REVERSE RACEBENDING AND COMIC MOVIES
Image from Indie Wire
Racism is so awful, blah blah blah, institutional racism, white privilege, et cetera et cetera. So when I posted on how the Khan reboot of Star Trek Into Darkness was whitewashing, and how bad the practice actually is (the logic that defends it is racially biased and dehumanizing), there were questions on this blog and on other social networks about, what about “brownwashing” or “reverse racebending,” people of color being cast as traditionally white characters.
Well, going by the academic and socially accepted definition of racism: racism is racial prejudice plus power. That’s how institutional racism works. As culturally progressive as Hollywood sees itself, when it comes to race (you see the Academy awards?), studios, producers and creators are pretty backwards. In fact, for the most part, to the credit of fans of speculative and science fiction as well as fantasy, fans are way ahead of writers in this area. One example recently was the White Savior debacle on Game Of Thrones. Rather than take the opportunity to address diversity issues, George RR Martin chose to make sorry excuses (see linked) for the scene of Dany the Liberator! However, it really wasn’t POC geekdom that took Martin to task; most of the posts I read were from concerned white nerds and GoT fans.
Look, as long as comic book writers, artists, television directors and producers keep working on the WRONGHEADED assumption that #1, audiences will not buy media with POC as protagonists, #2, that POC are not consumers of their products, the institutional racism will continue to prevail. Now, for the cases of Perry White and Johnny Storm and Kingpin from Daredevil.
On Perry White: Perry White is a secondary character, he is there to build the character of Lois Lane and Clark Kent. I don’t know of any SupermanVerse that gives him any power or leverage like Peter Parker’s nemesis and boss J. Jonah Jameson. If I am wrong, please correct me. So, Lawrence Fishburne’s casting really wasn’t made into a big deal, and there really wasn’t a fuss over it ( a few worries, of course, but not due to the quality of actor on LF’s part). I think having a Black Perry White and a falsely rumored gender-bent Jenny/Jimmy Olson was part of the minor oppositional response to Man Of Steel’s casting. It wasn’t the case in the latter, so no worries. Too many changes, I know, can hurt a movie, but it didn’t. Larry Fishburne was the right age and body build for Perry, so, no biggie.
On The Kingpin in Daredevil 2003: The late Michael Clarke Duncan was casted as the Kingpin/Wilson Fisk in this movie. At the time, there wasn’t that much talk about it, since #1, Daredevil has a vocal but not that big cult following compared to X-Men and Spider-man, #2, Wilson Fisk is a larger than life character, and Michael Clarke Duncan, was almost 6’5 and was built like an offensive lineman for an American football team. Daredevil and its sequel Elektra were awful movies in the eyes of most critics not named me, but they have a special place in my heart for some reason. Duncan as Kingpin was sufficient but not even his decent performance could save these films from terrible writing and story telling.
So, we have in the first two instances, Michael Clark Duncan and Lawrence Fishburne, that these actors were chosen for how they were to going to embody the character they were cast.
On Johnny Storm for the To-Be-Determined Fantastic Four reboot: Without a doubt, 20th Century Fox’s two movies featuring the Fantastic Four in the 2000s were FLOPS. They were so terrible, fanboys will tell you that these movies ruined the Fantastic Four brand. No one complained when Jessica Alba, a Latina, was casted to play Sue Storm to be the sister of Chris Evans as Johnny Storm. Everyone did complain though when examining Alba’s acting performance in these two films (I am not one of those people, but I do admit, Chris Evans was the highlight of both movies, he was Johnny Storm, no question). I actually thought Ioann Gruffudd as Mr. Fantastic/Reed Richards was just atrocious and really, these films were horribly written, and sadly, the sequel also ruined the reputation of one of my personal favorites, the Silver Surfer. Just heartbreaking. But on the potential for Johnny Storm to be casted as a black guy, I really honestly could care less about the reboot if the reboot is with 20th Century Fox rather than Disney/Marvel because Fox doesn’t care about the brand at all. That being said, the potential for Jordan to be cast is more about getting this film into the headlines, for controversy, to make news. In other words, this casting decision is a form of tokenism, and quite unnecessary I might add. There are multiple versions of the Fantastic Four that are racially inclusive, specifically when they are under the leadership of T’Challa the Black Panther from Wakanda (a fictional African country). Now the producers are planning to change a major part of the Fantastic Four origin story just because they wanted attention. That’s exactly what tokenism is about: it’s about the majority maintaining power while feigning a concern for minorities being represented. This whole thing just does not sit well with me, and I hope others can see why.
So, to sum up what I have argued in this piece: diversity and the representation of POC is an important counter to the liberal white supremacy of Hollywood, however, tokenism is not acceptable, and quite problematic.