Recently the release of the trailer for Prey, the latest film in the Predator franchise, has been making rounds on the internet. This latest film continues the anthology base of the previous films, taking the series out of the modern-day and, instead, weaving a period piece about a young Indigenous American woman named Naru (played by Amber Midthunder) going head to head with one of the alien hunters. While most have reacted to this latest news with excitement and curiosity, we unfortunately also have to deal with the now common trolls that are accusing this new film of being ‘woke’ due to its non-conventional lead. This is of course ironic since from the beginning, diversity has been one of the trademarks of the Predator series.
The Predator series began in 1987. The original film told of an elite rescue squad who are targeted by an extraterrestrial big game hunter in the jungles of Central America. A science fiction and horror classic, the film kickstarted a franchise that has been going strong to this day, with numerous sequels, spinoff films, comic books, and video games to its name. Now one may look at a premise like that and ask just what could be ‘woke’ about such a story? A lot actually, so let’s discuss it.
The first point to make is the series has always featured very diverse casts. This goes back to the original 1987 classic. The bulk of Predator‘s cast is either black, with Dillon (Carl Weathers) and Mac (Bill Duke), or indigenous American, with Billy (Sonny Landham) and Poncho (Richard Chavez). Only two members of the original cast, Blaine (Jesse Ventura) and Hawkins (Shane Black) are white natural-born US citizens, and it is these two who are the first to die at the hands of the titular monster. The lead of the film, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is not a white US citizen, but an Austrian immigrant. Schwarzenegger had only achieved his US citizenship four years before Predator‘s release.
Then of course there is the character of Anna. Anna is a Central American guerilla fighter who the squad captures early in the movie. Any other action film of the time would have treated her as a one-note character with no redeeming qualities, but Predator gives Anna a lot of depth. It’s she who first sees the creature, and it’s she who knows the most about it, given her village used to be routinely stalked by the alien hunters during her childhood. Throughout the film she provides crucial information the squad needs to defeat the monster, and come to the end of the film, it’s her who brings Dutch’s allies back into the jungle to rescue him following the battle between him and the creature. Just as noteworthy as what she does are the things Anna doesn’t do. She’s not treated as an object of sexual desire, nor is she treated as a love interest to Dutch. Instead, she earns her place as a trusted member of the team, and along with Dutch, is one of the only survivors.
This diversity is not only continued in Predator 2, but it becomes even more prevalent. Here, the leads consist of four characters, Mike Harrigan (Danny Glover), Leona Cantrell (Maria Conchita Alonso), Danny Archuleta (Ruben Blades), and Jerry Lambert (Bill Paxton). Notice anything? Half the cast is Latino and the lead character is black. The non-white characters are portrayed as more competent and disciplined while Lambert is portrayed as a cocky blowhard who serves mainly as comic relief. As for the film’s treatment of Leona? The film builds her up at Lambert’s expense. Lambert’s introduction to the film is him attempting to flirt with her, which she responds to by squeezing his manhood to get him to back off. It’s pretty clear where Predator 2 stands on the topic of tough women.
During the film, the lead character of Harrigan is portrayed as a black man in a white world. He is constantly belittled by his white superiors, and those who are aware of the Predator such as Peter Keyes (Gary Busey), do nothing but obstruct his progress in hunting the creature down. This obstruction leaves his partners and friends unprepared as they’re stalked by the monster. When it comes to fighting the Predator, Harrigan is shown as being a capable and crafty opponent. This is in sharp contrast to Peter Keyes’ mostly white team who are decimated during a fight at the local slaughterhouse.
Following the Aliens vs. Predator films, the series continued with trend with 2010’s Predators, which pitted a group of misfits dumped on an alien world against a clan of the ruthless hunters. Like the original, the cast of Predators is very diverse. In Predators, diversity is actually one of the themes of the film, with the alien hunters searching the entire world for the most skilled killers from all over the world to see which among them is the deadliest. Bringing these characters to life are such established and diverse talent as Laurence Fishburne, Mahershala Ali, Danny Trejo and Louis Ozawa Changchien.
Among this ensemble, who are the heroes of the story? The filmmakers ended up wanting to deliberately cast someone against type as the lead role, so they went outside the realm of action films to find their man. They found an unusual lead in Adrian Brody, known for such films as The Pianist as opposed to The Terminator. Adrian Brody plays Royce, a special forces soldier who becomes the de-facto leader of the group of stranded misfits. As in the first two films, one of the most crucial members of the cast is not only a woman but a woman of color, with Brazilian actor Alice Braga playing Isabelle, an Israeli soldier and conscience to Royce. As for Royce? Brody himself carried on the series’ proud tradition of diversity as Brody is ethnically Jewish. It’s Royce and Isabelle who prove the toughest amongst the ensemble, working together to best their enemy so they may fight another day.
Alien vs. Predator Universe
And that only covers the diversity seen in the first two movies! The expanded universe contains even more examples who have become icons all their own. Case and point are Machiko Noguchi, the main character of the Aliens vs. Predator comic series. A born survivor, Noguchi is caught in the middle of a war between the Aliens and Predators, eventually siding with a Predator named Dachande or ‘Broken Tusk’ who grows to respect and admire her, even going so far as to mark her as one of their own following the incident. Noguchi spends a lot of time hunting alongside the Predators, often being subject to prejudice on the part of her adopted species. Through it, she remains tough and resourceful, things that have made her a fan-favorite character. Her series continues to this day, Noguchi has even been immortalized through numerous action figures and other collectibles.
Noguchi proved very influential in the first Aliens vs. Predator film, serving as the primary inspiration for the character of Lex (Sanaa Lathan). Lex, a black woman, is an archeologist who travels to Antarctica to study an ancient temple below the ice. Like Noguchi before her, finds herself caught in a fight between the Aliens and Predators and is forced to choose a side. She joins forces with the Scar Predator, and the two do battle with the Alien Hive and even defeat a Queen. For her bravery, Lex is marked as a blooded warrior by the clan, and given a spear as a gesture of respect by the clan elder, echoing Harrigan’s encounter with the elder at the end of Predator 2. The follow up, Aliens vs: Predator Requiem, similarly had a woman in the lead role, with Reiko Aylesworth playing Kelly, a soldier attempting to lead er daughter across a besieged town. Neither of these films are fan favorites (I myself am not a big fan of either), but criticisms of them were centered around both lacking suspense and craftsmanship. No one was angry at the films for having a ‘woke’ lead, even though they most assuredly do.
The Man Who Was The Predator
Of course, one can’t talk about the diversity of Predator without bringing up the man behind the character himself, Kevin Peter Hall. Kevin Peter Hall was a gentle giant of a man well known for his roles in creature features, such as Predator prototype Without Warning and the gentle sasquatch in Harry and the Hendersons. On top of this, he also had a rich career as an actor, making numerous television appearances that often poked fun at his astonishing height. Predator however was the most iconic role of his career, with Hall portraying three different iterations of the character, once in the original film as the Jungle Hunter, and twice in Predator 2 as both the City Hunter and the Elder who rewards Harrigan at the film’s finale. Sadly, Kevin Peter Hall contracted AIDs shortly after the release of the second film, dying young at the age of 35. For supposed fans to complain about diversity in this series is not only asinine but deeply insulting to the life and career of a talented man of color who gave the creature a character he otherwise would not have had.
What Has Changed for Prey?
Some may read this article and scoff. You may say that these earlier examples are different than Prey because earlier Predator films weren’t made with an agenda, but what have we seen up to this point? The monster was itself brought to life by a black man, the films feature diverse casts, have already featured leads that were people of color and women, and the series has gone so far as to show primarily people of color and women (Harrigan, Noguchi, and Lex) shown open respect by Predator tribes. So what has changed? Not the Predator series. What has changed is now there is a cult of content creators who are telling you, the viewer, that you’re supposed to be angry. Had such content creators been around when any of the above examples were released, Danny Glover would have been called a diversity hire, Noguchi and Lex would have been called ‘woke propaganda’ and the series would have been subject to innumerable such criticisms as ugly as they were pitiful.
Let’s be clear. Prey will not be good by default just because of the lead character. It may not be that scary, it may be lacking in suspense, and the action might prove underwhelming. Some of the above examples have already received such criticisms, criticisms that have been met with open ears. Where the line is crossed is the focus on the lead character, not for how well they’re written, but simply for being included at all. Diversity and trailblazing are not only something that has been part of Predator since the original, but it’s one of the things that have made the series great. Amber Midthunder’s Naru is one more face in a long line of characters that have proven time and time again that the strength to defeat the alien hunters is found all over the world. If you’re upset at seeing a woman as the lead? Predator is for adults, and adults aren’t afraid of cooties. Besides, if you want a non-woke lead you could always watch Shane Black’s The Predator. I mean, that was a great movie. Right?
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