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

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

One of the most common complaints I see about about recent and upcoming comic book movies is when a character who is one race in the comics is portrayed by an actor of another race on the big screen. I think these complaints are ridiculous, and here's why.

"The Human Torch can't be black!" "Electro isn't black!" "He's called Perry White for a reason!"

One of the most common complaints I see about about recent and upcoming comic book movies like Man of Steel, The Fantastic Four reboot, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is when a character who is one race in the comics is portrayed by an actor of another race on the big screen. I think these complaints are ridiculous, and here's why.

1. Race doesn't define most comic book characters

One of the more common arguments I see is that a character is completely changed when an actor of a different race portrays said character. These same arguments typically include something along the lines of, "Well, how would you like Black Panther to be played by a white guy?!" To this, I say, "I wouldn't," and that's because Black Panther's race is an integral part of his origin. Can the same argument be used for many other characters? How about Spider-Man? No, a smart teenager living with his aunt and uncle could feasibly be anyone. What about the Human Torch? No, a person of any race could easily get cocky and bask in their celebrity status once they get super powers. What about Perry White? No, Perry White is the editor of a magazine who loves getting a good story before the competition - there's no reason a black man can't portray that. It might be slightly less feasible for characters like Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark to be black because their families have owned their businesses for generations, but their origin stories could be tweaked just a little (ie. they could start their companies themselves and be self-made) and the issue of race flies right out the window. Characters who are defined by their race are the exception, not the rule.

2. Talent, ability, and popularity are more important

When I was following the development of Batman Begins, I was happy to hear that Liam Neeson was cast. Despite Ra's al Ghul having Arabic origins, barely anyone seemed to care that he was being portrayed by Irish-born American. Could it be because he's an experienced, award-winning, Oscar-nominated actor with plenty of financial successes (and a few flops, but nobody is perfect) under his belt? Hey, you know who else matches that exact career description (aside from the Oscar part, because he's been nominated and won)? This guy:

Both Jamie Foxx and Liam Neeson are talented and popular actors, and yet Foxx is getting far more backlash for portraying Electro than Neeson ever did for portraying Ra's al Ghul. It's fine if people don't like Foxx as an actor, but criticism of his casting should be down to how he delivers his lines and not based on the color of his skin.

The same applies to Laurence Fishburne's portrayal of Perry White. First of all, it's not like Fishburne is completely different - he's somewhat old, heavy, and has greying hair, much like White. But is there anything about Fishburne's performance that stops him from convincingly playing the editor-in-chief of the Daily Planet? As far as I saw in Man of Steel, there wasn't. Not to mention that Fishburne has, like Neeson and Foxx, awards of his own. He may not be a huge movie star these days, but if Man of Steel's producers were looking for a fairly well-known actor to fill a secondary character's shoes, Fishburne was as good a choice as any.

3. Other (more important) changes have been done

Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight series is one of the most popular and successful series of comic book adaptations to date, and yet it makes drastic changes to the origins and presentations of certain characters. Heath Ledger's Joker is far different from how the Joker is portrayed in comics and especially the cartoons, but people loved him (for a good reason). Arrow has similarly different portrayals and origin stories for its characters, and it has been well-received by many comic book fans. And, even though Iron Man 3's Mandarin is very controversial, the film's box office success and critical reception suggest that it's not a deal breaker for the general audience. So, if all of these different portrayals are acceptable (excluding the Mandarin for some), why is a change as tiny as race so important? Does anyone still complain that Hugh Jackman is too tall to be Wolverine?

Oh, right.

That brings me to my last point.

4. Not everyone has to look exactly like the original character to be great

My favorite thing about comic book movies in general is that they almost all have one actor who does a wonderful job with a character. Sometimes an actor will give an old character a new twist, like Heath Ledger did for the Joker. In some cases, an actor will seem like they jumped right out of a comic book, like J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson, Ron Perlman as Hellboy, or even John Leguizamo as Violator in that lousy Spawn movie. But people need to accept that great actors don't always have the perfect physical characteristics to match the character. So what if Hugh Jackman is a taller than Wolverine? No rational person will argue that his height hurts his ability to play a convincing Wolverine. Race is the same way - if an actor is good enough, why does race matter? Comic book characters are drawn, not born, and that's why it will be impossible for every single on-screen character to be exactly the same.

At the very least, it would be great if people would wait to see movies before condemning casting choices.
Posted By:
Member Since 1/3/2014
Filed Under "Other" 1/3/2014
DISCLAIMER: ComicBookMovie.com is protected under the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) and... [MORE]
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 ...
MexicanSexyman - 1/3/2014, 5:19 PM
I agree with all your points. I didn't care that Nolan changed Bane from Hispanic to European or middle eastern. Tom Hardy was fantastic as Bane.
Vegeta - 1/3/2014, 5:27 PM
I agree 100%! Thumbs up from me!

Interestein - 1/3/2014, 5:38 PM
superherofan21 - 1/3/2014, 5:53 PM
So glad this article exists. Now maybe some of the people who complain about performances before even seeing them can shut up.
MrCBM56 - 1/3/2014, 6:04 PM
I love this article. Great job!
JoJo1982 - 1/3/2014, 6:15 PM
Great job
Platinum - 1/3/2014, 6:20 PM
I agree with everything. I just gotta say that these casting choices also have to stop being so black and white and I mean that literally.
marvelstudios - 1/3/2014, 6:23 PM
I agree, but some characters' race can't be changed because it simply won't make sense.

For example, Captain America. It wouldn't make sense to have a black actor play him because a significant part of his story is set in WW2.
MrCameron - 1/3/2014, 6:25 PM
Billy Dee Williams approves

rorywilliams - 1/3/2014, 6:27 PM
Here, here.
marvelstudios - 1/3/2014, 6:29 PM
Put this on main. People need to be educated.
Spideyshawn - 1/3/2014, 6:29 PM
Great post.
supermarioworldE - 1/3/2014, 6:29 PM
Great article, and sure to spark up the usual hateful remarks.

If race isn't integral to the characters being played, it shouldn't matter much who plays them. As long as they have the acting and characteristics down.
Brainiac13 - 1/3/2014, 6:29 PM
Great Editorial.

Dinotron - 1/3/2014, 6:29 PM
If that's the case then let's get Idris Alba for Batman!!!!
nld3 - 1/3/2014, 6:29 PM
Is there a problem if you prefer the source material to stay the same?
Dinotron - 1/3/2014, 6:31 PM
Lol jk great article
JoJo1982 - 1/3/2014, 6:31 PM

Don't worry the supposedly not racist folks are going come in and defend against this..... Watch
Silentman - 1/3/2014, 6:33 PM
Great article, completely agree.
JohnnyRoss - 1/3/2014, 6:33 PM
When most of these characters were written, people were way more racist then they are now.

Of course almost all heroes were white.

I like when movies portray some formerly white characters as a different race.
Dinotron - 1/3/2014, 6:34 PM
If people can't understand that this is an adaptation and with adaptations there are changes then they should just stick to the comics to avoid disappointment
MrCBM56 - 1/3/2014, 6:34 PM
Oh shit! This made main. I better get the popcorn.
Greengo - 1/3/2014, 6:35 PM
You can only change white characters to another race.

Otherwise it's not p.c.

: )
pintoman - 1/3/2014, 6:36 PM
Primary movie characters should match their primary comic characters as close as possible. There are lots of talented actors in all races and genders. It is very much possible to find the right actor to match source material. If a project lead REALLY wants to change a primary character's race, just because, he should just rename the character and movie title. Because at that point, why? just...why?

JillyMcBeam - 1/3/2014, 6:37 PM
I was disappointed Superman wasn't black. Since after the fight scene Metropolis pretty much looks like Detroit, so a black Superman would fit right in.
McNyagano - 1/3/2014, 6:37 PM
Agreed 100%

marvel72 - 1/3/2014, 6:38 PM
well i want my comic book adaptions as close to the source material as possible.

white actors for white comic book characters

black actors for black comic book characters

if there isn't enough black comic book roles for black actors blame the studios.

if marvel studios made a black panther movie,would i want a white actor to play the role? no f*ckin way.
merrillmind - 1/3/2014, 6:39 PM
@marvelstudios your an idiot for your statement about Captain America and race. African Americans served their country to, fought Hitler and the Nazis. YOU need to be educated clearly. Captain American being black makes as much sense because he'd still be American, YOUR ignorance must be explained.
Sosa4693 - 1/3/2014, 6:39 PM
I agree with this article 100% but i think a lot of people don't want race changes in characters because they feel that companies only want to do it to be politically correct.
JediSuperGuy83 - 1/3/2014, 6:39 PM
Yes Thank you But this doesnt mean im going see The Amazing spider-Man 2 its overcrowded besides Laurence Fishburne played The best perry white
GL - 1/3/2014, 6:40 PM
Great editorial. Couldn't have said it any better.
ConanLibrarian - 1/3/2014, 6:40 PM
Hey Greengo, you did notice the points he made about the Mandarin being Asian and Ra's Al Ghul being Arabic, but both being portrayed by white guys, right?
Greengo - 1/3/2014, 6:40 PM
@Sosa I think you may be companies want to be diverse.
TheOneAboveAll - 1/3/2014, 6:41 PM
Thank you for this article!
WE ARE ALL PART OF THE HUMAN RACE! We have various ethnicity but EVERYONE IS PART OF THE HUMAN RACE! There is no such thing as the Black Human Race or the Hispanic Human Race. Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, etc. are Ethnicities not sub races of the Human race
JediSuperGuy83 - 1/3/2014, 6:41 PM
Also Henry Cavill is a British Gentleman who surpassed Reeve as Superman also Israeli Hottie Gal Gadot is going to put Lynda Carter shame and Bale is The Definitive Batman and hes welsh and Austrailian Jackman is The Best Wolverine
Greengo - 1/3/2014, 6:42 PM
1213rico - 1/3/2014, 6:42 PM
Totally agree. Dont have a problem with Johnny Storm being black but if he is then Sue Storm has to be black. Unless they say that they're stepbrother and sister or not even related which i hope is not the case.
nld3 - 1/3/2014, 6:45 PM
White Luke Cage movie? White John Stewart? It would never happen!
Jokerzreality - 1/3/2014, 6:45 PM
This mean we canmake Rhodey and Luke Cage White then?
Greengo - 1/3/2014, 6:45 PM
@Ultimate: yeah that's not very p.c.

1st they didn't want to make the Mandarin a "racist charicature"

2nd: They must be runnin low on comparably well known & talented "Arabic" actors on par with Liam.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 ...

Please log in to post comments.

Don't have an account?
Please Register.