When White Becomes Black


Yesterday, the cast for the new Fantastic Four movie was announced. If we’re all very, very lucky, it won’t suck as bad as the previous two movies in the franchise did. Anyhow, here’s what the cast looks like.

FANTASTIC-FOUR-618-618x400

For the most part, my thoughts on this are “Eh, it’s the Fantastic Four. Who cares?” But look closely at that pic. Actually, not that closely. Ignore the fact that we have Miles Teller playing Reed Richards, and ignore Jamie Bell (!) as the Thing. Let’s instead pay attention to the fact that the black guy and the white woman are supposed to be brother and sister.

In general, I’m not opposed to the idea of characters of one race being played by actors of a different race. It would genuinely not bother me, for example, to have a black actor play the Doctor, James Bond, Harry Potter, or some of the various comic book characters. Lawrence Fishbourne, for example, playing Perry White, which was very much the least of the problems with The Man of Steel, or Idris Elba as Heimdal. I do think that some of the characters, like DC’s Big Three of Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman, should be played by white actors, but depending on how it’s done, I could see black, Asian, Hispanic, etc, actors doing a good job in those roles.

I wouldn’t even really object to one of the Fantastic Four being black, like Reed Richards or Ben Grimm. But making one half of a brother/sister pairing white, while the other half is black, is silly, and will require at least thirty seconds of expository dialogue to explain that, no, he’s adopted (because it certainly won’t be the white girl being adopted by a black family), and so all is well. Nonsense. Just have Michael B. Jordan play Reed and put…someone other than Miles Teller in the cast to play Johnny Storm. Actually, I think that having Jordan play Reed Richards would be more interesting. Imagine having a black actor playing the character that is, in the Marvel Universe, the smartest man in the world.

Now, I don’t think I’m being at all racist here, despite what The Atlantic might claim. I’m just arguing simple logic, and keeping the story relatively coherent. Re-launching the FF as a franchise is going to be hard enough without making it worse by having characters of two different ethnicities claiming to be brother and sister.

All that said, I do also wonder a few other things. If it is, according to The Atlantic and a few other people, racist to expect that white actors play white characters, then what would they say to white actors playing black characters? Suppose that the Jon Stewart version of Green Lantern showed up in a movie, but he was played by Zac Effron? What about the Black Panther played as an Afrikaner, and acted by Josh Hutcherson? Would The Atlantic, or any other major media source, would publish an article calling people racist for being against such a change? Of course not. They’d be enraged, and rightly so. But if that’s the correct and reasonable response in a case like that, why is it racist to complain about black actors playing white characters?

As I’ve said, I don’t entirely have a problem with the idea. Idris Elba was fine as Heimdal, and Lawrence Fishbourne did great as Perry White. But if you’re going to change a character’s race by casting a black actor, and then have that character’s sister still played by a white woman, that’s just silly.

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