Fear of a Black Superhero

23 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Fear of a Black Superhero: Michael B. Jordan and the Importance of Colorblind Casting.

Michael B. In an Entertainment Weekly essay published Friday, the movie star responded to the online backlash over the decision to cast a black actor as Johnny Storm/Human Torch in the upcoming reboot of the Marvel superhero franchise.Sure, could just ignore all of the negative comments thrown around over his Fantastic Four casting, he could put them in their place by writing a perfectly put-together piece that addresses and shuts down their criticism. Yet Jordan couldn’t resist going online to see the reaction, and was dismayed by those who couldn’t fathom him as the brother of Susan Storm (Kate Mara). “Turns out this is what they were saying: ‘A black guy? Jordan, who will play Johnny Storm—aka The Human Torch—in the upcoming Fantastic Four movie, is firing back at online commenters who did not think he looked the part because he is black and the character has blond hair and blue eyes in the comic book.

Jordan as the Human Torch in Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four was something that angered a vocal section of fandom, who wanted to see a cinematic Torch as white as the original comic book character. The Parenthood alum — who received praise for his work in the 2013 award-winning drama Fruitvale Station — plays Johnny Storm in the action sci-fi, which is a caucasian and blue-eyed character in the original Marvel comic books. “I didn’t want to be ignorant about what people were saying.

In a new essay, Jordan responds to the outcry, advising those upset to take a look around. “It used to bother me, but it doesn’t anymore,” Jordan writes in Entertainment Weekly of the response to his casting. “I can see everybody’s perspective, and I know I can’t ask the audience to forget 50 years of comic books. Jordan) and Reed Richards (Miles Teller) using their powers to date, it also confirms that, yes, Ben Grimm is really going to end up with the awkward name “the Thing” in the movie as well. Comic book fans around the world are eagerly awaiting the release of this summer’s Fantastic Four, but it’s easy to see that some are happier than others about the film.

Interestingly enough, Johnny, Reed and Sue Storm aren’t given their own comic book names in the ad, raising the issue of whether we’ll get to hear the words “Mr. Jordan said that his casting had nothing to do with “political correctness” or a “racial quota,” but was simply about telling a story about “what a modern family looks like today.” The “Fruitvale Station” star said that he takes the responsibility of “shoulder(ing) all this hate” to “take the brunt for the next couple of generations.” “Maybe, if I set an example, Hollywood will start considering more people of color in other prominent roles, and maybe we can reach the people who are stuck in the mindset that ‘it has to be true to the comic book.’”

Storm and his sister Sue (“The Invisible Woman”) had always been portrayed as white in the Fantastic Four comics (and those godawful early 2000s films, where they transformed Hispanic Jessica Alba into a blonde-haired, blue-eyed WASP), so some fans couldn’t accept the idea that a black man would be stepping into those shoes. This is a family movie about four friends—two of whom are myself and Kate Mara as my adopted sister—who are brought together by a series of unfortunate events to create unity and a team. That’s the message of the movie…To the trolls on the Internet, I want to say: Get your head out of the computer…this is the world we live in.” Fictional characters—particularly from pulpy mediums like comic books—get revised and revisited all the time.

Could it be because Fury isn’t meant to be a character the public focuses on as a “hero,” more of a shadowy figure playing puppeteer behind the scenes? Marvel didn’t introduce its first major black superhero until 1966 (Black Panther) and its first specifically African American superhero until 1969 (Falcon). When one considers how often black characters have been downplayed or revised in favor of white characters, deciding to go in the opposite direction isn’t so much the “politically correct” thing to do—it’s absolutely necessary if we’re going to combat the cultural tendency to prefer white faces over all else. But that doesn’t mean that all-white superhero teams and characters must be set in stone; especially if we recognize that these books being all-white in the first place was the result of white supremacist culture.

The image of the superpowered white man coming to save the day is ingrained in our consciousness—and is, of course, just one facet of how whiteness and white supremacy has been communalized all over the world.

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