A Hero By Any Other Color
There’s no denying it, superheroes are more popular than ever now in our culture. With Black Panther nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, and DC populating the small screen with a plethora of quality television, Marvel and DC have cemented themselves as modern cinematic icons. Yet, all the joy that’s come in this past decade has not been without its controversy. One of the biggest arguments in the comic book community has been who should play which character, or more accurately, who shouldn’t. After the commercial failure of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, people online got to talking about who would play the next Spider-Man. People suggested Donald Glover of Community and Atlanta fame, and the Internet reacted as it usually does to new ideas of diversity– poorly. So much hate and bile was spewed at a simple idea, one that in my opinion would have been great!
Personally, I have never understood the hatred behind recasting comic book characters as other races, creeds or nationalities. As a middle class white kid, I grew up having thousands of characters I could relate to or see myself as, while my friend Maya Hanks had maybe three. Static Shock, Jon Stewart’s Green Lantern, and MAYBE Vixen from Justice League? This is why series like The Boondocks and Afro Samurai made such a difference in pop culture. Representation is exceptionally important, especially for people of color in this country. If a Black child sees Superman, he dreams of being LIKE him. But if a Black child sees Black Panther, he dreams he could BE him.
So, why is this hate for “race recasting” so unnecessary? Well, besides again, having an abundance of white characters I can still relate to, in practice it’s actually done nothing but add to the stories they’ve been implemented into. Michael B. Jordan played The Human Torch in Fant4stic, which garnered a ton of hatred from “fans” who demanded Jordan resign because Johnny Storm could only be a white guy. Yet for all the anger, Michael B. Jordan’s performance ended up being the only likable or even remotely charismatic part of that cinematic abortion.
Young Justice’s Aqualad (portrayed by Khary Payton) is black, and it only makes the story more fascinating when it’s revealed that the reason for that is that (SPOILER) he’s Black Manta’s son. Before that revelation, Aqualad is a reserved, collected and level headed leader of his team of superheroes, and one of the coolest characters on the show. Him being white would mean nothing, but because he’s black he gives children of color someone to aspire to be like, and someone to really get invested in. There was no real backlash toward Aqualad’s recasting, though that was probably due to the fact that the Aqualad depicted in Young Justice is an entirely different character than the Aqualad I and many others knew from Teen Titans. Though the only reason I knew that is because my friend, James Viggiano, informed me while I was researching this topic.
Another major recasting came via the DC live action television series The Flash, which recast the entire West family as Black. And, just as if they were white, their race has no bearing on the story, yet it provides more representation for people who have largely been snubbed for decades. Thanks to The Flash, we now have our first ‘Kid Flash’ of color played by Keiynan Lonsdale, and Jesse L. Martin’s performance, as Joe West remains an emotional anchor throughout the series. Again, these changes don’t adversely affect the series. If anything, they improve the world outside of it.
If you want proof that representation is important, you need look no further than the most important Marvel film made to date, Black Panther. And yes, regardless of Avengers: Infinity War’s importance to the overall storyline, I would argue that Black Panther is the most important film. Why? You need look no further than Maya Hanks’ own in depth article on the film right here on Region 99. It inspired hundreds of African Americans as they embraced their heritage on screen as well as wear all manner of beautiful kente’ clothing in support of the film.
It also re-brought to light, Afro-Futurism, which is a genre of science fiction that incorporates Africa traditions, Africanism and Science Fiction through a black identity context. It has existed since the 1970s and is now in the forefront of American cinema. This film demonstrated Africa’s beauty, its technology and elevated the continent to being the most advanced civilization in the world. Black Panther reached a level of influence and success most films can’t even conceive of reaching.
As an outsider to this phenomenon, it’s an amazing sight to behold and honestly, I wish more films could bring this kind of joy other diverse groups of people.
“So why is recasting a fictional character as Black or Chinese or Indian okay, but recasting a character with an actor of color bad,”? Simple. It’s because there are thousands of white characters in media and ‘some people’ don’t want to disrupt the established order.
To me, to change a character’s race when they represent a people that largely get passed over, especially in big media, is a big insult and because of this, films like The Last Airbender will always be doomed to fail because in whitewashing a cast of diverse characters, you take away something that made the original source material so wonderful and unique.
I’ll continue to say it, as many times as I have to….
REPRESENTATION IS IMPORTANT!!!
Honestly, there’s no reason why there can’t be more than one interpretation of a fictional character. Hollywood’s been doing this for decades with all the different actors that have played Spider-Man and Batman over the years. So what if Idris Elba was the next Batman? I think that’d be pretty cool! And if anything, Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse taught me that not only can there be more than one way to portray a character, but there SHOULD be. So the next time you see a cast announcement for the next Marvel, DC film or any superhero film, think for a bit before you pull up that keyboard. Casting might matter to you, but it might matter to someone else a whole lot more!!