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Lighthearted Comedy ‘Shazam!’ is Actually Breaking Ground in Diversity

Zachary Levi stars in Shazam! which can claim to be the film industry's first multicultural superhero family (screenshot via YouTube)
Zachary Levi stars in Shazam! which can claim to be the film industry's first multicultural superhero family (screenshot via YouTube)

“It’s not just a regular superhero movie,” said actor Asher Angel. “We talk about a lot of things that are happening in our world today.”

Actor Zachary Levi is honored to be in the “first multicultural superhero family,” in the new movie Shazam. The lighthearted superhero flick topped the box office this weekend with $53.5 million.

Shazam is the story of 14-year-old foster child Billy Batson (Asher Angel), who gains the power to turn into the adult superhero Shazam (Zachary Levi) by simply shouting out “Shazam!”. Directed by David F. Sandberg, it also stars Mark Strong, Djimon Hounsou, Adam Brody, and Ron Cephas Jones.

Lead character Billy is depicted as living in a foster home that is racially diverse, which also includes a physically disabled child.

In a recent interview with Yahoo Entertainment, the cast and crew of the new blockbuster were asked directly about the significance of this diversity onscreen.

“It feels really good to make a statement and have a spotlight on other people that weren’t really acknowledged before,” said co-star Freddy freeman.

“It’s not just a regular superhero movie,” said actor Asher Angel. “We talk about a lot of things that are happening in our world today.”

Angel explained that this empowers young viewers: “These kids that are watching us onscreen are like ‘Oh, that’s me! That’s how I feel!’ It makes them feel like they’re not alone.”

“I want my kids to grow and know that we’re all multi-hued, multi-colored,” added Mark Strong, who plays the film’s villain, Dr. Thaddeus Sivana.

Director Sandberg acknowledged that this diversity was already present in the DC comic book from 2011 that the film is based on. He emphasized that the message of the comic book was about the importance of family—exemplified by how lead character Billy learns to embrace his foster family.

The diversity and inclusion evident in Shazam may be part of a growing trend. Last year was a record-breaking win for diversity in movies, according to a study from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative.

Women were the lead or co-lead in 40 of the 100 highest-grossing films of last year—and there were 28 films with leads or co-leads from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group.

Last year, the blockbuster superhero film Black Panther also became a benchmark for representation. It became one of the highest-grossing films of all time and the first superhero film ever to receive a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards.

Earlier this year, Captain Marvel also became a hit. Grossing over $1 billion worldwide, it is the first female-led superhero movie to do so.

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