More specifically, “Does race matter when casting for existing characters?” That is a question that has been asked a lot more frequently as of late. You might think that it’s an obvious and simple answer, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. With the impending release of the movie that seems to have really kick-started this debate, Fantastic Four, I thought that it was time for me to submit my answer.
Saying, “racism is a very serious matter” is probably the understatement of the century… millennium… ever. It is the cause of terrible atrocities that are carried out every day. Some of these we hear about, others we will never know have happened. There are some that might think it’s a problem that will go away if ignored, but insane ignorant assholes make that impossible. Racism exists everywhere you look (another obvious statement), even in the most unexpected places for the silliest of reasons.
Before it was even announced in February of 2014, fans were flipping out over the rumors of Michael B. Jordan potentially being cast as Johnny Storm, AKA the Human Torch, in the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot. “Johnny Storm is white!” they proclaimed while insisting race wasn’t the issue. In fact, a lot of “I’m not racist, but…” was thrown around the internet. You can guarantee that any tweet that begins that way will be followed by some pretty racist shit. Apparently the problem is that the Human Torch has always been a white character in the comic books and any films or TV shows. Please allow me to break that down further for you; Johnny Storm is a fictional character that can ignite on command and fly, but casting a black man in the role is utterly ridiculous. I’m reminded of the nonsense we had to endure when a certain British actor was rumored to be the next in line to portray a certain MI6 Agent
Idris Elba, the villain in the upcoming Star Trek Beyond, has been mentioned consistently for the past three years as Daniel Craig’s replacement in the coveted role of James Bond. As with Michael B. Jordan’s casting, every time Elba’s name is brought up as the next potential Bond (James Bond), we hear virtually the same “arguments” about why he can’t play 007. Look, I’m pretty sure the general consensus is that “James Bond” is a codename given to the MI6 agents designated 007. If that’s not the case, then the movies have no real continuity. The biggest question in all of this is why does it matter so much?
When the casting director goes about choosing an actor for a movie, original or adaptation, it’s important to find someone who can bring the character to life. There have been plenty of times that an actor hasn’t fit the exact character description, but everything turned out great. Paramount Pictures caught a lot of static when they “whitewashed” the role of Khan when the cast Benedict Cumberbatch in Star Trek into Darkness. After the release of the movie, we were greeted with a great performance by a talented actor.
Unless it is otherwise vital to the character’s identity, race should play no part in it because the performance is all that matters. If you were to put Jamie Foxx in the role of Bruce Wayne it would likely be awful. This wouldn’t be because he’s black, but because he’s an extremely overrated actor. If you were to put Idris Elba in the role (a proposition brought up to me when I argue these same points in conversations), it would be… well, awesome. He can bring the character to life give an unforgettable performance, and (again) that is all that matters.
Unfortunately, that’s just not the world we live in. Racism motivates terrible things every day. Movies and TV shows are meant to distract us from that for just a short time. These same people who bitch and moan about “wrecking the source material” choose to take that distraction away from us by reminding us why we need these distractions in our lives. The sooner we realize that the color of someone’s skin isn’t an identity, the better off this rock will be.
Image Courtesy of Back Spin Design