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.
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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