WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!
Recently I went to go watch “Pokémon Detective Pikachu.” Why? I can’t really tell you. For context, I’m not a major Pokémon fan. Sure I played “Pokémon GO” for a little bit, but to be fair I think everyone did. My brother was the major Pokémon fan growing up, so I did spend a fair bit of time watching Pokémon movies and TV shows with him. Every once in a blue moon when he was feeling generous, he’d even let me play one of his precious Pokémon DS Games.
So mostly due to my brother, Pokémon did play some part in my childhood but was not significant enough for me to feel any pull towards this movie when it came out. If I’m being honest with myself, the only reason why I went to see this movie is because the ticket was cheap and I had time to spare.
If you’ve been paying attention to recent box office sales, then you’ll know that “Pokémon Detective Pikachu” has broken the video game movie box office record and has also beat “Avengers: Endgame” in box offices overseas. Which is no small feat, considering “Endgame” recently took the worldwide record for highest opening weekend gross.
Needless to say, “Pokémon Detective Pikachu” has been received extremely well. Many people watching the movie were probably struck by things like the impressive use of CGI, the complex character arcs and the realistic integration of fictional creatures in a world that seems so similar to ours.
But the thing that struck me most about the film is something that hasn’t been a topic of conversation.
To start, the introductory scene of the film is two young men of color trying to catch a Pokémon.
One of them is Karan Soni, an Indian actor known from the “Deadpool” franchise, and the second is Justice Smith, a Black actor known from films like “Paper Towns” and the Netflix TV show “The Get Down.”
I was immediately excited upon seeing that the first two important characters introduced in the film were people of color, especially considering that I never see that in action movies.
We go on to learn that the Justice Smith plays the main character in the film, a 21 year old named Tim Goodman who works for an insurance company.
I was completely blown away by the fact that Justice Smith was playing the main character in this film, because I 100 percent expected the main character in this film to be white. As that was standard to all other films I’ve seen similar to “Pokémon Detective Pikachu,” and just most of the blockbuster films I watch.
But the main character of this film being Black — biracial specifically — was a casting choice that the directors didn’t have to make but chose to anyway. Seamlessly too, to the point where Tim’s race didn’t overshadow his character or become a hindrance to him but instead just became a fact of his identity. Different scenes in the movie show Tim’s Black grandmother and mother and we get to see Tim’s white father for a short period of time in the film, but that’s the most his race comes into play.
Tim is built to be a lovable character who’s introverted and awkward but still finds a sense of self-confidence after undergoing a tumultuous journey to find his father. He’s funny, imperfect and relatable which is a refreshing change from the offensive stereotypes Black characters are often made out to be in film and tv.
More than just the casting of the main character, the diversity of the movie was stood out because the majority of the other people in the film were people of color. The majority of the film takes place in Ryme City, a diverse and bustling metropolis akin to Tokyo, Japan. Throughout the city you could spot multiple billboards and glowing signs, just as many in Japanese as English. Over 40 percent of the people in the city were Asian, presumably Japanese, and the many of the other people held other underrepresented minorities.
For example, the mayor of the city was a Black man and the head scientist was played by Rita Ora, a Yugoslavian singer-songwriter. This was all really refreshing, as for one, most current movies are centered in the western world, not in the Eastern Hemisphere. It was also refreshing because in most films today the majority of people, regardless of whether they’re main characters or extras, are white.
In this movie, there were only about three major white characters (Ryan Reynolds spends the majority of the movie as a Pokémon, and not as Ryan Reynolds, and for so he’s not counted within the three). And also, of those three characters, two of them were villains. Which was a nice change from having people of color fulfill the racist villain tropes in movies (i.e. Arab terrorists, African warlords, Native savages, etc). It was appreciated because it showed that a character’s “evilness” doesn’t have to be conflated with their race or a product of it.
“Pokémon Detective Pikachu” is a dynamic film that has made giant strides in the video game world and in mainstream Hollywood for its representative casting. I loved watching this film because it was an unexpected chance to see people of my race and other minority races well represented and I am excited to see more films in the future that follow “Pokémon Detective Pikachu”’s progressive footsteps.