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?

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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