I remember back when Daredevil was being cast. We’d barely gotten over the idea of Ben Affleck being cast in the title role when Michael Clarke Duncan was announced as the Kingpin. And people didn’t like it, myself included. I wasn’t one of those purists arguing that a comic book character must translate to the screen completely untouched. But I thought it was kind of stereotypical to have an African-American as a gangster character, that we’d seen it before, and it would add a subtext to the film that it probably wasn’t meant to handle.
And it was just as stupid an argument as the one the fanboy acolytes were making. Duncan turned out to be the least of the film’s problems, and this phantom subtext I was worried about was really my own baggage I was bringing in, never giving Duncan credit for being any kind of actor. I felt kind of dumb after the film was over for having had those doubts in the first place. And for having watched it, because it’s really not a very good movie.
I bring this up because Michael B. Jordan was announced today as having been cast as Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, in the upcoming Fantastic Four movie. And fanboys are losing their minds, because Jordan is African-American. They’re trotting out the old standby — “He’s white in the comics, why do they have to change things???” — as well as wondering how he can be the brother of Sue Storm — to be played by the very not African-American Kate Mara — when he’s a different color. Apparently, these fanboys have no problem accepting super-powered mutants and godlike beings, but adoption and interracial marriage is somehow beyond their grasp.
Now I don’t think those objecting are racists. They’re just myopically ignorant. They’re so focused on their preferred depiction of a character, they have no room in their heads for someone else’s interpretation. A funny thing to do in a medium where reboots, revamps and retcons are par for the course. You can change a character’s origin, powers, relationships, even put a completely different character under the mask, and it’s all just part of the intricate tapestry of continuity. But change their skin color, and somehow the whole thing comes tumbling down. Jordan’s Human Torch could be just as charming, funny and heroic as the one we’ve grown up reading about; does it matter if he has differently colored skin under the uniform?
Like I said, it’s not racism, but it’s just as stubbornly closed-minded. It’s an inability to accept anything but the comfortable. It’s a slavish adherence to decisions that were made at a time when white was the default because nothing else had a chance of selling. With all the creative freedom available today, why should filmmakers be restricted by the thinking of the 1960s? Besides, comic books were long called “four color tales” because of the printing process involved. Surely our comic book movies could use an extra color or two.