Slowly but surely our media is diversifying itself (or as Shonda would say normalizing). While this trend is largely positive, it isn’t without its many faults. Further, diversity on screen is nowhere near reflective of actual American demographics, and diversity behind screen… well let’s not even go there. One of the last genres to make real efforts to diversify content on screen has been the comic book/ superhero genre. However, in recent years Marvel has made efforts to re-imagine iconic heroes as people of color (known as race-bending), and it looks like there are some shifts coming to the big screen.
In the latest reboot of The Fantastic Four, Michael B. Jordan will play the hot-headed playboy of our dreams Johnny Storm. His casting caused quite the stir last year when it was announced, and the actor has recently responded to the litany of comic book fans who decried that the casting was “just an attempt at being PC”, “wasn’t staying true to the canon”, or of course “destroying the hero”.
Michael B Jordan did a great job responding to skeptics, haters, and trolls, though he was by no means obligated to. And besides, at the end of the day they are racists behind a screen and he has been melting hearts since he was a kid on The Wire.
I’m not here to differentiate between race-bending and white washing or to explain to the racists why we need more superheroes of color. There are a plethora of pieces on the Internet that you can go look up if you’ve been bitten by the basic bug and don’t understand the need for diverse media. I’m here to ask white people why: in a time when people of color still have to see racist depictions of them across networks, if they’re visible at all, and characters that should be theirs white washed again and again and again, why are you so upset that a character written for comics in the 1960s has been re-imagined as a young Black man? What is the source of the anger? And why do so many of you feel cheated by Marvel?
I’ve read countless outraged tweets and posts about white people’s favorite characters being depicted as people of color on screen (even when the character was Black in the first place). At times white people attempt to justify their anger and it looks something like this:
“It’s not true to the story”: Well Christian Bale playing Moses wasn’t quite true to the story either, and by story I mean HISTORY. Most of the comic book films we see today are based off of stories published almost half a century ago. Of course the characters were White, could the franchise have risen to the success it did had they not been? But the thing is, in the case of The Fantastic Four, there is nothing about Johnny Storm’s story that is inherently White. Further, casting Johnny Storm as a Black man provides the opportunity to enrich the narrative and make Johnny Storm appeal to a wider audience.
“Now I can’t relate to their character”: This defense is especially tone deaf when you consider that people of color have been watching white dominated media since television’s inception and have been required to relate to White characters. Parents of color have used their ingenuity to adapt white characters in books, movies, and on toy shelves to create role models for their children. In other words, what do you mean you can’t adapt, we’ve been doing this shit for years.
Further, the inability of White people to relate to people of color, especially Black people, and empathize with them is a very large problem and has real consequences.
“Hollywood is just trying to be PC” Yeah…and? (I have a lot of thoughts about political correctness, how the term is thrown around, and the backlash against “our new PC culture”. I’m sure I will write on this soon.)
So White people please explain. What is it about Blackness that you find so offensive, so unrelatable, so destructive that you can’t support one of your favorite comics coming to the big screen? Please explain how you can get behind a story about four scientists who go into space on a research project and develop superpowers (one of which is turning into a human rock) after being exposed to cosmic rays, but when one of them is Black, well that’s just too fucking far…
You want to know what I think? At the end of the day, White people are upset that Michael B. Jordan is playing Johnny Storm because they believe that an undeserving Black person is taking something that is theirs (which is of course ironic because he’s a comic book character and white people have taken actual things from people of color like countries). To Michael B Jordan, Idris Elba, Zoe Saldana, and all of the other Black actors that are cast in roles that have been traditionally White, onward. Continue to broaden the representations of role models and heroes and contribute to a media that maybe one day will look like our actual society, but until that happens step over the trolls on your way to the top and remember: we got your back.
This was the first installment of “White People Please Explain”. As a Black Woman I am constantly asked to explain everything from Black hair to “why can’t you just say #alllivesmatter”. I think White people have some explaining to do, and that’s why I’m writing these posts. If there is anything else related to pop culture that you think White people need to explain please let me know in the comments. 🙂