Race/Gender and Established Characters - Let's Switch Things Up

Changing the race or gender of an established character isn't anything new. Why do we still get so upset about it?

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By boboMELOSHE - 2/24/2014
Michael B Jordan, a black man, was recently cast as the Human Torch in Fox’s 'Fantastic Four' reboot (hitting 2015) causing the Internet to explode. Johnny Storm is typically portrayed as a blonde haired white guy; Jordan’s casting is clearly changing things up. In all honesty, this should not be a major issue. If an actor is a solid fit for the role and race or gender is not a key element of that character, switching things up should not be out of the question.



Angry comic book fans took the Internet by storm in outrage at the casting announcement by Fox but this news should not come as a surprise. Studios have been color blind casting comic roles for years now and almost all end up doing a spectacular job. Take for instance the late Michael Clarke Duncan; fans were in an uproar when he was cast as the Kingpin in Daredevil yet he ended up being one of the better parts of that film. Fans hit the message boards again when Idris Elba was cast as Heimdall, Laurence Fishburne as Perry White and Jamie Foxx as Electro (even though the version his Electro is based on was black in the comics… these “fans” sure are a fickle bunch). All of these portrayals, with the exception of Foxx whose film has yet to hit theatres, have remained true to their comic roots despite their race being changed. Heimdall is the guardian of the Bifrost, he can do that with any skin tone he wants. The same goes for Perry White.

As long as studios keep the defining characteristics of a character in tact a gender or race change is inconsequential. Let studios switch things up, it offers more variety and new perspectives on classic characters. For all the comic purists out there, you still have your books. Those won’t change. If you want a white Human Torch you can still read the comics or watch the two ‘FF' movies Fox put out. These jerk reactions to character changes derive from a lack of forward thinking. This is 2014, Barack Obama has been president for years, we should be more tolerant of a black superhero.

Michael B Jordan proved he has what it takes to pull of a fantastic (pun intended) interpretation of Johnny Storm and he should not get any grief just because he is not the typical vision from the pages we grew up with. If his work in ‘Chronicle’ or ‘Fruitvale Station’ is anything to go by we may end up with a better portrayal than Evans gave us in the originals!



The only issue I do have with the casting of this film is Kate Mara, not because I am questioning her talent (she is terrific in ‘House of Cards’) but because I believe Fox should have gone all the way with the race change. By making the Human Torch African American they should have also gone with a black Invisible Woman. Sure they can say the two are from an interracial family or one of them is adopted but I would have appreciated it if they took the colorblind casting all the way instead of only fifty percent. It would have gone a long way towards diversifying the FF and comic films in general. With Johnny being the only black man on the team it seems like Fox threw him in as the token member, just to show that they care. If they truly wanted to make a statement they should have been consistent.



On that note, I for one am looking forward to what Jordan brings to this film, which hits theatres March 6th, 2015. The cast includes the aforementioned Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm (the Human Torch), Miles Teller as Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic), Kate Mara as Sue Storm (the Invisible Woman) and Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm (the Thing). So “flame on” in the best way possible.
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19 Comments
GizmoEl - 2/24/2014, 1:43 PM
Maybe I missed something because I don't really remember anyone exploding at Jordan's casting as Johnny Storm. I remember boycotts of Thor because of Idris' Heimdall casting but it's just white noise that disapates. I think it doesn't matter about race change as long as race doesn't play a large part in who the character is.
Pedrito - 2/24/2014, 1:54 PM
He was indeed thrown in as a token member. And not just any member, but the fun playful reckless member.
If they had a more interesting vision and some guts, they would've made Reed black instead.
GizmoEl - 2/24/2014, 2:02 PM
I think it's tougher to swap races for an iconic character (like batman superman Spiderman etc), but I guess with the right script it doesn't matter.
dethpillow - 2/24/2014, 2:26 PM
@Pedrito - yeah, black Reed would've been interesting. i think actually there's way more deep stuff involved in that flip than in Johnny's, which is pretty superficial.

I think in this case tho, it probably wasn't even for the purpose of like "well, we gotta change the race of someone, who's it gonna be?" for whatever reasons.

but I think this situation seems genuinely like Trank wanting to cast Jordan cuz of working with him before and of seeing how easily the guy exudes Johnny Storm. so I disagree that it was any kind of tokenism for PC or target demographics. or maybe it was some kind of top down directive, like we gotta have one ethnic FF, and black would be best, and Trank looked at Jordan and was like, ok, fine. here you go.

I could imagine also, Jordan's casting in general seeming even more attractive to Trank, as kind of a declaration against the comic book movie fan's expectations. like saying...look, this isn't gonna be some FF source accurate by the book kind of movie, i'm gonna make a film that i want to make, and i don't wanna think about what you guys want.

and i can imagine that, totally, like not that he'd cast Jordan just purely out of spite, but that maybe the idea occurred to him and that was a factor that just made it seem even like the kind of move he wanted to make.
dethpillow - 2/24/2014, 2:28 PM
@Gizmo - well it helps a lot too, when it's already been around in comics for a long time. that's the thing with Miles, is that if, say in 10 years, they decide to make a Spider-Man movie with Miles Morales rather than Peter, it won't be this brand new change to anything. they can point at 10 years or whatever of time that Miles has existed and people will see it more for what it is.
GizmoEl - 2/24/2014, 3:45 PM
@dethpillow I think miles is a good enough character to become mainstream. I wouldn't want a black peter Parker, but if openly welcome a miles morales Spiderman movie. Same goes for Kamala and Ms. Marvel.
BenjiWest - 2/24/2014, 4:17 PM
Tintin should do fine as Thing...
minusman - 2/24/2014, 5:10 PM
Quite simply, I think we get upset with race changes because as a fan of that certain character, we want to see them portrayed on screen as they are in the comics.
I think if you don't care about the race change then you don't really care about that character. How could you claim to love a character from the comics but be ok with a race change? What about gender? Do we really want a Wolverette?
GizmoEl - 2/24/2014, 5:19 PM
I think gender is a little different. Changing gender means changing other characters if there is a love interest involved (like if Peter Parker became Patricia Parker) then Gwendolyn Stacy would either be a lesbian or become Dylan Stacy or something like that. Changing sexes is a mess, but race shouldn't really matter.

If you're changing someone like Black Panther into a white dude for the big screen, that's a big no no. I would even be offended if Wolverine wasn't Canadian, because that's part of who he is. There are certain aspects of a character that defines them. Where they grew up, who they were involved with. If you're switching races then you must be mindful of these factors and make sure it doesn't change the dynamic of the character with other characters or betray who the character is.

At the end of the day, like I said before.. it depends on the script and how the character is handled. Maybe the new Johnny will be the adopted brother of Sue who likes to get in trouble. If they disregard their familial relationship, then that would betray the characters.
minusman - 2/24/2014, 6:35 PM
I agree that there are some characters out there where as long as they are handled correctly, it doesnt matter- but those characters I dont really care about such as Perry White, Heimdal, and King Pin. Others such as Bruce Wayne, Peter Parker, Johnny Storm, I care. In some cases, such as the FF, I will wait until I see a trailer to make a final judgement- but race change Bruce Wayne? Nope. I will have no desire to see that movie.

Im sure MBJ embodies the spirit of Johnny Storm which is why Trank wanted him for the part. Im just not 100% on board with it.

GizmoEl - 2/24/2014, 9:01 PM
@minusman, I agree with you. I haven't been much of a Human Torch fan so I don't mind the race change. However, if they race changed Bruce Wayne or Peter Parker, I'd need a lot of some damn good convincing.
dethpillow - 2/24/2014, 9:03 PM
there's certain of race changes that suddenly introduce a whole new dynamic to a character that wasn't there before.

with things like that, I think people would be more open, i hope at least, for the race change to happen, even with major characters.

like a black Captain America is something that would have so many extra layers to it, and i've always thought that particular one was fascinating. it would change the whole concept of why Steve Rogers was chosen for the experiment and it would change the governments reaction to him after the experiment and what he would mean to the public, in as much as they even were allowed to know about him, and it would change his own feelings for his country.

and there's not just one way it could happen, there's a bunch so not getting into details about what those things would be, if changed. but they would ideally be the natural progress of events that stemmed from the situation. like if you have a bunch of chemicals you add into a beaker, you get a certain kind of chemical reaction. and then changing the Captain America chemical from white to black, is a fundamental change and you would get a different reaction becuz of it. just naturally.

I'm kinda surprised that Bendis didn't do that with Ultimates Cap, it seems almost so obvious of a change with so many interesting ramifications on different levels, that it just seems like the way they would've gone. it's pretty rich subject matter. you know instead of just depicting Cap as an exaggerated jingoist maniac like they did. it was effective and cool, but see how much of a dead end it was? Ultimate Cap pretty much reverted to a mirror of 616 Cap cuz there wasn't anywhere where to go with that A is for America character. Black Cap would've been such a successful alternate version, and i think one of the Ultimates that would still be going strong today.

i'm surprised also it's never been the subject of a What If? comic or minirun. i don't think it has at least. but What if Cap was black? or What if someone else was chosen for the super soldier program? and have that person be black.
Tainted87 - 2/24/2014, 10:38 PM
cipher's gonna laugh at me.....
I have to relate to Mass Effect. Have to. Must. Absolutely must. And don't tell me it's different because it's a video game, or it's different because the character hasn't been around and collected for generations.

Commander Shepard. Male, female. Voiced by Canadians Mark Meer or Jennifer Hale. Built. Early 30s. Can be Caucasian, Latin, African, or Asian. As it's a role-playing game, YOU decide what to do with this character... but s/he is going to be doing pretty much the same thing regardless of race or gender.

What if you were to make Rick Grimes a woman? Would people be able to follow a woman into the post-apocalyptic South? That would make for an interesting discussion, but truthfully, people only respected Rick because he was a cop, and his family was already part of the group. In the comics, presently, Maggie is the leader of the group.

Given the setting, things could be very different, ESPECIALLY if Rick was made black, hispanic, or Asian. It's a very racist part of the country, and although Glenn and T-Dog were accepted without hesitation, they were also held back from any real decision-making. Some of it is less racist and more political than anything, as an outsider would not be taking the lead.

So yeah, it can change things, but it can also make it a lot more interesting.

'I'm Not There' depicted Bob Dylan in different stages with different actors in each. The first was Marcus Carl Franklin, an 11 year-old black kid traveling about the country by freight train singing folk songs. Next up is Christian Bale, a folk hero who goes on a drunken rant and later becomes a Born Again preacher. Heath Ledger plays an actor in a quickly declining marriage which ends in a stressful custody battle. Cate Blanchett plays a more successful musician who goes against type and becomes an angry drug addict who is eventually hated by fans and friends alike. Lastly, there's Richard Gere, a retired outlaw who is eventually run out of town.

No comic book character would ever have that kind of a painting made of him or her, because they're just not that deep. It kind of puts things into perspective, doesn't it?

If the actors can make it work out, then I'm all for it.

As for Fantastic Four, I don't care AT ALL about the movie, so the casting is a moot point. I'm really not a fan of Kate Mara though, but Sue's not exactly a difficult character. Again, not concerned.
TheLokey1 - 2/25/2014, 8:32 AM
Is it racist to think that it makes more sense for a guy who's super power is to spontaneously combust to be black?
cipher - 2/25/2014, 11:06 AM
Hahahahahaha, I'm convinced that all of life's lessons can be found in Mass Effect.

:D
cipher - 2/25/2014, 11:07 AM
boboMELOSHE- Welcome to the site, and welcome to editorials, mate.

:)
AC1 - 2/25/2014, 3:20 PM
Not to nit-pick, but I'm pretty sure Ultimate Electro is white. Not too keen on the weird nerdy route they've gone with for Max in the movie, but I'm very much looking forward to Jamie Foxx's portrayal of the character when he gets his powers and stuff. Great actor, and such a badass screen presence.

To me, Johnny (or Sue) having their race changed makes the most sense in the team - it means the siblings are adopted, and it furthers the surrogate family idea that the Fantastic Four is rooted in. Don't get me wrong, I don't want every version of the Four to follow this route, but it'll be an interesting and refreshing take. Changing Reed's race instead would make no difference at all, and you can't change Ben's as his identity as a former Yancy Street gang member born to a Jewish family is pretty integral to his character.

Honestly, Jordan's casting as Torch is the only thing I actually like so far with this movie. Kate Mara seems like a good choice for Sue. The other two seem horribly miscast. Not expecting anything good with this movie.
ThunderKat - 2/25/2014, 11:16 PM
This is ridiculous. You do not change the integral characteristics of a character.

The comment about B.O. being president doesn't change the fact that all four members of the FF are white. America having a black president has zero bearing on casting in films.

Should we make Black Panther, Falcon, John Stewart, and Steel white?

The real problem is the studios don't have the guts to make a (good, sorry, Shaq) solo film with any of the aforementioned.

MightyZeus - 3/2/2014, 3:26 AM
I'm not bothered by the race change. I understand why the director and the studio casted Michael B Jordan as The Human Torch because they both have similar characteristics but at the same time the film is adding diversity to the film. I think the casting is "okay", i'm just not sold on the casting of Reed Richards i think a better actor could have been chosen.

What does bother me is that FOX is in charge of the film and they will not release the rights. The F4 belong in the MCU. I'm not expecting a great film from FOX and i'm keeping my expectation at a low.

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