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Guess who the main character in this India based sitcom is.
No matter how diverse a show's cast or how positive its portrayal of minorities, the lead character will almost always be a conventionally attractive, Christian or agnostic (if his religion is stated at all), heterosexual, cisgender, Caucasian male. Common wisdom in the Western entertainment industry is that a show or film needs a lead character with whom the largest possible swatch of audiences can identify with
so this is usually an Enforced Trope
. The White Male Lead is often The Hero
There are, of course, shows and films with female and/or minority leads, but those works are almost always targeted towards those specific demographics. If a producer wants to appeal across all demographics, chances are they'll go with a white male lead (with the occasional Will Smith
and Jackie Chan
exception). This is because whites are the majority in the West, and studios believe they are unable to relate to minority characters
. Advertising for a show or film will often show the white male in the front and centre with all other characters in the background. It is the advertiser's way of saying, "Yes, this show is perfectly accessible to the majority of Americans."
The WML is closely related to Mighty Whitey
. The difference is that while the Mighty Whitey is a white person who enters a non-white culture and masters every aspect of it, the WML can refer to any white male character who is the focus of the story. Many stories, both real and fictional, are often subjected to Race Lifts
in TV or movie adaptations so that there will be a white guy in the lead role. Another common tactic is for the adaptation to focus on a white male who was a minor character in the original story.
To clarify, a WML does not necessarily have to be in a diverse cast to fit this trope. However, shows with diverse casts will often make his presence more noticeable.
Compare Girl Show Ghetto
, which is probably the main reason why it's White Male Lead and not White Female Lead, Minority Show Ghetto
, Ridiculously Average Guy
, and White Anglo-Saxon Protestant
. Unless a work is consciously avoiding it, he is often the leader of a Token Trio
or Five-Token Band
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- Most films in which the lead can fit the description of Mighty Whitey. Dances With Wolves, The Last Samurai, Avatar etc. Similarly, many White Man's Burden films will fall into this trope.
- Averted in many martial arts films, especially those starring Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li. The martial arts genre is perhaps the only genre in which a large number of films with Asian leads found success in the United States.
- The Forbidden Kingdom takes place in ancient China, but its lead is a white male from the present day. One reviewer said "As a Hollywood blockbuster, The Forbidden Kingdom offers no apologies for its American-centrism. In fact, it wears it with pride like a badge of honor." It was star Jackie Chan's own idea that the protagonist be a white kid, precisely to attract interest in the West for what was basically a Wire Fu movie. This example is unusual in that the White Male Lead is not featured prominently in any of the advertising. The purpose of a White Male Lead in a movie with a minority-heavy cast is usually to attract white audiences, but as mentioned above, Jackie Chan and Jet Li movies usually do not have this problem.
- Universal has planned a film based on the Japanese historical legend of The 47 Ronin starring... Keanu Reeves. Arguably a subversion, since Keanu Reeves is part-Asian. In fact, Keanu tends to play this role a lot — a generic-looking blank that is easy for audience members to project themselves onto (even if this doesn't speak well of his acting ability). Executive Meddling had several scenes reshot because the originals did not give enough focus to Reeves.
- The Last Airbender is an example of a White Male Lead born from a Race Lifted character from the source material.
- Come See the Paradise is a story about Japanese internment camps centered on Dennis Quaid.
- In the original novel One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, the narrator is the Native American Chief Bromden. The film version centers on the white male Randle P. McMurphy without any narration from the Chief.
- Glory is about The American Civil War's 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, one of the first formal units of the U.S. Army to be made up entirely of African-American men. The movie's viewpoint character is Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick), the 54th's white commanding officer.
- Go For Broke, a movie about the Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team, starred the very blonde Van Johnson.
- Averted when Neil Gaiman was approached by film studios wanting to adapt Anansi Boys; he refused because they wanted to cast white actors in place of the all-black leads.
- Averted and parodied in Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle . The opening scene contains two white guys rather than the actual lead characters and sets up their storyline, which happens almost entirely offscreen. The film's creators initially feared that Executive Meddling would turn Harold and Kumar into "Joe and Dave." The two white guys are the movie the creators were afraid that Harold And Kumar would become.
- Christian Bale played a funeral director in Nanjing Heroes (Now called Flowers of War), a story about the Nanjing Massacre during World War II. This example is unusual in that the movie is made by a Chinese studio.
- The 2011 film Tower Heist was supposed to have a mostly black and Latino cast with Eddie Murphy in the lead. The lead role instead went to Ben Stiller.
- Inverted in Lilies of the Field. Sidney Poitier plays a Jerk with a Heart of Gold who decides to help out some rather disaffected German nuns.
- In the film version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Alan Quartermain is the lead character and the team leader. In the original comic, Mina Murray is the team leader. But he's Sean Connery!!!
- The Incredibles has the white male Mr. Incredible.
- Every hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with their own movie is white and male.
- The Impossible, a film about the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, takes place in Thailand but focuses on the experiences of a white family.
- However, there is a slight inversion in that the lead is female. Also in a case of irony, the film was a Spanish production rather than a US or UK production.
- Jack Frost of Dreamworks' Rise Of The Guardians, though it makes sense for him to be white since his myth has European origins.
- As long as Jeff Robinov (who infamously said in 2007 that he would never greenlight a film with a female lead after the box office disappointment of The Brave One) is there, most of the films at Warner Bros. will consist of these.
- Played with in Gives Light. The main character is a light-skinned Native American boy (his father is Shoshone and his mother was Caucasian). As a result other children on the reservation see him as white, and because he was raised off of the reservation (but by the aforementioned Native American dad) he doesn't always fit in with them.
Live Action TV
- Outsourced a fish-out-of-water story about a white male American running a call center in India.
- Glee has a very diverse cast but the stars of the show always seem to be the white, heterosexual teacher Will, and the Glee club is led by white, straight couple Finn and Rachel. Lampshaded by Emma at one point.
- It gets to the point where one episode has a tacked-on musical number for the black Mercedes and the Asian Tina. This number is explicitly said In-Universe to have been added to give two underutilized characters something to do.
- Saved by the Bell Zack, Screech, and Mr. Belding are all white males. Zack is the protagonist during the most popular 1989-1993 run. Screech and Mr. Belding were in all the incarnations.
- Community probably qualifies as a subversion of this. When it was first being advertised, it came off to some as yet another show about a white guy and his new quirky minority friends, but the show's Troperiffic nature quickly put an end to that. While Jeff isn't the main character in all the stories, he often is. He is certainly the one the group expects to come up with solutions to most of their problems, even if they know he's often self-centred and egotistical. While the 'mother figure' in the group alternates between Britta and Shirley, the "father figure" is firmly in Jeff's ballcourt.
- All the Doctors on Doctor Who so far have been white males, even though it has been stated and shown that Time Lords can change race and sex when they regenerate. There's been debate among fans — and indeed, the BBC, who's considered black actors for the role — of getting a female or alternate race in, but this quickly degrades into accusations that it was wrecked.
- The Law & Order franchise usually has one of these, typically from a salty, no-nonsense, working class background, plus or minus an Olivia Benson or two.
- Jim from The Office isn't exactly the only white male at his small paper company in small town Pennsylvania, but he often served as being the young, attractive, savvy wisecracker who would make fun of the middle aged eccentric losers around him. Naturally, the spotlight gets stolen from him on a regular basis. After a good deal of Characterization Marches On, he's learned to be Not so Above It All.
- The CSI: Crime Scene Investigation shows, at various points. The two spinoffs, CSI NY and CSI: Miami all the time and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation started out with white male William Petersen and then went into an aversion phase with Lawerence Fishburne as its lead, and now back to the white male lead thing with Ted Danson.
- As diverse as Star Trek: The Original Series tried to be in the racially charged 60s, they still had to have a white man as the Captain; the meddling executives wouldn't even stand for a female Number Two. This was followed by Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Jonathan Archer in Star Trek: Enterprise. It was averted with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, in which the eponymous space station is commanded by Bald Black Leader Guy Benjamin Sisko, and Star Trek: Voyager, in which the eponymous ship is captained by the female Kathryn Janeway.
- One episode of Deep Space Nine revolved around a war-weary Ben Sisko slipping between the world he knows and one where he's a struggling sci-fi writer in the 1950's who is writing short stories about DS 9. The biggest problem he faces is that nobody wants to publish them. His editor suggests that Ben replace his black lead by applying this trope.
- Inverted on Benson the main character is black while the rest of the characters are white.
- When The Sci Fi Channel decided to adapt Earthsea Trilogy into a Mini Series, they decided to make the main character white. This did not sit well with the original author.
- Although more properly an ensemble, Criminal Minds in its first two seasons billed Mandy Patinkin and Thomas Gibson as the show's leads. Furthermore, the pilot only had one female lead character (Elle Greenaway) and one African-American lead character (Derek Morgan) surrounded by white males, indicating that they were tokens. As the series progressed, more female characters were added but none were particularly well developed, and, although Morgan's character has gained depth and prominence as the series progressed, the show's "stars" are still white males- Gibson and Joe Mantegna.
- The UnSub in "Broken Mirror" lampshades this when he "profiles" the team while taunting them during one of his phone calls, deriding Morgan as simply a "side of beef" and telling Elle she had no chance of "joining the all boys' club".
- In Rent, despite its racially and sexually diverse cast and high praise by the LGBT community, the two central characters are still the straight and white Mark and Roger (Ho Yay between them notwithstanding). Roger is the Romantic Lead; like Benny and Collins, his race isn't discussed much, but he's usually cast as a certain race, possibly having to do with the genre of music he sings.
- The ethnicity of the lead character in video games often depend on where it's developed. If it's a Western game, then it's most likely going to have a white male lead, but if it's a Japanese game, then it's more likely to have an Asian male lead. Interestingly, Japanese games targeted towards Western markets are often just as likely to feature white male leads as Asian ones.
- Subverted in the early Metroid games. For the first two games, Samus wears armor that completely covers her body and is described as male in the manual. At the end, it is revealed that Samus Is a Girl.
- The party in Chrono Trigger consists of a (female) Gadgeteer Genius, a tomboyish Rebellious Princess, a Knight in Shining Armor who happens to be a frog, a repurposed guard robot, a pansexual blonde cavewoman, and potentially the game's flamboyant Disc One Final Boss. So, of course, The Hero (who's almost always in your party) is a spiky-haired, sword-wielding, non-talking teenage boy, though not necessarily white; like many Anime-esque game characters, it's hard to tell a character's ethnicity (if there even is one).
- The original North American localization for Persona, Revelations: Persona, turned the Japanese main protagonist into a white American red-headed teenager, along with making the rest of the characters diverse. This would be an example of a Race Lift.
- Whenever a game lets you customize your main character, the default is always a white male.
- Futurama's main cast includes a robot, a mutant woman, a Jamaican, a Space Jew lobster-thing and a Chinese-Martian woman, but the main character, Fry, is still a white male (admittedly, one odd in being from modern times).
- Played straight in Teen Titans, where Robin is the leader, main character, and the only white male on the team (unless one counts Beast Boy, who is ethnically Caucasian but physically green). Justified in the original comics, where the Bat family are trusted mostly because they are unpowered (not because they are white men). Knowing that your boss can't casually mind-rape or lobotomize you with a glance is important.
- Notably averted in Young Justice, which also focuses on DC's young superheroes- while the show doesn't have a single central character, the closest is team leader Aqualad, who is black.
- Averted in The Legend Of Korra, in which the titular character is both female and the universe's equivalent of an Eskimo. Notable because in doing so, the creators risk the Girls Show Ghetto in addition to the obvious Animation Age Ghetto.