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Chris Pine’s ‘SNL’ monologue reminds us how bad Hollywood’s superhero diversity problem is

Chris Pine arrives at the AFI Awards at the Four Seasons Hotel on Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, in Los Angeles. (Chris Pizzello / Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
Chris Pine arrives at the AFI Awards at the Four Seasons Hotel on Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, in Los Angeles. (Chris Pizzello / Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
By Amy B Wang Washington Post

When “Saturday Night Live” guest host Chris Pine emerged onto the stage for his opening monologue last night, he was fully prepared for people not to know exactly who he was.

“As many of you know, I have a movie coming out this weekend,” Pine announced. “It’s called ‘Guardians of the Galaxy.’ ”

The audience cheered. Pine hung his head.

“See? See? I knew that was going to happen,” Pine said, wagging his finger. “I am not in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy.’ That’s Chris Pratt. I am Chris Pine.”

Pine proceeded to bring various “SNL” cast members on stage to clarify his identity, but they only confuse him with other famous Chrises. Pine is forced to tell Leslie Jones that he is neither Chris Evans, who played Captain America, nor Chris Hemsworth.

Jones snaps a selfie, then yells “Thank you, Thor!”

Before Pine can correct her again – it was Hemsworth who starred in “Thor” – she disappears from the stage.

If the set-up seemed familiar, it’s because the Many Chrises Phenomenon has been around in Hollywood for several years now.

In 2014, New York magazine published a “Handy Hunksplainer” to help readers differentiate between movie stars Pine, Evans, Pratt and Hemsworth. Among its categories (eye color, signature gaze, rom-com cred, number of GQ profiles) was one called “How he’s not like the other Chrises.” (For Pine, that line read: “Never quite reached full Chris potential; enjoys skeet-shooting.”)

Two and a half years later, Pine came prepared to poke fun at his place in the Chris World Order on Saturday, at one point in his monologue rolling out an oversize poster with the faces of Evans, Pratt, Hemsworth and himself, then describing their unique qualities in a song-and-dance number set to “Uptown Girl.” He’s also amassed a bit more Chris cred, appearing in about a half-dozen additional movies since 2014, including reprising his role as Captain Kirk in “Star Trek Beyond.”

But whether inadvertently or intentionally, Pine and his tongue-in-cheek monologue once again highlighted Hollywood’s diversity problem, particularly when it comes to big-budget superhero movies. Whereas Marvel Comics has made strides in including more female and minority main characters in its comic books, the company faced backlash last month after David Gabriel, a vice president of sales, suggested that diversity was causing sales to slide.

“What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity. They didn’t want female characters out there,” Gabriel said at the Marvel Retailer Summit, according to Entertainment Weekly. “We saw the sales of any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up against. That was difficult for us because we had a lot of fresh, new, exciting ideas that we were trying to get out and nothing new really worked.”

Online, readers slammed Marvel for changing old characters rather than coming up with new ones – or reintroducing old ones – that reflected their communities.

In an op-ed for the Guardian, comics critic J.A. Micheline rejected the idea that diversity could be blamed for poor sales and urged the comic-book industry to expand its audience.

“I can promise you that it’s not women going into comic-book shops, sick of female characters,” Micheline wrote. “I can similarly promise you that people of colour are not entering comic-book shops and turning their noses up at faces that look like theirs. By even making remarks like these, Marvel is seemingly conceding that its target audience, its ‘core’ audience – and their ‘core’ characters – are white and male.”

Little wonder that Marvel Studios, a Disney subsidiary that owns such lucrative franchises as “The Avengers,” “Ant-Man” and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” has been slower to reflect diverse characters on the big screen. A popular graphic put together in 2015 by Twitter users @fauxparse and @comikazejeff pointed out that, “more often, Marvel heroes are played by white dudes named Chris than all women put together.”

That graphic is two years old now, but even updating for newer Marvel releases like “Captain America: Civil War,” “Doctor Strange” and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” its premise holds true. It also doesn’t include DC Comics, which owns the equally white male-dominated Superman and Batman franchises – but which in June will finally release “Wonder Woman,” starring Gal Gadot in the title superheroine role. (The movie will also, incidentally, star Chris Pine.)

Which brings us back to the Many Chrises. That there should now be enough similar-looking movie stars named Chris to warrant an “SNL” opening monologue devoted to them hints at Hollywood’s tendency to play it safe. (For what it’s worth, their names are likely a coincidence. Throughout the 1980s, “Christopher” happened to be the second most popular baby name for boys born that decade, according to Social Security Administration records; Pine, Hemsworth, et al. all fall into this demographic.)

“You’re all kind of scruffy and squinty and jacked – but in a sweet way,” Kate McKinnon tells Pine in his monologue, when he wonders why people confuse him with other Chrises.

Later, she comes running out again, with another epiphany for Pine. “I thought of another way that all the Chrises are the same!” she tells him. “You’re always at the airport wearing raggedy tees that are tight just around the pecs, and you have bracelets with, like, wooden beads from Bali or wherever.”

Last May, BuzzFeed UK’s Bim Adewunmi penned a lengthy devotional to the actor Chris Evans, describing him as “very handsome, but not oppressively so” with “a thick head of hair, nice blue eyes, and a pleasant – if not exactly breathtaking – face.” She could have easily been describing Pine, or Hemsworth, or Pratt, and Adewunmi acknowledges later that Hollywood has taken to these types of leading men precisely because they’re so commutable:

“That star system is largely a thing of the past and where there were once standalone giants – shimmering, glowing stars in the cinema firmament, even – we now have a slate of (largely interchangeable) nice white men. We live in the Age of the Many Chrises. Fifteen years ago, you could argue, Chris Evans would be enjoying a nice mid-level Hollywood career, churning out inoffensive rom-coms (“Playing It Cool”) and cult fare (“Snowpiercer”), topped off by the occasional sleeper hit. But times are different, and specialness is a bonus rather than a hard requirement.”

In many ways, it was Leslie Jones who illustrated this point most effectively on Saturday, after Pine spent some time on stage emphasizing that he is not the Chris she thinks he is.

“Pine,” Jones says, considering this for a moment before pointing her cell phone camera toward both of them anyway. “OK, that’s good enough.”

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