A couple of months ago, I wrote an article on my choices for casting the new Fantastic Four movie. Fox has reported that Michael B. Jordan of Fruitvale Station, will be cast in the role of Johnny Storm. Using this as the basis, I thought it would be appropriate to cast his sister as the same race, in keeping with the continuity of their relationship in the comics. The feedback I got to this choice in the comments was mostly negative, and there were a large amount of people who used the phrase “stick to the comics.” Furthermore, any news about casting the film or news from the film that I have read is usually followed by a host of comments of like-minded people who say they will “boycott” the film if Sue and Johnny Storm are black.
Similarly, THIS article discusses the appearance of black superheroes amongst the X-men, a story likened to the civil rights movements in the 60’s as well as today with gay rights, yet the band of heroes is made up almost entirely of white protagonists (with the exception of Ororo Munroe or Storm played by Halle Berry). Granted, this is how it is in the comics. So what is the guide for attempting to diversify these copious amount of superhero films we are getting? Should we simply stick to the comics? Or is there any room for “race-swapping” some of our heroes from comics to film?
Put This Into Context
In 2012 and 2013, the following comic book films came out: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, The Amazing Spiderman, The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, Dredd, The Wolverine, Man of Steel, Thor: The Dark World, Iron Man 3, Kick-Ass 2, and R.I.P.D. The number of black protagonists that could be classified as superheroes in this list of films is at exactly 3. Dr. Gravity from Kick-Ass 2, Iron Patriot from Iron Man 3 and Nick Fury from The Avengers, and if we are being technical, none of them have super powers. We may also count Idris Elba as Moreau in Ghost Rider and Heimdall in Thor, so bring that count to 5. So at this point, with films that have recently come out, we have not seen any real diversity amongst protagonists. Marvel has plans to change this, however. The Falcon will be in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Luke Cage is set to have his own Netflix series on the horizon.
Also, if rumors can be believed, Denzel Washington is being eyed for John Stewart, a black Green Lantern and if they include Cyborg in the upcoming Justice League films, that will add some diversity to the superhero world. But why not switch the race of superheroes?
I think the key to “race swapping” is to first determine if the race of the character bears any weight on his or her identity. Then, deciding whether it would truly matter or inform the way the character plays within the universe. With Fox moving in on casting Michael B. Jordan, it’ll be a big switch for fans of the traditional Fantastic Four comics.
Taking this instance of Johnny Storm and the biography of the character taken directly from Wikipedia. The defining factors of Johnny Storm are that he is “youngest of the group” and that “he is brash and impetuous” as well as a hot head, no pun intended. Nowhere in the bio does it define him as being white, or that being white informs this defining characteristic and how he interacts with the other members of the team. Therefore, will changing the race of the this character really impact the way the Fantastic Four works as a team? Probably not. No, it is not cannon with Stan Lee’s original characters. But I think the key here is to think of this as what it is: A reboot. Fox is capitalizing on a story they have the rights to, and taking a reboot for what it literally is: A reinvention of characters and stories to open up the story to new audiences. In my opinion, Fox is making a smart move by diversifying the cast of characters.
Amongst the characters said to be reinvented was Spiderman. When sony was starting groundwork to reboot the Spiderman franchise, the current Spiderman comics featured a new Spiderman who was black. Then started a rumor on the internet about the possibility of Donald Glover (of Community fame) taking up the mantle. These wouldn’t come to fruition, but say Sony had done this, where would we be today? I, for one, would have loved it. Not only am I a huge fan of Glover’s but also, the Amazing Spiderman for me was too soon, and Raimi’s trilogy was too fresh in my mind, to the point that I didn’t enjoy seeing the Andrew Garfield Amazing Spiderman. Casting Glover would have done away with that. It would have said: this is a new Spiderman for a new audience and is valid for it’s own reasons.
Separately, I do think there are characters whose race informs the way they make decisions, and at the same time, the way they interact and fit into their respective universes. For instance, Luke Cage and his origin as a child brought up in Harlem, I think his race does inform his identity, in the same way that Bruce Wayne’s heritage informs who he is to the world. Release date also has a part to play in what race characters are. Keep in mind Stan Lee wrote the first Fantastic Four in 1961, and Luke Cage came out 11 years later following the civil rights movements in the 60’s. The world had changed drastically in that decade and has changed considerably since.
So to sum up:
In our current world of ethnic diversity, if a reboot- that is, a reinvention of characters for a new audience- decides to “race swap” characters in order to diversify the cast of characters, shouldn’t they be able to without a host of harsh feedback and strong petitions? Who’s to say if the story was written for the first time these days, that certain characters couldn’t be a different race?
This is my opinion, but also just an observation. Sound off in the comments if you agree or disagree!
Thanks to my buddy @ThePubWriter for talking through this with me. Also check out The Zach and Zack Podcast for further discussions. And find me on twitter @zgriffin22.