If a character is white throughout his entire history in comic books, then is it okay to make him black on the big screen? And if it's not okay with some people, then why are those people labeled as being racists for not agreeing with the concept of changing a comic book characters ethnicity to appease mainstream audiences?
For those wondering why I'm asking this question, it was recently announced that up and coming black actor, Michael B. Jordan (not to be confused with the legendary basketball player of the same name), would be playing Johnny Storm aka the Human Torch in the upcoming "Fantastic Four" reboot. The reboot is set to hit theaters in 2015, but it's already been under a lot of heat from fans over this casting.
For those of you who don't read comics, Johnny Storm is portrayed as being the youngest member of the fantastic four, a group of superheroes who were essentially sent up into space. Their ship got hit with cosmic rays, and they all gained super powers. Johnny obviously gained the ability to control and create fire using his body. In fact, he could even fly at will with his powers. He was last portrayed by Chris Evans, who is now known as "Captain America" these days.
Other cast members include the following:
Miles Teller as "Mr. Fantastic" aka Reid Richards
Jamie Bell as "The Thing" aka Ben Grimm
Kate Mara as "The Invisible Woman" aka Sue Storm
Sadly, the villain hasn't been announced yet, but rumor has it that fox might be looking for a woman to play doctor doom. Take in mind, that's only a rumor, but fans are already very pissed off at the possibility that Dr. Doom could be a woman. Not to sound sexist or anything, but I would think that' would be kind of a huge mistake to change the gender of arguably one of the most iconic comic book villains of all time. I mean changing Doom's gender would be kind of the equivalent of changing Lex Luthor's gender to being a woman. Sure, it might work from a narrative perspective, but you'd definitely piss a lot of people off in the process, which is why i think it would be a mistake, but that's just me. Anyways, what are your thoughts on all this?
Edit: As for my own thoughts about the Johnny Storm casting, I'll simply say this. I for one don't really care if Hollywood decides to change the ethnicity of a character as long as it's not a key essential element to who the character is, or as long as he/she isn't iconic. What i mean by that is very simple.
Take a character like Tonto from the Lone Ranger for instance. The key essential elements to his character is that he's a native american who helps the lone ranger in his quest for justice throughout the west. Therefore him being a native american is a key essential element to who he is; hence changing his race for any reason would be very disrespectful to his character.
Whereas a character like Ghost Rider (one of my all time favorite comic book characters) has always been predominantly white throughout his history. However, there's no key essential element about ghost rider's character that requires him to be white. Therefore you can get away with casting a black guy for his part, and not have it looking disrespectful to his character. Sure, you might piss off some purists out there, but as a ghost rider fan myself, I personally wouldn't care as long as the actor was good.
As for the iconic part of it, I think once a character reaches the point of ICONIC status, you can't change their gender or their race by that point. If you do, then you risk hurting the characters marketability. Take Superman for example. There's nothing about superman's character that requires him to look like a white guy. None whatsoever, but since he's an iconic character that we've known for years, the reality is you can't cast a black guy to play superman because he's too recognizable of a character for any drastic changes like that. Hell, you wouldn't want BA baracus from the "A-Team" to be played by a white guy would you? it's the same thing with having a minority play superman. they're both too iconic to change.
As far as johnny storm goes, i honestly don't consider his character to be iconic. And the last time i checked, there's nothing about the key essential elements to his character that requires him to be white either; hence I have no problem with Michael B. Jordan playing the part. However, I do have one problem with it.
One of the key essential elements to johnny is that he's Sue Storm's little brother. As we all know, Kate Mara is white. that's a huge problem that i have with the casting. If you want a black johnny storm to appeal to minorities, then that's fine. However, since johnny and sue are siblings, then why not go all the way with it? just cast a black actress to play sue storm, and then i'd be fine with it. However, since they're both obviously different races, then are they going to still have that brother/sister relationship then? i mean that was a big key essential element about those characters, so i'd hate to see fox screw that up.
I mean sure they could always go with the whole adoption route, or half sibling bulls*** or whatever, but we'll see. what are your thoughts on this?
I remember the Fantastic 4, saw the movie and remember the animated series on tele back in the 1960's. It is not being racist to want to see the characters as they were created when brought to the big screen. I would be more than a little distracted if the Superman character looked like Mr. T
I agree Credence2. Besides there are black comic book superheroes around. Bring them to the screen if you want to see a black superhero go through his or her paces. Do I have a problem with the Black Panther going into action and being played by, say, Will Smith? No problem at all. He was always a black leader of a high tech African nation. If Luke Cage Hero for Hire hit the big screens as a black guy with muscle I'd be more than happy about it. If done well the movie would have heart, humor and plenty of action.
I think changing races, genders, and sexual orientations of long-existent characters is pandering to Political Correctness. If it so important to have people of different races, genders, and sexual orientations in media, then create a strong, NEW character with the attributes/characteristics you want and let the audience decide if they will accept the new character.
I agree Jayfort. I grew up with the Fantastic Four the way they have always been portrayed in the comics and I see no reason why there should be pandering like this. I hate Political Correctness. Say! Should the Black Panther continue to be a black ruler of an African high tech country? On a silly whim why not make him Chinese or Mexican? Would that be okay? There aren't enough Chinese or Mexican superheroes in American comics or on American movies. Should Sunfire remain Japanese or should we make him South Korean? Doing these mindless swap arounds is the pits.
No one had a problem with Will Smith playing Legend. In the book, the character was a pale white redheaded guy with freckles.
I don't think it's problematic unless we make it so-but you're right about the sibling thing.
No he's not - being sibs has nothing to do with it.
Isn't it though? Although it is also so very sad, some of the comments they get (the kids are "mutts", for instance). I read through a bunch of the comments on the video and some are absolutely pathetic; that people today can still think and behave that way is appalling.
hmm very interesting. I guess your right that they can get away with having a black johnn storm and a white sue storm, and still play it off as them being biological siblings like in the comics. However, i still stand by everything else i just said though. You can change the race, gender or even sexual orientation of a character if it doesn't take away from one of the key essential elements that makes that character who he/she is.
Or as long as they're not iconic characters, then you change those things about them. In the case of Johnny Storm and Sue, I don't consider them iconic characters, so they can probably get away with it. As far as Dr. Doom goes, he's arguably one of the most iconic comic book villains of all time, and changing his gender to a woman would be a huge mistake, at least from a marketing perspective. Not trying to sound sexist or anything, but I hope for fox's sake that's just a rumor about them wanting a lady doom for the fantastic four reboot.
While I agree with your Tonto scenario, I wouldn't find a female Doom to be the end of the world. After all, the females of the species can be extremely difficult and hard to deal with! Any married man would vouch for that!
But really, we have women villains now; I wouldn't balk at a woman Doom.
I never read the book, but let me ask you a couple of questions though. Would you say that anything about the key essential elements to his character require him to be white? Or is he an iconic character on par with that of Spider-Man? Or even Superman? Or even sherlock holmes?
As I said earlier, i never read the book, but i have seen the movie that your talking about. And from what i can tell about the film itself, there's nothing about his character that requires him to be a white guy. I mean the key essential elements to his character is that he's a scientist. He lost his family, and he lives in isolation for many years. Therefore, they can get away with changing his character black.
I don't really care if an actor is black, white, purple, green or transgender. If the actor is good, is believable and can portray the character well, I'm all for it.
Look at how often comics get rebooted, completely changing character backstories or settings or artists or direction, and taking place on infinite earths and traveling to see alternate dimension opposite gendered versions of themselves and whatnot. If they had changed his race in the comics, nobody would have said a single word about it--after all, this is something that happens ALL THE TIME in comics.
But now that it's a movie doing it, it's suddenly awful to reboot a series and have one of the characters be a different race than last time.
In that light, it's not so hard to see why some people might be quick to accuse people of being racist for not wanting a black Human Torch.
You bring up a very good point. To be honest, i find it hypocritical on a lot of comic book fans part whenever they say crap like, "Oh i don't mind if they deviate from the source material as long as the movie is good." Yet if they cast even one person that they can't see as the character, or change one minor thing, then it's like "THIS MOVIE GOING TO F***ING SUCK!!"
I can't speak for most spider-man fans, but I honestly didn't mind the whole organic webbing that raimi used for his trilogy. If anything, I agree with him wholeheartedly that it doesn't make any sense why spider-man never gained the ability to form his own webbing, when he developed the other spider senses after being bit by the radioactive spider.
And to be quite honest, I find that to be much more realistic than peter parker building his own web shooters because that leaves a lot of questions considering he's basically a poor kid that lives with his aunt may.
granted, i know it works in the comics, but that doesn't make it realistic. But then again, we're talking about a guy that gains his powers after being bit by a spider, so I guess you have to be willing to let that slide for the sake of plot convenience.
However, I think you're missing my point though to be fair. If you want my honest opinion, I could really give a damn if a movie adaptation of ANYTHING deviates from the source material, as long as they keep the key essential elements of the characters/story in tact.
Again, lets look at the raimi spider-man trilogy for instance. I'm sure any die hard spider-man fan knows that raimi did take some liberties with the spider-man franchise, but for the most part, I thought he was portrayed the character rather well. He still kept the key essential elements to spider-man's story intact like he was still a nerd before getting his powers.
He still got bit by a spider to gain said powers, and he still wore his iconic costume. His uncle was still murdered due to his own selfish actions to teach him a moral lesson. Therefore, the liberties that raimi made during his trilogy like the organic web shooters are forgivable because mechanical web shooters are not one of the key essential elements that makes spider-man who he is.
However, when it comes to movie adaptations and reboots that stray too far from the source material to the point that it's only barely resembling the original source in name only is when I might have some issues with it. Take the godzilla reboot with matthew broderick for instance. Granted, that movie had a crap load of problems, but the movie was kind of an insult to the character when you stop and think about it.
Not only did the film ignore godzilla's history, but it changed the character so much that he was barely even recognizable That's basically what I'm getting at here.
To be honest, I don't have an opinion on the fantastic four reboot at this time, as I haven't even seen the movie yet. As most of my readers know, I try not to form any preconceived ideas or opinions on any film before I see it. However, I do think from a marketing perspective that it would be a mistake to change dr. doom's gender if rumors are true. As far as the confirmed casting goes, I honestly don't think the film will suck because of them. Like i said, i haven't even seen the movie, so it's hard for me to say whether or not the reboot is any good.
But I will say this. I think Michael B. Jordan is a great actor, as he definitely gave a great performance in "Fruitville Station" last year, and he seems like he can pull off the playboy show off persona of johnny storm fairly well. However, my own main concern is really about Miles Teller. Nothing against him per say, but he's a bit too young to be playing mr. fantastic.
Hell, if you look at his face, he looks younger than the other confirmed cast members. I'll admit that I may not be the world's official authority on all things related to the fantastic four, but I do know that they're supposed to be like a family. And that Reid Richards acts as not only the de facto leader of the group, but he's also something of a father figure to the group as well (with the notable exception of sue storm, who happens to be his love interest). And with that being said, I just can't imagine Miles Teller being that fatherly figure to other actors that obviously look way older than he does. I'm sorry, but I just don't see it. Maybe they'll put make up on him to make him look older, but it just seems a bit odd.
Again, I'll give the movie a shot when I see it, as I need to review it anyway for hubpages, and who knows? maybe the film will surprise me like the robocop reboot did. lol
i agree with you on all points Steve. in regards to fantastic four, i actually wrote an article on it, i don't have an issue with the changing of Johnny Storm's race as he fits the role perfectly. my issue with the casting choices lies more with Kate Mara and Miles Teller. when i look at Miles Teller i see a fratboy, not a genius. It doesn't help the matter when he has done Project X, 21 and Over, and That Awkward Moment is three of his more current films. To me, Jamie Bell would have been a better choice as Mr Fantastic, but just barely. I can't even see Teller being a leader of this group either. As for Kate Mara, the character of Sue Storm is very much the heart of the group, and in all of her previous projects she is usually very cold and naive which fits her acting style. Shes always a little naive and young which would disconnect us from her as a character when shes supposed to be one of the easiest characters to connect with
just my two cents on the subject.
Also, one point on the race subject, I think considering as people we have become more accepting that you will see this happen more often...especially if the film does well that will help more in the comic book film realm. As far as gender swapping a character such as Doctor Doom, i think that is a mistake. Dr Doom frequently had a rivalry between Mr Fantastic and if you make that character a woman it takes away that element of a brotherly bond and becomes that of sexual tension which i think is very very wrong between the two characters.
I, too, am admittedly not a Fantastic Four authority, and I understand what you're saying on the 'as long as it doesn't change something integral to the character' (e.g. if they rebooted Harry Potter and made him a chav).
I don't see race being such an integral part to the Fantastic Four in comparison to, say, the uproar over the whitewashing of The Last Airbender (especially when it was being directed by a person of color who lauded the TV series for having a strong woman of color heroine who his daughter could look up to). The main argument I've heard is 'BUT HOW CAN HE BE BLACK AND HAVE A WHITE SISTER RAAAAAR', which has a very simple solution--cast a black Sue Storm. Ta-da. This isn't 1950, you can depict an interracial relationship on screen nowadays. Although there are admittedly some unfortunate implications in casting a woman of color to play 'The Invisible Woman', I'm pretty sure that's not anything that factored into their casting decisions.
A lot of the problems stemming from the 1998 Godzilla film arise from transplanting Godzilla from his original post-war Japanese context and putting him into an American context 50 years later. Could be an interesting subject to write about, actually. (And a good excuse to re-watch Gojira.) It's a film that I watch as a guilty pleasure because I love Matthew Broderick and I can watch Roland Emmerich blow things up all day long, but I never show it to anyone and I keep it in an unlabeled DVD case to hide my shame. lol
I was a Fantastic Four fan growing up, and I honestly don't care. I think the actor chosen will suit the character fine. And hey, I definitely do respect authenticity but the fact of the matter is, non-white actors and characters are so underrepresented in white dominated media, that I don't see the point in being upset about it. Sure, it'd be one thing if they cast a black actor just to "be progressive" - that'd be shallow, I think. But if they think he's the best guy to portray the character? Good for him.
Interesting you should bring that up, because that's a prime example of ethnicity changing that IS problematic. Why was Johnny Depp, a white guy, cast in a Native American role? For that matter, this happens all the time, especially to Native American characters. In the Wolverine Origins movie, the love interest Silver Fox was played by a white actress, too. Why weren't Native Americans cast in these roles?
Non-white roles are changed all the time to white roles in Hollywood. Also recalling the Avatar the Last Airbender movie, where almost every main character was cast as white. Or Khan in Star Trek. The list goes on and on. Hollywood would prefer to cast white actors, regardless of the original character's race, nine times out of ten. For the opposite to happen is much more unique.
The point being, I feel like the outrage is much quieter when white actors are cast. But when the opposite happens, suddenly many fans get indignant? I like authenticity, too, but I think more authentic than a character's "looks" should be the real spirit of the character.
This. Iron-Eyes Cody, the 'Crying Indian' from those anti-littering commercials in the 70's, was a white guy, the son of Sicilian immigrants, who made his career out of portraying Native Americans. Johnny Depp claimed that he had, like, one ancestor who was probably Native American, 'maybe Cherokee or Creek Indian or something', as if that is justification for the decision to cast him over an actual Native American actor for the role of Tonto. However, Johnny Depp is a FANTASTIC actor who went to great lengths to respectfully portray a Comanche, so the argument that 'he was the best actor for the part' may actually have some weight there.
On the subject of The Last Airbender, they had originally cast Jesse McCartney as Zuko, which would have been terrible, but it would almost have been less bad for literally all of the characters to be white than for only the three heroes to be white and then have all of the evil characters be brown. It wouldn't have made the movie better, of course--just like with the Star Wars prequels, you can't polish a turd, even if you cast a great actor like Dev Patel or Liam Neeson--but it would have paradoxically made their racist casting less obvious.
Khan is another great example of another issue--'all minorities are interchangeable'. Khan was described in Space Seed (Star Trek episode 24) as being of North Indian descent--the term 'Sikh' was specifically used to identify him. And they cast Ricardo Montalban, a Mexican actor, to play him. Sessue Hayakawa and Anna May Wong, two of the biggest films stars in Hollywood's infancy, were cast as Japanese and Chinese characters interchangeably, as well as whatever other 'exotic foreign-type' the films called for. Kato from The Green Hornet has been identified as every Asian ethnicity in the book (and was sometimes even played by white guys). And so on and so forth. Heck, they even changed Tonto's tribe in the new film--granted, the change made his tribe one that actually lives in the Southwest, so it was more accurate, but Comanches and Potawatomi are not the same...nor are Yaqui or Mohawks, the tribes which previous Tonto actors Michael Horse and Jay Silverheels belonged to, respectively.
TL;DR: Hollywood has always had, and still has a ton of problems with racism. Then when they try to address it, people complain about casting a black guy for the role of a white guy (but only when that black guy isn't Will Smith).
I didn't know that about Iron-Eyes Cody, but interesting. Of course, not that long ago, Asian characters were always played by white actors, too (and the character wasn't changed to white, they simply put on some make-up and did a funny accent, ta-da, Asian!) Now, Asian actors might be used, but as you said, it doesn't really matter "what kind of Asian" they are. Casting Zhang Ziyi in Memoirs of a Geisha? No problem! Native American roles aren't even to that stage yet. Granted, in theory, I'd say that acting is acting and if Johnny Depp, an amazing actor, can pull off the character - that's the nature of the art. However, when you have a real situation where minorities are grossly underrepresented (especially Native Americans!), I don't think there's any way this can be justified.
Avatar The Last Airbender was... yeah. Shyamalan, the director, is Indian himself, so it's kind of ironic that he cast the way he did. Having the Fire Nation be brown just was so awkward, though granted, Zuko has always been a fan favorite character. Is it Shyamalan's fault? Or did he believe, quite possibly with reason, that a movie without any white actors wouldn't do well?
Anyway, point being. I like comic books, video games and action movies. I get wanting it to be authentic. But movie adaptations are always their own version of the story, an alternate telling of a similar event. There are numerous changes in movie adaptations that I hate also. But the race thing is tough. Quite frankly, it happens all the time that non-white characters are cast with white actors, and that is the result of real racism in society. The opposite, casting a non-white actor as a white character, might be annoying to some hardcore fans (as well as actual racists) but isn't a societal problem. In fact, I dare say it's good for society to have more non-white heroes to admire who aren't Will Smith - and women, too. So I get being irritated on the basis of wanting the characters to look like they do in the original, but frankly, if you can't watch the movie and refuse to give it a chance because he's black... there's probably a bigger problem here.
Ohh, my problems with Memoirs of a Geisha run far deeper than the casting of Chinese actresses, lol. (Heck, for all we know, Japanese actresses might have actively avoided the roles because of the China Doll and Dragon Lady stereotypes which make up the entire population of the film.)
I think insisting the character must be white is pandering. Every casting is new actor. And there is nothing about the character that is race-specific. Many other Marvel/DC roles have been cast in a race blind way and it has not mattered at all. So long as they use an actor who does not suck in the role (cough*Daredevil*cough) I don't care.
And changing the racial background of a character in order to satisfy a percentage of the potential audience isn't pandering? Of course bit is pandering to the Politically Correct. Why not create new characters with appeal instead? If a character has been white in comic books and in film for over thirty years I say keep them that way.
For those who think it pandering to make a character who is white in print non-white on the screen, consider almost every artistic depiction of Jesus. Why is an ancient Middle-Eastern man depicted with fair hair, fair skin, blue/green eyes, and Nordic features? That is the pandering of all panderings.
I agree that depicting Jesus as a white European type is pandering. It was also necessary in the spreading of Christianity. Do I approve of such a depiction? No. There are also statues found in places such as Ethiopia depicting Jesus as black. Should he really be depicted as a middle eastern Jew of his own time? You bet! It would have been a healthy thing to remind Christians at certain periods in history that Jesus was born into and grew up in a Jewish household. Others have also questioned how Jesus has been depicted in the West. Hence the reason why some protestant Christians don't want Jesus to be depicted at all. Hence the reason why Muslims don't want Mohammed depicted at all. But calculus you are slightly off topic. It is pandering and slobbering to political correctness to make a character who is white in print appear anything else on the screen.
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