It’s been a while since I’ve posted an Infinity Talk, but I’m back now with a new discussion topic. As you can tell from the title, today’s topic is the male protagonist. More specifically, why we need more sensitive or otherwise atypical male protagonists instead of the same male characters we see being reused in every book and Hollywood movie.
I was inspired to write this post after watching Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a spin off movie about the famous Magizoologist from the Harry Potter universe. I watched the movie for the second time on Sunday after seeing it in the cinema when it released. Before I get started, I need to make a confession: I didn’t like Newt the first time I saw Fantastic Beasts. I thought he was bland, a tad boring, and lacked any real character development. While I thought the movie was decent and enjoyable, I didn’t connect to Newt.
I didn’t think much of my opinion until I saw it a second time this past Sunday. This time, I fell in love with the character. So, what changed? To be honest, I was more critical of the material this time around and really thought about why Newt was different from other male protagonists.
And then it hit me. Newt is not a typical male protagonist. He’s not physically strong, witty, boisterous, particularly charming or charismatic like other male characters (especially in sci-fi and fantasy books and movies). Just think of Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who, Kirk …
A lot of male protagonists hide their vulnerability, but not Newt. He’s quiet and vulnerable and highly empathetic. Now, these traits are also found in other male characters aside from Newt – just think of all the quiet “geeks” and “nerds” who are often love interests – but they’re rarely the protagonist of the story. Especially when it comes to fantasy and sci-fi. And when they are, they most likely have low-esteem when it comes to women and their own masculinity.
Newt is different. He appears to be completely confident with who he is and what his purpose his. This is another interesting difference between Newt and other male protagonists. Newt’s purpose is to write textbooks so others will understand these Fantastic Beasts he loves. His main talent is empathy. Not just for the animals, but also for humans, even though he finds it harder to connect with other people.
He’s sensitive and emotional, which is framed as a strength and not a weakness. Again, this is very rare. Male protagonists are expected to save the girl, go on an epic quest, defeat the evil overlords who want to destroy the world … If those male protagonists were to showcase sensitivity and vulnerability, they would be labeled as “weak” because these traits are associated with women and femininity.
This is ultimately why “atypical” male protagonists are important. By showing sensitivity and vulnerability can also be heroic traits, a character like Newt challenges the gender stereotypes and expectations. But we need more of them. We need more atypical male protagonists in mainstream media. If not, they will never be considered anything else but atypical, boring, and bland characters instead of being recognised for what they truly are–valid heroes of any given story.
What do you think? Do you agree? Can you think of other male protagonists like Newt?