Ask any fan of "Harry Potter" if J.K. Rowling's work is inclusive of people of color, and you'll probably a hear a resounding "yes." There's Cho Chang, after all, and Dean Thomas, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Lee Jordan, Parvati and Padma Patil, and Angelina Johnson. But as actor-slash-playwright-slash YouTuber Dylan Marron exposed just this month, when you edit down all eight films to only include the lines spoken by these characters of color, the results are harrowing: 5 minutes and 40 seconds of "talk time," in 1,207 minutes of footage.
"J.K. Rowling made a masterpiece," Marron told MTV News over the phone. "It deals with things like destiny and honor and friendship and empowering yourself through education -- those are incredible themes, but those are universal themes. That has nothing to do with whiteness. So why then, are we making it seem as if those universal themes are actually just for white people?
"So many of the [YouTube] comments have been like, 'are you calling J.K. Rowling racist?' And it’s like, 'no! I’m not.' I actually never said that... they don’t want this word associated with this thing that they love so much."
Marron, a Drama Desk nominee, explained that he got the idea to focus on lines spoken by actors of color -- in "Harry Potter," and well over a dozen of other films featured on his Tumblr page -- in 2014, after realizing that the only words spoken by a person of color in the James Gandolfini/Julia Louis-Dreyfus film "Enough Said" were uttered by Toni Collette's character's maid -- and they certainly did not contain multitudes.
"It’s this definitive statement of everything about this person: she’s a bad maid, who doesn’t really care," Marron continued. "And the one who gets to wield the joke is Toni Collette, her boss. That was the only voice of color in the entire film. When you do that, in each movie, you’re creating a whole world. A whole world of rules, of how things work. You’re creating a whole story. It’s like a terrarium. In that world, people of color are only in the background and there to serve white people, and that is what you are getting across."
Marron performed every word spoken by this maid character, Cathy, onstage "as a joke," then moved on to actually cutting YouTube videos mainly to show his friends the stark contrast that he, as an actor and a fan, had "internalized" a long time ago. His work blew up -- films like "Lord of the Rings," "Midnight in Paris," and "The Fault in Our Stars" all make appearances on Marron's page -- and a viral sensation was born.
"I thought doing 'Every Single Word' was a good way to show it," Marron said. "[After doing the play] I was like, 'huh, that’s a really direct way to talk about this stuff.' I released these videos without comment. It’s just like, 'this is every single word spoken by a person of color, and what do YOU make of it?' I just want to ask a question... and yeah, from what I’ve seen, most people are really thankful for it, and it really touches a nerve."
Clearly, Marron is correct about the nerve -- his video views are in the hundreds of thousands, which is pretty great for a non-YouTube celeb who isn't sharing a pregnancy announcement. And support from Kerry Washington, Aziz Ansari, writer Junot Diaz, and Chirlane McCray, the wife of New York City mayor Bill DiBlasio, proves that these actors' (lack of) words aren't falling on deaf ears.
But the question is -- which ears must this fall on, in order for actors (and audiences) to see real change? For actors like Marron to stop hearing from their agents that there's no work for them, due to their pigmentation? For Muslim actors to get roles besides "Terrorist # 2?" According to SAG-AFTRA's National Director of the EEO & Diversity department, Adam Moore, it's the ears of the people up top. And it's got to happen soon, or else people like Marron could cause more trouble than movie studios probably anticipate.
"I think ['Every Word Spoken'] has every possibility of making serious change," Moore told MTV News over the phone. "The demand from audiences for more diverse content, and the social media juggernauts that are out there that can do stuff like this... that can actually then mobilize audiences to interact as well.
"For the longest time, this medium -- especially movies -- with the theatrical environment in a movie theater, you get a more passive audience environment. You’re going to sit, and you’re going to deal with what [filmmakers] give you. Now, you can be live tweeting and stuff like that, so movies are made and broken by... the Internet. As [studios] are making these decisions, now they have an opportunity to actually look and hear what real people want... this gets out there, and affects things in a larger way."
Moore also pointed out that, due to the sheer number of channels that are now producing media -- like Amazon, with "Transparent," and Netflix, with "Orange is the New Black" -- the consumers who want to view more diverse content are going to find ways to get it, even if that means not going to the movies to see the next big studio flick this year. Which is great and all, but Marron says he'll know we've truly changed when what we're seeing on TV right now starts happening with major studio movies.
"The change will only be evident when I go to the movies," he explained. "It won’t be in the casting breakdowns... the change will be when I go to a rom-com that is absolutely nothing about race, that’s not like, 'Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?' I want to go to a rom-com that has nothing to do with that. Give me 'Notting Hill,' but instead of Julia Roberts, it’s Kerry Washington. And race is just never mentioned. Not to say that we need to be post-racial, and ignore race, but I just want to see different people tell universal stories.
"I want to go see the next 'Harry Potter,' and just see -- just change it up for me," he continued. "Don’t just make the people of color the background furniture. If you watch any 'Harry Potter' film, no one says anything of consequence."
As Moore sees it, casting trends over the past couple of years have already been moving in a positive direction -- he says "open ethnicity" casting calls are more common, though often times the roles still go to white actors -- but if Marron wants to see less "Every Single Word" fodder, studios are going to have to make diverse casting a priority.
"The greatest takeaway people can have from 'Every Single Word,' is if you don’t start with the idea in mind that this is actually going to be inclusive... the most progress you see out there comes when it’s a mandate from the people who can actually motivate, who are in a leadership position to actually make it happen," he explained. "Whether it’s your show runner, your writer-director-auteur, your studio president, your network executive. Whatever it might be, I think if it’s not conscious, and passed all the way down, all of these things will continue to happen. We’ll continue to see more and more cuts of ['Every Word Spoken.']. Hopefully, we won’t have to do that."
As for Marron, he says he's excited to currently be working with an agent who is not telling him that there's no work out there for him. And he's also hopeful to one day speak to some of the authors behind the movie adaptations he featured on his site -- but only to start a positive conversation.
"John Green is an incredible author. He tells amazing stories that clearly tap a nerve," Marron concluded. "But like, what does he feel about the casting of ["The Fault in Our Stars"]? What does J.K. Rowling feel? I don’t think they would be contractually allowed to even talk about that... But my goal in all of my work is never to shame people. I don’t think you achieve change through shaming people. I think you achieve change through getting people to listen, and getting people to watch, and getting people to engage in a dialogue with you that actually gets somewhere. This demands a much more in depth conversation, of like, 'did you realize that this was your entire cast?' The answer is, devastatingly, probably going to be 'no.' These people aren’t like, 'oh no no no, just put white people in, we don’t want people of color.' But there is this subconscious thing that is wooing these directors when they make these films, that I just want to talk about, and I want to talk about publicly."
[MTV News reached out to the directors of the films included in this story -- as well as reps for Green and Rowling -- for comment.]