Anthony Stokes on race and superhero movies…
Michelle Rodriguez made some comments about race swapping in comic book movies over the weekend, which she later went back and clarified, but the general gist was for minority actors to “stop stealing roles from white people”. Because there are so many white actors and actresses starving for roles, right? This isn’t really a response to Rodriguez, who like I said later apologized, but rather the sentiment itself.
I’ve touched on this before and I’m a big supporter of race changes when it’s necessary, or when the actor fits. What decides whether a race change is necessary is completely subjective and differs from person to person. But I think a lot of the outcry from the fans about some race changes are just childish. “That’s a change and we don’t like change”-type of mentality comes to mind, along with Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons, who first appeared in 1991 but is still somehow perfect social commentary on some fans.
What these fans don’t understand is that when you’re translating something there’s a balance between updating and honoring the source material. There are going to be times when the adaptation might not perfectly resemble the source material. Christopher Nolan did it with Batman and we got some good stories out of that. There’s over half a century of lore with some of these comic book characters, so what makes these individuals’ interpretations anymore valid then the other millions of people who’ve read the comics over the years? So, sometimes, adapting a comic book means changing race because it works for the character.
For the record I don’t want Michelle Rodriquez as Green Lantern. Good actress, but I don’t think that role is good for her and that’s a big stretch. But Idris Elba as Bond I can get behind because that’s a good match up for the role. Change the race because you have a great actor who’s a good fit, as opposed to just changing it for the sake of it. I’ve gotten a lot of heat for this, but I think Michael B. Jordan is perfect for Johnny Storm in The Fantastic Four. Johnny Storm looks the same on fire whether he’s black or white, and honestly if you took Johnny Storm out of his Fantastic Four suit most people wouldn’t know who he was. He has no iconic, consistent look, other than being on fire.
However, let’s be honest. So many roles are whitewashed in Hollywood. Exodus: Gods and Kings had an all white cast. Ripley as an African Queen? Sure that’s fine. Monk as an Asian rat in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Sure that’s fine. Johnny Depp as a Native American? Sure that’s fine. But god forbid we have a black Johnny Storm. If anything, there’s more roles stolen from minorities than visa versa. And minorities don’t have that many roles to begin with. If it’s not a Tyler Perry movie or a movie about slavery or civil rights, black actors aren’t given a whole lot of work to begin with. If you’re going to complain about race changes, let’s talk about all of them – not just white to black.
I think it’s a fair trade off, personally. It happens from time to time and it’s okay. I didn’t complain about the whitewashing of Exodus or Johnny Depp as a Native American, which took the role away from a Native American who could’ve jumped into stardom. And worse case scenario, if a race change happens that you don’t like, you can always just not see the movie. That’s still an option people, always has been…
Anthony Stokes is a blogger and independent filmmaker.