Every year in October, I find myself watching a lot of Tim Burton movies to get into the Halloween spirit. I’ve always loved their creativity and eerie nature, but recently, along with many others, I have begun to notice the lack of diversity in the characters being portrayed. This lack of representation is present in both his live action and animated films such as Edward Scissorhands (1990), Corpse Bride (2005), Frankenweenie (2012), Sweeney Todd (2007) and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016) just to name a few. For a while this seemed to go unnoticed, but with the recent push for diversity in Hollywood, Burton’s films have started to become more scrutinized.
Samuel L. Jackson as Mr. Barron in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Burton has made upwards of 25 movies now, and the only non-white actor in any major role is Samuel L. Jackson who plays the villain in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, which isn’t exactly a victory. The first time a Tim Burton movie has a black character, and he is absolutely evil. Yikes. In a 2016 interview with Bustle on the subject of why there is no diversity in his movies, Burton stated “Things either call for things or they don’t,” which is about the weakest and least articulate defense possible. Essentially, Burton recognizes his complete lack of diversity, but doesn’t plan on doing anything about it. It is not as though he is unaware of the problem, but rather he is making the conscious decision to only cast white people, and his only defense on the matter is basically the equivalent of “because I just feel like it.”
Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd on the streets of Sweeney Todd’s fictional London
One could try to make the argument that many of Burton’s films take place in areas like Victorian London where it wouldn’t be historically accurate to include a racially diverse cast, but seeing as Burton’s films never even approach the idea of being normal or realistic, once again this would be a pretty weak response. If a man can have scissors for hands, Victorian London can have a diverse population. Since Burton’s films include themes of people being different or outcasts, it seems odd to have a cast of people that all look exactly the same.
More diversity in Hollywood starts with the people making the films, and people like Tim Burton are slowing down the process of incorporating more cultural representation into the media. It is one thing to not realize that what you are producing lacks diversity, but it is so much worse to be aware of what you are doing and not see a problem with it. I’m sure there are plenty of other directors and producers who share Burton’s mind set. Nothing is going to change unless the people with power in the film industry become aware of the need for diversity, and actually start caring.