The Shocking Tale of the African Viking God, and the questions that followed...
Let me tell you a secret. Well, it's not really a secret so much as something you might not know about me yet.
I LOVE POP CULTURE!
I love science fiction, I love horror, I love wild stories about worlds that might have existed, or worlds that never could. I love these things across the entire spectrum of media, in blockbuster films with glorious special effects and in novels where my imagination does cartwheels building fantastic images in lieu of computer artists.
I love comic books too. Possibly because I spent so much time at the School of Visual arts in NYC, where the big guns of Marvel and DC take time off to teach the next generation of writers and cartoonists to make....magic. (Being fed a diet of 2000 AD and Diabolik while growing up in London probably helped a lot as well.) And no....I assure you I'm not, you know. Funny looking. The age of the attractive woman who loves Batman is upon ye; Embrace the paradigm one and all!
So I have to tell you, I'm really excited that there is a Mighty Thor film coming out soon (Even though I know a better actor who should have played him – you were robbed, Dave.) Certainly, they're putting a somewhat futuristic looking spin on what is supposed to be a Viking deity and he doesn't even resemble his two dimensional counterpart much...but it's fantasy, yes? Artistic license should be the order of the day?
I would say so, yet there is something of a buzz surrounding the film's casting of Idris Elba to play Heimdall, guardian of the Bifrost bridge, a long time supporting character in the Thor Comic book series. You see....Idris Elba is....A BLACK GUY. Dun dun DUNNNNN!!!!! Dramatic music abounds as spectators gasp in shock when confronted with the somewhat dark skinned Viking God. Apparently, a lot of people think that it's strange for a Norseman to look so African.
Rahne on the other hand doesn't gives a shite. WHO THE BLOODY HELL CARES!?!?! Quite a few people, and I sort of see the point in message board comments like: “So Thor is based on Norse Mythology? Idris Elba looks pretty Nordic to me…Why not then cast 50 Cent as Thor? Mind you Nick Fury is now black ( sorry,,, African American) . I wonder if a Black Panther adaptation will be cast with Nick Cage to balance things out?”
The response to comments above has largely been to cite them as racist in nature. The overall buzz about the casting of Heimdall is being called racist. (Take note of this.)
Personally...the colour of Heimdall seems irrelevant to me. Thor comic books have a long standing supporting character named Hogun the Grim who has always been depicted as something of a Mongol.
So in my mind, I can build scenarios in which this makes sense....
~ Since there is a Mongol Asgardian God, perhaps the pantheons of various cultures occasionally run across one another? Perhaps Heimdall is the product of a union between a Norse deity and an African God?
~ I know from my fondness of ancient civilisations that Vikings would, upon defeating and slaying a respected foe, adopt their children to be raised as their own. Perhaps Heimdall was adopted in a similar manner and brought up as an Asgardian?
You can work with this, it's not really something to get the knickers in a twist. I say congratulations to Idris, he'll make a fine Asgardian.
But here is where this blog ceases to be an amusing diversion. You see...something interesting happens when we invert this question. Suppose for a moment that Hollywood was currently set to produce a film about African Gods. Suppose a white man happens to be caste in the role of an African God, and imagine that ancient African natives are depicted worshipping him in the film. Hmmmmmmmmmmm.....Not quite the same situation now, is it?
So here are my questions to you.
Is the buzz about the casting of Heimdall racist in nature, or do people just find the notion of a black Viking silly?
Does public reaction suggest something about western perception of race? Is a double standard at work here?
If the situation were reversed, would public opinion come out in support of a white actor playing an African God as it has for a black actor playing a Norse God? Does this suggest something about the psychology of race perception?
These are things worth considering, because in the end, the conclusions we draw might tell us a lot about the modern concept of race, race relations, and the supposed “roles” various races are expected to play in our contemporary, clearly enlightened culture.
That said....who else is looking forward to seeing this? I know I am :-D