Friday, May 03, 2013

Superheroes, White Male Gaze And Colorblind Casting

Just a quick post while this is still on my mind.

So, if you travel in the same geeky circles I do on the web, chances are you heard the rumors about Michael B Jordan (The Wire, Chronicle) being considered for the role of Johnny Storm/The Human Torch in an upcoming Fantastic Four reboot.

Courtesy of Comic Book Resources Facebook Page


When this news broke, the those geeky circles went a little...bugmunch crazy. It was basically a rehash of the drama surrounding the Donald Glover/Amazing Spider-Man  casting rumors. That led into the other bit of drama surrounding the decision to replace Peter Parker in Ultimate Spider-Man with a biracial legacy character, Miles Morales
Picture courtesy i09
Oh and let's not forget the utter rage unleashed when Idris Elba was cast as secondary character/plot device Heimdall in Thor. Which really didn't make sense to me, because he also played Roque in The Losers, and that guy was white(ish, couldn't really tell from the coloring, but he certainly wasn't brown). Of course, Roque was just a guy, and Heimdall is a Norse deity, so of course one is more plausible than the other. But why?
Picture courtesy of Comics Alliance/Yahoo!

What's the big deal? Why all the nerd rage over what barely amounted to rumors in the top two cases, and what was a fairly innocuous role in the latter? Well, it seems the biggest objections are based on fidelity to source material; the idea is that since the characters were created as Caucasians and have been such for so long, they should stay so in all portrayals of the character, or at least in any popular media. Now sure, one could interpret the complaining as racism, intentional or not. And there are those who plainly state such. But a good number, arguably the majority, are making earnest arguments about the issues with changing something that is pretty intrinsic.  They use the example of changing Black Panther or any other minority superhero to a white person as proof as to why this wouldn't work. Race is indeed an essential part of the character, and changing that would utterly undermine both him and the stories being told.

And that would be a good argument in any other world but this one. Here, it is bullcrap.

The real problem here is white male gaze, and it's overpowering and ingrained nature. These characters were made white males because that was who was doing the creating in the first place. And due to that gaze being so widespread, it has become the default. Nobody questions a white superhero. Nobody asks if this guy is able to do the job because he is a particular hue. Nobody is treating him as the unofficially official representative of his particular race. Nobody assumes that he has to look or act a certain way to considered either a viable superhero or a viable white person. When a superhero is white, there are no questions or assumptions. No sideways glances and whispers behind the back. There is no "white" attached. He is just a superhero.

It is NOT the same for black superheroes. Or Hispanic ones. Or gay ones. Or female ones. And that's sad.

So yeah, I'm not weeping over black Spider-Man. I'm not going to gnash my teeth for a Human Torch that isn't an Aryan dreamboat. I just want the best people involved, who can truly embody the character. The Human Torch is a jerk, an annoying little brother whose ability to project and manipulate fire matches his "hotheaded" personality. He is also a steadfast friend and family member  who will and has fought to the death to protect those he loves. He is a hero. Now the question is: what in that brief description requires him to be white? What about his official Marvel bio? Or his Wikipedia entry? Or anything that describes him as a character and a person? What exactly, besides the circumstances of his creation requires him to be white in order to still fit them?

Huh. "Circumstances of his creation." That's really what it's all about. Chance. Circumstance. Happenstance. Anybody could have done it. He could have been Joachim Storm. Or Jericho Storm. Or Jenny Storm. And nothing central to the character, nothing central to enjoying the character would have changed.

I honestly could give or take another Fantastic Four movie. I see the promise behind the material, and the last films certainly fell short to me. And Michael B Jordan is a talented young man who should be given a lot more roles. But I'm not going to cry if this ends up another internet rumor. Just like I won't cry if it becomes fact. All I want is a good story.

Am I wrong?

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