ByTrevor Norkey, writer at
Writer, filmmaker, actor and film enthusiast.
Trevor Norkey

The recent casting rumor that Disney star Zendaya will be playing Mary Jane Watson in Spider-Man: Homecoming has caused quite a stir on the Internet. While many people approve of this casting rumor, there are many who are angered because Zendaya is not entirely Caucasian.

While casting someone of a different race to the original character may seem risky, it is far from the first time a Marvel character was racebent. Marvel movies, both inside and outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, are no strangers to making radical choices like this. Here are 5 other times Marvel characters swapped races in movies.

1. Wilson Fisk - 'Daredevil' (2003)

Image: 20th Century FOX, Marvel Comics
Image: 20th Century FOX, Marvel Comics

While many were disappointed with the theatrical cut of Daredevil, it certainly had some great elements. The villain, Wilson Fisk (a.k.a. Kingpin) was certainly one of these elements. Fisk was played in this superhero film by Michael Clarke Duncan, who is best known for his roles in The Green Mile, Sin City, Planet of the Apes, and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

While he may not have been as great as Vincent D'Onofrio from the Netflix series, Clarke Duncan certainly pulled off a menacing Fisk. His deep voice and large stature made him a true force to be reckoned with, particularly in the Director's Cut of the film, which markedly improved on the theatrical cut.

2. The Ancient One - 'Doctor Strange' (2016)

Image: Disney/Marvel Studios, Marvel Comics
Image: Disney/Marvel Studios, Marvel Comics

In the comics, The Ancient One is male and Asian; in the upcoming movie, however, The Ancient One is played by Tilda Swinton, who is female and Caucasian. As the movie is not out yet, we are unable to know if this risky casting decision was worthwhile or not.

This casting decision also caused quite the Internet stir, especially when it was revealed the decision was made so that China would not boycott the film (China reportedly wouldn't allow the film in their country if it showed anyone from Tibet as a protagonist). I am curious to see how well Tilda pulls of this heavy role. Based on the trailers, she seems to do a good job of it.

This particular casting decision is an outlier on the list, as it is a case of "white-washing" diverse roles. However, I am going to reserve judgement on this particular casting until we see Tilda Swinton's performance in theaters.

3. Nick Fury - 'Iron Man' (2008)

Image: Disney/Marvel Studios, Marvel Comics
Image: Disney/Marvel Studios, Marvel Comics

The most prominent of the characters on this list is Nick Fury, who was originally white in the comics, but is played by Samuel L. Jackson in the films. Jackson pulls the role off so well, though, that most people seem to overlook this change to his character, proving the talent of an actor far outweighs the color of their skin.

While Fury is primarily white in the comics, in the Ultimate Marvel comics (a completely separate comic-book Universe that features many similar storylines), Fury is not only black, but is based completely off of Samuel L. Jackson. Note, this was several years before Fury first appeared on-screen in Iron Man. Samuel L. Jackson was truly meant for this role.

4. Johnny Storm - 'Fantastic Four' (2015)

Image: 20th Century FOX, Marvel Comics
Image: 20th Century FOX, Marvel Comics

Like Zendaya and Tilda Swinton, the casting of Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm in last year's Fantastic Four caused quite a bit of controversy. Nevertheless, I was quite impressed by his performance in the film. While Fantastic Four lacked in some aspects, the cast was phenomenal.

Michael B. Jordan was without a doubt my favorite part of the movie. He, like Chris Evans in the 2005 version of the film, truly became the Human Torch on screen. Looking back on the film, the effects could have been better, and the editing could have been improved, but the cast was spot on.

5. Heimdall - 'Thor' (2011)

Image: Disney/Marvel Studios, Marvel Comics
Image: Disney/Marvel Studios, Marvel Comics

This is one casting decision that is often overlooked. Idris Elba has truly become a memorable face in the film industry, and seeing him appear three times thus far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a true blessing to the franchise. While many people overlook his character, adding Idris Elba to the series seriously improves the franchise. It is yet another example of how brilliant acting can only benefit a franchise, regardless of race.

One of Elba's best moments in the MCU, in my opinion, was in Avengers: Age of Ultron. During the intense dream sequence, Elba as Heimdall says the line, "You're our destroyer, Odinson. See where your power leads." This line, said in Elba's voice, still gives me chills every time I hear it. Check it out in the scene below...


So what's my point? Why does the race of an actor matter? Essentially, what I'm saying is it doesn't matter. Every actor on this list did nothing but improve the film they were in (save for the Ancient One, which we don't know everything about yet). Fisk, Fury, Johnny and Heimdall were not the same race as Clarke Duncan, Jackson, Jordan and Elba. But did that detract from the quality of the film? No it did not!

The only times a racially bent casting decision was bad in these situations was when the Internet tried to tell people it was bad. Many people on the Internet flipped out when Michael B. Jordan was cast as Johnny Storm, but he was without a doubt one of the best parts of the entire movie! Marvel has proven that they know what they are doing when coming up with their casting decisions, so we really have nothing to worry about. Zendaya will make a great Mary Jane Watson; she may be biracial, but her acting is spot-on, and in the end, that is all that matters.

Are you excited to see Zendaya as MJ? Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!

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