Sunday, October 20, 2013

Colorblind casting - why not?

Several years ago, I went on record as saying that casting a black actor (in this case, the rumors were swirling around Will Smith) as Captain America would be a mistake. In that case, I was strictly referring to if they were going to make a movie about Steve Rogers and stick to his World War II origins. While one shouldn't look to the movies for historical accuracy, especially when we're talking superhero films, it would be pretty insulting to pretend like America was some sort of racial utopia back then that would accept a black man as the symbol for the country.  The first Captain America movie was pushing it as it was when it showed an integrated army.

Right now, there's talk of a reboot of The Fantastic Four, which is a good idea considering the previous two stunk on wheels. Rumored to play The Human Torch is one Michael B. Jordan, and that rumor is looking more and more likely to be something that's actually going to happen. Not surprisingly, you don't have to go too far to find fans who are complaining that they're casting a black man as a character who's white in the comics.  With this rumor, I feel quite differently than I did about the one involving Captain America.

When I think of The Torch, I think of a guy who's young, handsome, cocky, and heroic. Seems to me that Jordan has the first two going for him. I don't know much about his acting, so I'll reserve judgment on whether he can pull of the second two things. My point is that there really isn't anything about The Torch that requires him to be a white guy. Maybe if they were going to have the film take place in the early 1960s, when the original comics were published, you could make a better case for Johnny Storm needing to be a white guy, but chances are pretty good that this film will take place in either the present day or the near future. So why not a black man playing the part?

Some fans have expressed concern over who they're going to get play his sister, Sue Storm, a.k.a. The Invisible Woman. If they cast a white woman, then how are they going to explain how she has a black brother? Here's my response: WHO CARES?

The core concept of The Fantastic Four is that they are adventurers who are also a family. It makes no difference if Sue and Johnny are half-siblings or even if one's adopted. They wouldn't be any less brother and sister just because they might not share the same parents, and any dynamic that works in the comics can work just the same if they're from a racially mixed family.

I really don't believe in being a purist when it comes to adapting works of literature - be it Shakespeare or comic books. I care more about whether they get the heart of the material correct or not. Just look at Christopher Nolan's Batman films. They make a LOT of changes to the comic book stories, but it still rings true as Batman because they made sure to get everything that's important right. Everything else is just details, and there's no reason why this bit of casting would destroy the core concept of the F.F.

Sure, there are some characters where you don't want to mix their races. See my example of Captain America, for instance. You also wouldn't want anybody other than a black guy to play The Black PantherLuke Cage or Othello.  But why not an Asian-American Spider-Man? How about a Latino Daredevil? Maybe you might have some trouble tying them to their Caucasian-sounding names, but if I could get over the fact that an African-American was playing Julius Caesar, I could probably get over that stuff as well.

I don't believe in diversity for diversity's sake, but I also don't think that we should be afraid of it either.  So many superhero movies have missed the entire point of the character in the first place (thankfully, that's becoming more of a rare thing nowadays). If Michael B. Jordan can embody the personality of Johnny Storm, then I think that fans will get over his skin color the same way that James Bond fans got over the fact that Daniel Craig had blonde hair.


Sophia said...

Dude. Change Spiderman's name to Peter Park. Hell yeah. :)

Lance Johnson said...

Ahem...That's Spider-Man - not the dash. So long as they keep that, we're good.

Sophia said...


Tony from Pandora said...

I'm surprised Nick Fury isn't mentioned. To all the nay-sayers, why are they allowed to transition white-to-black character origins within the comic book media, but not from comic book to big screen?

I don't delve into comics too much, so I don't know if there was any or alot of negative responses to the black Nick Fury in the comics, but I dare anyone to come up with a better Nick Fury than Sam Jackson...

Lance Johnson said...

Sophia - yes.

Tony - Most fans didn't complain about the Nick Fury thing because he wasn't based on the traditional Fury but the one from their "Ultimate Comics" line - and in that case, the artist deliberately made the character look like Sam Jackson.

In other words, had they gotten anybody other than him, there might have been some outrage.

Sara L said...

Patrick Stewart played Othello at the Shakespeare Theatre Co in DC.

Sara L said...

My comment froze... Finishing... The play was reverse cast with black actors in all the other roles. Wish I'd seen it!