Should The Actor’s Race Matter with Superhero films?
The Race Card, at times the most controversial aspect to the production of any superhero film. But why is that? Is it racist to be upset when a studio changes the source material and cast a predominantly “white” superhero with a “black” actor? Or is the medium of comic books “racist” by not including more diverse characters? These questions are some of the biggest problems that studios face. But, its often deeper than just simply a white character being played by a black actor.
Now before anyone freaks out and starts a racism battle because the writer of this post is “a white guy,” I would first like to address my background. My ethnic background is mixed, but primarily a split between Irish, French-Canadian, and Native American. The French-Canadian part of my family history expands all over Europe and has branches in Spain, France, Great Britain, and even Russia. In short, my family history is all over the place. My wife however was born in America but every member of her family is from Mexico, she being the first born American in that family. But despite all of this, most people simply see me as white and anything I say is automatically racist because of that.
To me, race doesn’t matter. Its about the quality of the person rather than the color, and that’s how I raise my kids. My son, and any future children my wife and I will have will be in the thick of that racial debate. But to my son, it doesn’t matter if Superheroes are white, black, brown, or any of it. To him they are just super. But my greatest fear in this regard isn’t about how he sees the characters, but how he sees himself. I never want to hear him say “I want to be white like superman.”
To kids, race doesn’t matter. So why do fans freak out when a studio changes something?
Lets have a quick rundown of some of the cases where fans were in uproar over a casting due to the actor’s race/background.
In 2003 when FOX cast Jennifer Garner as Electra fans freaked out. A white American Actress was playing a Greek character. Fans accused the studio of “white-washing” the role, and this did this before they even saw how the actress did.
In 2005 Warner Brothers released Batman Begins, and throughout the production of the film fans were in an uproar about the casting of Ken Watanabe as Ra’s Al Ghul, later when the film was released and this was shown to be a ruse, some fans were still upset that Irish actor Liam Neeson played the role instead of an Arabic actor like in the comics.
In 2010 when Paramount revealed that actor Idris Elba would be playing Heimdall, fans freaked out that a black actor was playing a white Norse God. But when the movie came out, everyone was silent because of how great he did.
In 2010, Actor Donald Glover campaigned to land an audition for the lead role in Marc Webb’s 2012 Spider-Man reboot, but many fans immediately disregarded the idea due to his race.
In what felt like a response to this, Marvel introduced Miles Morales, a African/Hispani-American character, as the replacement of Peter Parker in the Ultimate Spider-Man comics in 2011. But quickly fans called for the return of the character, and now we see Peter Park and Miles Morales both swinging in the pages of the comics.
In 2011, Warner Brothers revealed actor Henry Cavill would be playing Superman in the series reboot Man Of Steel. Although he was widely accepted, many disputed the fact that the actor was British and not American.
In 2013 the same arguement was had with actress Gal Gadot in her casting of Wonder Woman. Because the actress is Israeli and not American, many fans disputed her ability to take the role.
In an interesting twist though, in July/August 2014 it was revealed that Donald Glover would be voicing the animated version of Miles Morales on Season 3 of the Ultimate Spider-Man TV show.
But what seemed to be the biggest controversy was what happened earlier this year. In February Fox revealed that actor Michael B. Jordan would play Johnny Storm / Human Torch and Kate Mara was cast as Sue Storm / Invisible Woman. Immediately after the casting fans began an uproar because of the actors race. But why is that?
Why is the actors race the biggest focal point for fans? Sure, Johnny Storm in the comics is portrayed as a white, Blonde Haired, Blue Eyed character, but still always portrayed as the younger brother of Sue Storm. The film allegedly is still maintaining the sibling aspect, it went from being biological siblings to step-siblings. So why is it that the change to the characters back-stories is receiving less hate than the actors race?
Personally I feel like having an African-American Actor playing character who in the comics is described as a cocky, reckless, and an overzealous hot head is more of a racial stereotype than anything else. Interestingly enough, many who look past the race card and recognize actor as being as talented as he is find more fault with Fox for this exact reason. Why cast him as The Human Torch and have to re-write backstory? Why not cast him as Mr Fantastic? Or would that casting cause even more of an uproar?
And Now we have the recent reveal that The CW wants to include The New 52 version of Wally West in their upcoming TV Show The Flash, a character who in the comics is now black, instead of the white redhead that he was prior to the New 52 revamp.
Will this casting also cause an uproar? The sad truth is most likely it will.
But once again the question is asked; Why is this so important? Why are fans so superficial about the characters they read? Does the actor/actress’s race overshadow their acting ability?
Despite the best attempt of the studios making these films and TV shows, and the quality of the product that they put out, fans still nit pick over the race of the actors playing the characters that they are.
This issue may never see a resolution, race may and probably will always play a factor in judgments made by fans. Hopefully the race-card will one day be ignored and fans will see these productions for what they are, simply interpretations and nothing more.