EDITORIAL: Why Race In Comic Book Movies Does Matter

One of the most common arguments I hear in support of changing a comic book character's race is that race just doesn't matter for that particular character. Well here's my rational argument against changing an established character's race in comic book movies.

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By Sentry - 1/6/2014
One of the most common arguments I hear in support of changing a comic book characters race is that, race doesn't matter for that particular character so someone like The Flash could be changed to Hispanic because there's nothing that directly links him to being white. While this is half true, if this is the case then the pendulum must swing both ways, that's kinda how equality works.

Race is not important or pivotal with characters like John Stewart, Cyborg, War Machine, Falcon, Blade, Spawn, Luke Cage, Black Lightning, Steel, Mr Terrific, Simon Baz, Bishop, Static, Miles Morales and many other characters, so how would you have feel if they announced Daniel Craig as Blade or if they announced John Cho as John Stewart?

Personally, I would be appalled and I'm not arguing that any white comic book characters race should never be changed either, I'm arguing that any comic book characters race should not be changed, period. Readers and fans have been looking at these characters for decades upon decades and when we see them on the big screen, we want them to at least resemble how they have looked for the last 50 or so years, that's not an unreasonable expectation or desire.

Now you might want to bring up Bane as an example of whitewashing as many others already have but this is not totally accurate either, Bane was born in a fictional country located somewhere in the Caribbean and is believed to have had a Spanish mother and his father is King Snake, an English villain so Tom Hardy as Bane is really not that much of a stretch.

Another popular example is the decision to cast an Irishman as Ra's al Ghul but it should be noted that Ra's al Ghul in the Christopher Nolan trilogy was an amalgamation of Ra's al Ghul and Henri Ducard. While Nolan obviously leaned more towards the French side with the casting of Marion Cotillard as Talia al Ghul, it was a decision I wasn't terribly impressed with but I could at least see the logical reasoning behind it.

People often like to say that most comic book characters are white, especially the early ones, which is true but you must remember that when these characters were created, whites comprised over 85% of the American population so it stands to reason that most of the superheroes would be white but this does not make them racists.

A lot of comic book artists and writers were on the forefront of the civil rights movement, they were the first ones to publicly depict and advocate desegregation in the military and many other civil rights issues of the day. Take this spread from issue 17 of World's Finest which included a 'Johnny Everyman' story focusing on the plight of black men returning from WW2, this was written and approved by Jack Schiff, a white man all the way back in 1945, the opening dedication read,

"Dedicated to the millions of American Negroes who are doing their share in the armed forces and on the home front, to win the war and usher in a new era of peace and understanding among men".

So to label any old comic book writer or artist as being a racist (which I have seen done many, many times) is an affront to them and their efforts and I take umbrage at the implication, they deserve much more credit then they very often receive for pushing against and challenging the societal norms of their time.

DC was even in partnership with Milestone Media and had a distribution deal worked out with them. Milestone Media existed to create new black superheroes and expand their reach to readers. They came up with Static and that's about it but this is what any minority who feels like they are under represented should be doing, creating new characters. DC has already shown that they are willing to help them grow and Marvel would probably do the same but to try and hijack existing characters is just lazy, uninspired and shortsighted.

DC and Marvel could open or support new comic book companies like Vertigo, set them up for blacks, Hispanics and whoever else, help them recruit artists and talent and then incorporate the best 2 or 3 characters from each studio into their universe. That's what they did with Static and that's how you go about incorporating diversity and you wouldn't even have to sacrifice one race for the other. Just leave the existing characters alone, all of them, whether they be black, white, Asian or Hispanic.

Now people will often complain that it takes time to establish new comic book characters but this is not really true either. One of my favorite characters is Blue Marvel, he's less than 5 years old, he's awesome and he can rival Superman, Sentry and Thor. That's how they can create more representation and legitimate diversity and everyone would be extremely cool with all the awesome, new characters being introduced, they wouldn't upset anyone doing it this way.

Then there are characters where their race is important to their identity but have been changed anyway, Heimdall is literally known as 'The Whitest of the Gods' and he's the brother of Sif but that didn't stop Marvel from changing his race plus it makes absolutely no sense for a black man to be in Asgard. Now I know what you're thinking, what about Hogun but Hogun was adopted, he's not a natural born Asgardian, Heimdall however is a natural born Asgardian, it makes no sense.

Then there's the rumor that Michael B Jordan will be cast as Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four reboot, a white guy with an equally white sister, will they cast a black or white sister beside him, no matter what they do, the dynamics will be significantly changed, race most definitely matters to these characters yet that didn't stop them from changing their race.

So if those characters race can be changed, whose to say that someone like Black Panther's race couldn't be changed, I know he's from Africa but there are white tribes in Africa, the same goes for Storm, she's African but there are lots of white people in Africa or Blue Marvel, change or rewrite his back story so he's now a gay man struggling for acceptance instead of a black man struggling for acceptance. Do you see where I'm going this? Who decides what can be changed and what can't? At some point, this all becomes very discriminatory.

Whenever this conversation pops up, I am tired of seeing people declare that anyone who doesn't agree with changing the race of a well established character is a racist. Racist is an ugly word that realistically only applies to very few people and throwing around the racism word needlessly dilutes its impact. A racist is someone who hates someone based solely on the color of their skin and I don't think anyone here hates anyone because of their skin color, even if someone doesn't agree with casting them in a particular role. So lay off the racist word and save it for people who truly deserve its ugliness.

I'm already seeing a lot of people saying that changing Lex Luthor to a black man is a cool idea but are at the same time repulsed at the thought of a Hispanic Flash. At what point does all this become such a needlessly stupid mess created with the best of intentions when it all could have been avoided if they had simply kept to the source material.

I actually thought about this a lot recently and I came to the conclusion that the only fair way to decide was to ask myself, am I okay with changing any and all comic book characters race? If I couldn't honestly answer yes then the answer had to be no, to say it's okay for some characters but not for others based solely on the colour of their skin is flat out discrimination, it has to be or it should be, one rule for all.

Who decides whose race can be changed and what if you don't agree with it later on down the line? Let's change all the white characters but then what if someone decides later on, let's change all the black characters because Hispanics aren't represented enough and what if someone then decides, let's change all the black and Hispanic characters to Arabic characters because they aren't represented enough and someone else decides, let's change all the Hispanic and Arabic characters to Hindus because they don't have enough representation at the moment either and so on and so on, at what point do these characters become nigh unrecognizable.

Sooner or later, everyone's going to be upset about something when it comes to casting these roles so just leave the characters as they are. Create hundreds of new ethnically diverse characters, villains and superheroes, go for broke I say, I personally feel like we need more Hispanic superheroes since Hispanics are the biggest minority in America so let's start there but leave the established characters alone.

I don't know about any of you but I want to see a white Lex Luthor, I want to see a black War Machine, I want to see a Chinese Mandarin, I want to see a Japanese Katana, I want to see an Indian Solstice and I want to see an African Black Panther and I will argue this point just as much for any of these characters, regardless of who they are.
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jojofmd - 1/6/2014, 8:33 PM
This is such an awesome article. Great job covering all the different angles of this topic.
feedonatreefrog - 1/6/2014, 9:20 PM
I disagree.

Bring on black Hal Jordan and white John Stewart, in the same movie.

It'll be hilarious.
feedonatreefrog - 1/6/2014, 9:25 PM
John Cho for Barry Allen.

Michael B Jordan for Nightwing

Channing Tatum for John Stewart.
MoonDoggyX - 1/6/2014, 9:36 PM
We are talking about fictional characters, right...?
Its ok to change bane because he's fictional...? They are all fictional!!!

I'm a black guy, would I get upset if they changed a traditionally black character's race...? Hell no! Honestly, I think Sigourney would've made a better Storm than Haley Barry... Jason Statham would make an awesome Blade if they ever reboot...

@sentry - I really do not think that you are racist, but if you do not see how someone could find this article offensive, then you should not comment on racism because you obviously don't understand it.

GuardianDevil - 1/6/2014, 9:52 PM
MCD's Kingpin was great. In some ways even better than his white comic book counterpart...same can be said for Idris Elba, though I always saw him as T'Challa more than Heimdall. 

This is a well written article, but haven't we had enough of these??? C'mon man...the last few guys were beating a dead horse. You're now beating the skeleton of the horse. Yes this is a good article, and I respect that but I've read over a dozen on the exact same subject. Let's give it a rest...
Sentry - 1/6/2014, 10:12 PM
@JJ63, I only saw the one editorial in favor of changing a characters race, I didn't see one against changing their race but then again, I usually only check the front page.

But if people are discussing it, it means that it's an important issue for a lot of people, I just wanted to present the other side of the argument.
GuardianDevil - 1/6/2014, 10:21 PM
I'm not trying to down this at all, it's a good article. I'm just saying there's been a ton of these.
topshotta352 - 1/7/2014, 12:57 AM
Such a stupid article, 95% of all comic characters should not be one race
WebOfSpiderMan - 1/7/2014, 1:00 AM
I don't really give a shit as long as the final product is good. You guys care entirely way too much about skin color.
Space - 1/7/2014, 1:06 AM

patrat18 - 1/7/2014, 1:09 AM
TheHumanRocket - Agreed.
topshotta352 -
Bl00dwerK - 1/7/2014, 1:09 AM
Great article and I agree with you 100%. Watch, though, one of the buttholes around here who has the ability will take it down because they don't agree with it...
SuperDude001 - 1/7/2014, 1:16 AM
I agree the concept could be a little too much, maybe there should be a limit, but there kinda already is? In mainstream media, nearly all comic book character are white (and if not, simply Afircan American), there needs to be new diversity and when it doesn't matter to characters storyline what does it matter if the race changes? A white Black Panther would make no sense even if there are white tribes in Africa, people just don't believe. But a black Human Torch is fairly believable, even with a white actress playing Susan you could just say he's adopted because his race doesn't matter to his story.
My point is, I agree with the concept of this; but you're treating it like people are forcing writers, artists, directers, etc. to include more diversity. No one is forcing to change a characters race, but for a better world diversity does need to exist and it doesn't matter changing a characters race if it affects nothing so why not. It's simple and effective.
ryan55 - 1/7/2014, 1:26 AM
I Completley agree with this article.
nikgrid - 1/7/2014, 1:34 AM
Man if I had a slowclap gif I would post it :)
Nice article.
P862010 - 1/7/2014, 1:44 AM
i dont care that MBJ is black he would be a phenomenal johnny storm

he is good looking,young,funny,charismatic,likeable,and can play cocky/arrogant quipper but also has the strong dramatic chops for the more serious moments

he is one of the finest young working actors today it would be shame for him to not get a shot
GenreFan - 1/7/2014, 1:52 AM
Fictional characters. Fictional origins. Created in a very different time for a very different population and demographic. The demographic has shifted and has become empowered. Unheard voices of this countries past, voices that carried little to no weight at all now carry tremendous weight and of course, buying power.

To applaud this article is to fail to recognize the changing world we live in. Some of the writers of these comics may have been forward thinking. But in 1945 America, the overwhelming majority of readers were probably anything but.

We need to stop clinging to things like this and mentalities such as this. There may be logic in the crafting and reasoning of this article, but there is shortsightedness in its greater implications.

I am in an interracial relationship with bi-racial children. My children and some day my children's children and so on have no direct connection to these heroes. Please remember that heroes are not their race, but their deeds. Batman is iconic, not because Bruce Wayne is caucasian. Superman is an alien. Perhaps he should have had or could be modified to have had blue skin? Batman and Superman were modeled after prominent caucasian celebrities from the time of their creation because those men were aspirational figures. Perhaps if they were created today they would be modeled after Idris Elba due to his popularity and prominence who knows. Maybe Wonder Woman, if made today would look more like Sophia Vegara.

Maybe Nightcrawler could have orange fur, Mystique have red skin, the Beast be purple and not blue, Martian Manhunter, red and not green and maybe the Thing can be gray instead of orange. Would this article be written if any of those changes happened?

Defending the race of a character known for his deeds is silly no matter how you look at it. I may be spiraling but i hope you get where I'm coming from. Change them or keep them. It shouldn't matter to anyone. It's an article born of insecurity and in inability to face the fact that it is simply no longer acceptable to look at the world through or produce content for only one people.

One day when every reader of this site is six feed under our descendants will probably look back at these arguments and debates the same way we look back at the days before civil rights. They'll access content of the past and stare in disbelief at the systemic ignorance that infected parts of our culture with sadness and be thankful that they no longer live in such a time.

You presented your article well but I am afraid that should it one day be read by people of a distant future, it will not be grouped with anything favorable or tasteful.
GenreFan - 1/7/2014, 1:54 AM
@SuperDude001 By the way, very well said.
Doopie - 1/7/2014, 2:00 AM
a well written article, much better than some of the others that have been up recently and i don't think you come off as racist at all.


i still maintain that race does not matter. if you are a fan of any particular character whether it be bishop or ted kord, you are not a fan of them because of their skin tone...it is what they do, their motivations, their heroic deeds (and their badassery) that make you a fan. i am a big batman fan but if in the next movie they cast an indian man and he nailed it...what would it matter? to say that they don't look the same as they always have is silly. i'm not going to suddenly get confused; i will know that is still batman!
sticking close to the source material is great in theory but just look at how many times these characters' back stories have been changed...there is no 'one' source.

good actors in well written roles is all that matters to me.
jimdotbeep - 1/7/2014, 2:07 AM
This is the most well written and thought out editoral to ever be posted on this site. This elequently addressed an issue that most would not have been able to bring up without having the issue be overshadowed by the ensuing hatful flame war.

This issue needs to be addressed from all sides. This needed to be said Thank you.
Sentry - 1/7/2014, 2:14 AM
@Genrefan, I won't address all your points but I will address one in which I don't like your insinuation.

You seem to imply that children and by extension people can only have a 'connection' to a superhero that shares their own skin color and yet you say that a hero is not defined by their race, apparently they are if what you say is true.

Let me clarify, I too am in an interracial relationship, not that that should have any bearing on my opinion and I am a minority in a foreign country, I can't even get citizenship where I live so I understand better than you might realize.

I love many different superheroes and their skin color doesn't factor into my love for any of them and to say that people can't connect with a superhero for no other reason than their skin color is absurd.

I never thought as a child, Superman is okay but he's white... nor did I think, Storm is okay but she's black... and nor did I think, Psylocke is okay but she's Asian...

Your mentality seems to be the shortsighted one for if you think it's acceptable for your children to not feel a 'connection' to a superhero based on their skin color then that's a worrying mentality, you should explain to them that skin color shouldn't matter when deciding who to admire as a hero.
Odin - 1/7/2014, 2:18 AM
This is a well written article, so much better than the ones VIRILEMAN made.
giannis - 1/7/2014, 2:18 AM
This thing with the race needs to stop. The race change matters for you, but it does not for the studios and it has one reason only, money.
MightyZeus - 1/7/2014, 2:35 AM
What a greatly written article. I agree with all the points you've established in this article. The Kingpin was a great villain and DD which did not harm or affect the film in any negative way same goes for the casting of Hemidall i like Idris Elba as a talented actor and he is great as the character in Thor.

This article is one of the best thought out and written on this site. Great job at getting your point across to the readers.
SimpleeComplex - 1/7/2014, 2:38 AM
Race topic = Instant comments
Vortigar - 1/7/2014, 2:53 AM
Good article. I do feel I need to add:

The race and sex (and sexual preference) of any character can be changed except when its a point for that character. Luke Cage and Black Panther for example are remarkable *because* they are black, its part of how the character is written and perceived. They are additions to social commentary and discussion.

For Johnny Storm it matters not in the slightest. Same goes for Peter Parker, Superman, Batman, Iron Man or any of the Green Lanterns (even if one of them was created specifically to be the black one) and on and on.

Same with sex I think. Wonder Woman can't be changed because her whole point is feminism (and that's not a bad word/thing btw). But swapping the sexes of Reed and Susan in the Fantastic Four would be awesome actually. Even if a woman with stretch powers would posit a whole new can of worms. Make Storm a guy and Gambit or Wolverine a girl, sure. It wouldn't be my choice but if you got a good angle or idea to go with it, run with it.

Yes, I've got the guy as my avatar and I honestly wouldn't mind a sioux female Doc Strange. Heck, he was Asian is in his first appearances.

You do realize that race and sex are very important for marketing and thus for the money?

And therein also lies the problem. Women and non caucasians are underrepresented in all forms of media. So taking away from their ranks is problematic as it is seen as the cultural bias eliminating yet another one of their number. This is tricky ground to tread but actually has nothing to do with the characters themselves. But rather the perception of the people.

Also, super-heroes are far less important of a cultural touchstone these days than they once were and how some fans seem to see them. They are, however, extremely American.
113 - 1/7/2014, 3:02 AM
How about this, choosing the best actor for the job. That's what all the crybabies seem to be missing. Thank goodness the studios aren't listening to you.

Michael B. Jordan has already worked with Josh Trank. They obviously have a great working relationship and Michael is a tremendous actor. Not to mention that his character in Chronicle is basically Johnny Storm in terms of personality. Makes perfect sense for Trank to want to bring him on board as he can clearly play Johnny.

Idris is a tremendous actor, if you can grab him for a role in a movie you do that and that's precisely what Kenneth Branagh did with Thor.

Liam Neeson is a tremendous actor, if you can grab him for Ra's Al-Ghul you do, no brainer.


Not to mention the number of times all of these characters have been changed and re-interpreted throughout history. These movies are just the newest interpretations and will add to the lore. Look at how popular GL John Stewart has become simply because Bruce Timm, Dwayne McDuffie, and Andrea Romano had the GUTS, the VISION, and the OPEN-MINDEDEDNESS to make John the main GL for Justice League/Unlimited. That character had been around for decades but he only gained a loyal following because they decided to change things up.

The artists making these movies know what they're doing.
Ace101 - 1/7/2014, 3:03 AM
you would figure in this day and age, people would know by know that there is no such thing as 'race', it emerged from peoples ignorance of the fact the all humans belong to a single species among the many branched tree of life.
also in terms of definition The word race has become so diluted it carries no meaning.
Well written article though.
GenreFan - 1/7/2014, 3:10 AM
@ Sentry. Ahh I see. There's a misunderstanding here. I want to clarify something about this line.

"My children and some day my children's children and so on have no direct connection to these heroes."

By "no connection" I meant no connection to the time period of their origins and the time of the characters conception not the characters themselves. That's why I also wanted to say "children's children".

Hope that helps with what I entered up there, earlier. Am I making sense? Hopefully that will clarify things a little.
dnno1 - 1/7/2014, 3:10 AM
Sentry, if what you just wrote made any sense, we should make Mr. Terrific white again. There are a number of reasons why characters change race, gender, or nationality and one of the major ones is to attract a new demographic to the market and increase sales. For the most part, these changes have stuck as fans got used to them.
WarnerBrother - 1/7/2014, 3:13 AM

Thank god somebody is making sense here. Too often you have fanboys who can't seem to make the jump beyond their own sense of entitlement and admit that women and non caucasians are underrepresented in a comic book field that was originally established to cater only to young white males.

In a perfect world, we would get Milestone adaptations into movies but the simple fact is,those projects didn't sell with in the comic book buyer community so why should a film studio take the same risk with a lot more money involved?

The simple fact is its easier and less risky to change the race of a supporting white character in a successful white character property (As in Nick Fury for Marvel Studios or Perry White in Man of Steel) then to add on original black characters for the sake of diversity that could come off as tolkenism.

I know Nick Fury first had his race changed in the Ultimates series,but that is just as much an example of changing things up to bring diversity then one that only happened on screen like Perry White.
SudsMerrick - 1/7/2014, 3:21 AM
I have to disagree with this article. Race, gender and sexuality are trival aspects when it comes to a majority of pop culture icons and they can have been manipulated and changed and tested throughout the history of the medium. Sometimes a specific race, financial class, sexuality or gender is highlighted extensively to try to obtain certain reader demographics and have usually been poorly handled. It's very rare that the right creators are paired with the right title and are able to elevate a character beyond those constrictions and can tell a great story.

Also we're talking about a shift in artistic media when you move from comics to film, you're objectives become very different. Adaptation allows us and most times forces us to alter various things about a source material to properly convey what a director's vision is and what a story actually requires.

I don't think this article is racist as much as I think it's relying on the same kind of fan-boy dogma that seems to persist as the genre grows; it's the same kind of complaint people give when they ask "Why doesn't wolverine where the costumes from the comics?" And I'll quote Batman Begins for saying it right "It's not who I am underneath, but what I DO that defines me."Wolverine doesn't where the the costumes because he doesn't need to just as Johnny Storm doesn't have to be white and John Stewart doesn't need to be black. Things can be different in adaptation.

When you deal with a character like the Black Panther it becomes a little more complicated it can still be justified to make him white story wise but in a character like that; a character developed as a political figure it would come off as a political statement of white-washing that is unavoidable and seems like satire, it's a false equivalence.

In short because it's an adaptation and a different narrative than the comics:
Johnny Storm can be Black.
Blade can be white.
Captain America can be a woman.
Spider-man can be gay.

That said my stance is let the best teams of actors and creators come up with the best stories they see fit and make real complaints over real problems with a story. I'm not a person who believes that WB or Disney should be actively looking for a specific race or super imposed identity for any of their characters but it doesn't bother me unless it truly hinders the story.
solidsnakeeyes - 1/7/2014, 3:25 AM
This is a counter article about "race doesn't matter blah blah blah" the other day but I'm with sentry. RACE does Matter.... and HEIGHT too! <---- there I said it! hahaha. Peace!
SigmaCenturion - 1/7/2014, 3:26 AM
Question if race does not matter then why change it to begin with?
WarnerBrother - 1/7/2014, 3:27 AM
Its not as if black characters haven't been affected by race changing in the past.

I was a fan of Battlestar Galactica in 1978 and loved the fact that there were black characters in a weekly sci-fi show (in 78 black people were mostly limited to black themed comedies)

When Battlestar Galactica was rebooted as BSG by the scy-fi channel in 2004, I was at first,irked that those two black characters became an Asian and a white man but I really got into the story the writers were telling and fell in love with that show.

I judged BSG on its own merrit and no longer against pre conceived notions of how things should be. Maybe people should judge any future race changes by that same standard.
Sentry - 1/7/2014, 3:27 AM
@dnno1, the white Mr Terrific is dead, nobody changed the first Mr Terrific into a black man, it just so happened that the next Mr Terrific was black, there was never a time when Michael Holt was white, it's the same situation as the Green Lanterns.

Although Terry Sloane has been brought back in the New 52, he's still white so there's no Mr Terrific to change 'back' to white.
marvel72 - 1/7/2014, 3:28 AM
i agree 100% with this editorial,a movie is there to try & absorb you into the story the same way a book or comic book does.

if you start changing the race of the main characters i.e the human torch & maybe the invisible woman,knowing what race they are in the comics i would be taken out of the movie from the start.

it wouldn't get my full attention because i know its wrong & because of that if they change the race of two of the main characters i won't be watching this movie ever.
WarnerBrother - 1/7/2014, 3:30 AM
Thats "Asian Woman and a white man."
solidsnakeeyes - 1/7/2014, 3:31 AM
here it is!

EDITORIAL: Why Race Changes Shouldn't Matter In Comic Book Adaptations


I find it funny that I took my time to look it up. Cheers for me!
minusman - 1/7/2014, 3:34 AM
When I first logged on and saw this, I immediately rolled my eyes and posted a snide comment. Then I read the article after seeing some of the comments and I was glad I did.
Your article is one the best written I have seen here. Its well thought out and confronts this issue clearly and I think, without bias.
One of the points of your article that some others keep missing, like Vortigar, for instance, is the equality aspect. They keep stating that for characters like Black Panther, Storm or Luke Cage race is essential to who they are- but for all other "white" characters it is not. I say you cant have it both ways- either race is important to ALL characters, or it is not. But then that got me thinking about which race changes I didnt mind- Perry White, Kingpin, Heimdall- all excellent portrayals, and I came to the conclusion that while I love all things comic in general, I care more about certain characters than others- those characters I love, I dont want to see changed at all, in ANY way. For those I dont care about, as long as the actor portraying that character does a good job, I dont care what they change- sex, race, height, attitude, etc.
Does this make me a hypocrite? Maybe. But I think it speaks more to me just being human. I love what I love and I dont want see those characters I love change in anyway.
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