely see themselves represented at all in media — nevermind being depicted as non-stereotypical, complex characters. This is extremely problematic and connects back to our discussion of media’s effects over time on worldview and ideology. As Marie Wilson stated, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

      • Marion, I’ll skip the first point. For your second point, I’m with you. I’m sorry you heard that, it’s not what I meant. What you said goes along with what I meant – good story is good story, and more diversity is good, and if you’re arguing for more diverse stories, if they’re good, great, I’m interested. I don’t like lame stories about white men, and I don’t like lame stories not about white men. I like good stories and good dialogue and interesting character development and plot movement. Whoever, whenever, whatever.

        Sometimes I don’t notice diversity in stories. I was thinking about Joss Whedon last night, a good example of including diverse characters (except for the Avengers, as we discussed on the podcast) and I realized that Zoë in Serenity is a black woman. I had to think about it to realize that. I guess I noticed she was female when I wondered if there was any chemistry between she and Mal, but mainly I think she’s a kick-butt character that plays an important role in balancing Mal’s recklessness and in the ship’s family. Jayne could have been a Chinese female or an Indian grandpa. Actually that might have been interesting. I think there are some characters you might be able to swap out of a story and change some of the connections between characters and plot and make it work. Other times changing out the character would really alter the story. In Antwone Fisher, for example, his race and background are central to the progression of the story, but that’s the purpose of that story, for me, to tell his story. For some of these huge action movies, the purpose of the story is less specific – Defeat the Big Bad – so maybe it wouldn’t break the story in half to make Hawkeye a gal. But it might break the heart of a lifelong Hawkeye comic fan who’s been waiting for a movie, and I think that’s worth considering too. I’m not that guy, but I know some of those guys. They have a valid point of view too.

        I appreciate thinking more about this stuff thanks to these conversations. And when I get the funding to make my TV show (“Online Courses: The Movie!”) I’ll definitely include a range of characters that people can relate to.

      • What do you mean when you say you want more of a “realistic representation,” Marion? Are you wanting stories to accurately reflect what society is like now, an objective reality, or do you want stories to reflect an idealized version of reality? At what point does striving for diverse representation switch over to tokenism? I like the idea of you guys talking about movies that do get representation right.

        • I guess I want more stories that reflect what society is like now, or what society would probably be in the future if we’re talking a Star Trek-type movie. Like, it’s bananas that in Star Trek Into Darkness, they changed the Khan character into a white man.

          And i think that tokenism happens when you write a character or cast an actor just for their race or gender, and don’t bother to make them a real character or give them anything to do. Galaxy Quest does a great spoof of this. Sigourney Weaver’s character in Galaxy Quest is dynamic and interesting and has an actual character arc. But her character’s character in the show didn’t do anything except repeat what the computer had just said, and she was only on the show because they wanted some sex appeal.

          • Oh man, I agree about the whole Star Trek thing. I’m a big fan of the Next Generation series of Star Trek, and I think TNG does a pretty good job of presenting a diverse and interesting cast of characters, but Into Darkness didn’t really do a good job of presenting the federation as the ideal and diverse governing body that it is in TNG or Voyager.

            When I imagine writing a story, I am very afraid of writing female characters or characters outside my perspective of the world because I just don’t know that perspective, and I would be very afraid of getting it wrong, and having my female characters no better than the Megan Fox on Transformers type of role for the women in my story. Is it good enough to just have the female characters be the exact opposite of Megan Fox from Transformers?

          • “Rule #1 of writing females – carefully study Megan Fox’s portrayal in Transformers. Write the diametric opposite except they can be a mechanic.”

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