In the last few days, an article on Policy Mic has been making the rounds on my facebook newsfeed called What if People Reacted to These 10 Roles Like They Have to Michael B. Jordan? In it, Gina Luttrell responds to the fan outcry against Michael B. Jordan playing Johnny Storm in the new Fantastic Four movie because the character was white in the original Marvel comic.
Luttrell points out that Hollywood has been giving roles originally meant for people of color to white folks for decades, and those decisions have never become a public controversy. It’s a good read: From Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra (a white woman playing an Egyptian) to Jennifer Lawrence playing Katniss in The Hunger Games (another white woman playing an unspecified non-white race), there are movies that might surprise you, some that will enrage you, and some that will make you roll your eyes and say “go home Hollywood, you are drunk.”
Along the way, Policy Mic got me curious about what actually constitutes an outcry from “incensed fans,” so I did a little internet research. Turns out, it’s the usual: A small number of people being shit-bags on Twitter. Given that Twitter seems to be a common outlet for random angry nobodies to be racist and horrible towards high profile people of color (Richard Sherman and Amandla Stenberg come to mind), I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.
Some of the “purists” say they take issue with Johnny and Sue Storm being brother and sister in the original story but the-movie-cast-a-black-actor-and-white-actress-for-the-two-roles-and-how-could-that-possibly-be-a-thing. People, its 2014. They could be half siblings. One of them could be adopted. Both of them could be mixed race. They could be step-siblings. It’s a movie about three dudes and a lady with mutant super powers and the ability to be invisible and light themselves on fire and shit. You’ll willing to suspend your disbelief for THAT, but you can’t handle a black person and a white person being related? USE YOUR FUCKING IMAGINATION.
The truth is, this country desperately needs better media representation of people of color. We need more black superheros, more Latino protagonists, more Inuit movie heart-throbs. Movies for too long have been a domain where white people get the lead and people of color are shuffled towards the “spunky best friend” or “villain” role. This can take a serious toll on our collective empathy by placing a dominant ethnic group in the roles that people are supposed to root for. It only reenforces racism and exclusive behaviors. If you want some in depth reading about it, I’d suggest you check out this piece on the Racial Empathy Gap in cinema.
Luckily, the majority of people are mostly just excited to see Michael B. Jordan doing another movie. And as for the haters, well I’ll let Michael respond to them in his own words: