Analysis of the numerous roles of women in Mad Max: Fury Road is making some people ask the question, “Where are all the black people in the future?” It’s not a bad question, but it’s a question that, if you’re going to bother interrogating an action film set in a post-apocalyptic future with any earnestness, has some data we should apply to it first. There is the obvious answer to the question, the second most obvious answer, and a third, purely scientific answer.
The first and most obvious answer is that director George Miller has it in for people of color, meaning he doesn’t want them in his film, meaning he’s racist. I’m not inclined to go with an answer to that question that disparages the man who gave us Tina Turner as “Aunty Entity” thirty years ago, which, honestly? Should negate this question entirely.
But, still allowing for the question despite that fact, here’s another fact that negates the absolutist tone of the question: there are at least two people of color in MMFR of note (meaning with lines or action): “Toast the Knowing” (Zoe Kravitz) and “Cheedo the Fragile” (Courtney Eaton, who is just not-white enough that you can next find her playing an Egyptian slave coming soon). Also on the table is “The Valkyrie”, portrayed by an actress (Megan Gale) of some percentage of Maori lineage, but people far more Australian than I have argued against citing her in the same breath because her inclusion is more ethnically cursory than promoted (meaning that’s information you have to look up to know, not offered by characterization). So if you’re one of those people who likes to question the diversity of things they haven’t interacted with solely based on random headlines, the short answer is “they’re in Acts 2 and 3”.
But let’s say you’re not looking for a political fight. Let’s say you’re actually wondering how the Mad Max universe operates in terms of race, what it’s continuity might consist of. That leaves us with the equally theoretical – and slightly more fun – exercise of science.
So let’s start with some facts:
All of the Mad Max films take place in Australia. That’s not just where they shot the films because Hollywood is expensive: these are actually Australian stories. As of 2014 Australia had 23.5 million people in it. That’s 3 million LESS than Texas in the same year. So we’re already working with a country that doesn’t have a lot of people in it of ANY color. Australia literally has more kangaroos than people.
How many of them (Australians, not kangaroos) aren’t white is key here. The Australian census didn’t count most (or any) POCs until the 1960s, and the numbers have fluctuated as the legal definition of terms like “native”, “aboriginal” and “white” have changed over the years. If you’re a black or Native American (or both, recently) you’re already kind of familiar with this kind of fuzzy legalese. At any rate, the percentage of black POCs in Australia is likely around 2.5 – 3 percent.
(EDIT: I should note here that while Australia has a good number of immmigrants who claim a variety of ethnicities and points of origin, they overwhelmingly come from the UK and Asia, not countries where black people are prominent. My goal here is to figure out where the black people are in the future, so I’ll be focusing on numbers that draw that information out.)
Know what the percentage of Native Americans are in Texas? In 2013 it was 1 percent. So Americans, here’s an exercise: triple the number of Native Americans you saw today in your head (for most of you that number will be zero) and realize that’s how many black people of color Australia has. For fun, let’s put a whole number to that percentage. 3 percent of 23.5 million Australians is 705,000 black Australians of color. That’s it.
Now let’s talk about where they live, because this will be on the test later when we start blowing things up.
The urbanization rate is how many people live in cities versus rural or remote areas. The percentages of Australian blacks breaks down thus: almost one-third – 31 percent – of them live in major cities. Another 45 percent live in regional areas. 24 percent live in remote areas. For the record, that’s 218,550 in cities, 317,250 in regional areas around cities, and 169,200 in remote areas. If you packed MetLife Stadium for a New York Giants game three times you’d have more people than Australia has blacks living in all of its major cities combined. It’s the Giants, so good luck with that, but that’s the math.
Now apply dystopian dysfunction.
The first Mad Max film isn’t post-apocalyptic; it’s dystopian. No one’s dropped a bomb on anything yet in that film, and there’s still a functioning society to speak of; it just sucks. It’s a really rough place to live.
So we can assume that, whenever the film takes place in time (“A few years from now…” is the opening), the population is roughly what it is now while we’re all still civilized and not running over each other with motorcycles for breakfast. There weren’t any POCs in that film either, but it was a small international affair, with a cozy cast of aw-shucks ne’er-do-wells…nothing as expansive as the other films. Basically, it was all white just like every other film about a marauding band of bikers who kill a cop’s family in 1979.
Now: drop nuclear bombs on top of everything.
The Road Warrior (or Mad Max 2 if you’re not an American) is a whole ‘nother ballgame. We have a full-blown apocalypse now, a complete unraveling of society and infrastructure, and the nuclear war to prove it. So let’s talk about bombs for a second.
Australia is 2.9 million square miles to America’s 3.7 million. Australia has a pretty small population but it’s big. And as you might imagine, its major population centers – mostly urban – would be utterly destroyed by nuclear war.
One nuclear bomb of almost any yield would be bad enough to decimate any city it was dropped on. A nuclear war would drop multiple bombs in key population zones, and if you did that to Australia the cost of life would be beyond devastating: dropping a single W-78 Minuteman (350 kt) on Melbourne is approximately 147,000 people gone instantly, with almost half a million more injured. Sydney is 208,000 dead/525,000 injured. With just those two bombs you could kill or otherwise incapacitate 1.3 million Australians of only 23.5 million to begin with. Just two bombs, just one day. (Here, you can play at home…IF YOUR CONSCIENCE CAN STAND IT.)
And the people of color?
Remember: 76 percent of Australian blacks live in major cities or regional areas. That’s 535,800 out of the already meager 705,000 gone on day one, or shortly after. You only have 169,200 left to populate all of Australia…which is almost the size of America if you trim off a few states. By the time Tina Turner is utterly SLAYING Bartertown in that hundred pound chainmail dress and Charlize Theron is basically owning both lanes of Fury Road we’ve had decades of fallout, a lack of anything resembling services of any kind, radioactivity, and general bad behavior ruling the land.
So the question shouldn’t even be “Where are all the people of color in Mad Max Fury Road?” The question should be, “How did we ever buy Tina Turner in one of these films?” The most purely logical, shortest and coldest-ass answer to the question of where are all the black people in Mad Max: Fury Road decades after a nuclear war on Australia is, “They’re dead and you’d be lucky to see even one.”
Now, if you want to get mad about the number of black people that are missing in a movie, be mad at It Follows: that flick was shot in Detroit and had almost zero black people in it, and that was before anybody dropped a bomb on it (unless you count gentrification. Boom!).
P.S.) Now, I need to say this out loud out the gate: this article does not negate the responsibility of a film endeavoring to be diverse to actually be diverse, such as this film does. This is just some nerd gaming. Plenty of other articles about how diverse it is or isn’t, and how that’s working.
P.P.S.) I’ve been chided for not putting enough actual lists here, so here is my list of Mad Max films in order of how good they are:
1) The Road Warrior
2) Fury Road
4) Mad Max