Michael B. Jordan has been cast as the Human Torch in the new Fantastic Four reboot and praise Jesus, praise Jesus! Michael B. Jordan is a fantastic actor (no pun). The young actor has Oscar buzz all around him for his role in Fruitvale Station, he was phenomenal in Chronicle (a subversion of the comic book movie) and we must never forget his work in Friday Night Lights and The Wire, two of the greatest television series of all time. No joke. The dude can act and he has the charisma and bravado to portray a hedonistic playboy like Johnny Storm.
Vulture, just a week ago wrote about how Marvel’s film adaptations have a huge problem with a lack of diversity that doesn’t reflect the real diversity of comic books. Comic books are typically very liberal and inclusive, very, very progressive ideologically (X-Men 4 Life!)—so these people claiming to be outraged because they are “real comic book fans,” have been missing the point entirely.
Abraham Reisman writes, “What’s going on here? Why this insane dichotomy between Marvel’s comics and its live-action stuff? The reasons are maddeningly obvious and time-worn: Big-budget action movies and shows — be they spandex-clad or not — simply don’t get made without straight, male, (usually) white protagonists. It’s all supposed to appeal to the imagined median viewer: a hetero Caucasian (or Chinese, given Hollywood’s increasingly global marketing focus) dude.”
But of course, Michael B. Jordan is Black and Johnny Storm has been portrayed as White since the first incarnation of Fantastic Four. I understand that huge comic book fans get pissed when a film doesn’t directly portray the source material but there were some BLATANTLY racist comments in response to the casting announcement. This is just like when Hunger Games fans found out Rue was black and said they didn’t care about her character anymore or that she died. This shit happens all the time and I am sick of being called “too sensitive” or “crazy” whenever my fellow Americans reveal themselves to be racially ignorant. These comments are horrifying to hear as a person of color.
These are not veiled comments either, they just ARE racist. They are explicitly racist and disturbing. For once in a major film the best actor got the role. Not to mention this isn’t the first time Marvel has changed the race of a character (because hello these aren’t historical figures, they are make believe people with imaginary powers!) in a version of the comic book Spiderman was portrayed as a Hispanic/African American male. There was backlash to that of course.
A lot of people are mad because there is “no point,” to changing the Human Torch’s race. Um, yes, there is: first of all, politically and sociologically, it more accurately represents the racial landscape of America in contrast to where it was 50 years ago when Johnny Storm was first created. Secondly, it employs a critically-acclaimed African American actor who is completely fitting for the role. In what way, based on his previous work, is Michael B. Jordan not apt to play Johnny Storm besides the color of his skin? In what way is Johnny Storm’s character defined by his race? He isn’t. His character is defined by wealth and arrogance—and if you are familiar with Kanye West then you know many African American people have that in spades. Moreover, having more actors of color portraying roles beyond maids, slaves and drug dealers does wonders for the self-esteem of those races.
“Black people can’t be good looking.”
We’re all just ugly, poor people.
It’s all “race propaganda.”
Being more inclusive and not using race as a factor to discern an actor’s true ability, the very definition of equality, is “propaganda.”
If a Black person is playing a “white person,” then white people should play black people.
A lot of commenters loved to make this comparison. I know it’s dumb but let’s humor it. I am not going to give you a lesson on cultural appropriation or how race and power are connected but I will say this: Unless race is a defining characteristic of someone than it literally doesn’t matter who plays them. Johnny Storm is not a real historical figure, he is a fictional character whose whiteness is only incidental to his character. If a white person portrayed a Black Panther or Barack Obama there would be a problem, if a white person portrayed a slave in the South in 1820, we’d have have some questions, but if a white person played a gang member, service worker or poor person (the roles typically reserved for Black actors) then that wouldn’t such a big deal. People need to stop seeing “whiteness” as reserved for wealth and status and “blackness” as reserved for poverty and under-privilege.
“But his sister is white.”
Then they will make Sue Storm Black too or she will remain White and they will explain that in two-second expositional dialogue because that is all it takes. It’s almost as though people think that suddenly Sue and Johnny Storm will be wearing gold teeth, twerking, speaking in ebonics and eating Popeye’s Chicken or whatever degrading stereotype they have relegated to Black people. It’s as though they think if Johnny Storm is adopted then he and Sue can’t be as close as they were in the comic book. It’s like people can’t imagine a world where Whites and Blacks coexisted and race was only incidental to their identity and not a defining characteristic of it. While it’s unfortunate that that fantasy can’t exist in the real world just yet, we can’t even have it in an actual fantasy? Johnny Storm/Human Torch will be the same character, his skin will just be different.
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