All that is wrong with the world…

August 11, 2011

Thoughts on comic book characters and race

Filed under: Entertainment, Issues...the world...etc.. — Tags: , , , , , , — allthatiswrong @ 4:13 am

I think the issue of comic book characters and race is very interesting. Specifically with changing a characters race when adapting for film. There are quite a few examples of this, such as Kingpin being played by Michael Clark Duncan in Daredevil, Nick Fury being played by Sam Jackson in the Marvel Universe movies and most recently Laurence Fishburne being cast as Perry White in the new Superman movie. Nick Fury being black is an interesting situation because when Marvel started their Ultimate series, a parallel continuity they modeled the new Nick Fury after Sam Jackson. Only for Sam Jackson to then be cast as Nick Fury in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which seems to be based on the normal continuity rather than the Ultimate continuity.

A less recent example and actually the reason that inspired me to write this, was Donald Glovers campaign to be the new Spider-man before Andrew Garfield was cast. I love Community and think Glover certainly has the comedic skills and I’m sure he could play serious as well. I do think he would be a terrific Peter Parker, except for the fact that he’s Black. Being familiar with the character, that matters to me quite a bit. I don’t want a black Peter Parker anymore than I want an Asian Superman or a Black Captain America. It’s nothing to do with being racist, it’s just about wanting beloved characters to be portrayed accurately. You can’t just arbitrarily change race just like you can’t arbitrarily change a characters gender or sexual orientation.

The interesting thing to me is how certain people take this. Apparently it’s racist to want characters to be portrayed accurately. Dan Harmon, the creator of Community referred to a ” previously unknown demographic of racist comic-book readers”, which is simply bullshit. I repeat, there is nothing racist about wanting a character to be portrayed as is. This i09 article asks why can’t Peter Parker be a different color, then saying that simply because Peter Parker is white isn’t as good a reason. Yes it is, it’s a perfect reason. Race is as much a part of a character as gender, physical appearance, personality, sexual orientation and a multitude of other factors. I think a good example is Superman. Superman needs to be white. To the best of my knowledge there are not black families in Kansas that have owned farmland for generations like the Kents have. Nor Asians. Growing up Middle America is how Superman came to be. Now, it’s fine to change that, but then you have essentially created a different new character riding on the success of the real character.

Among the comments I’ve read on this issue people have made the point that a black youth growing up in NYC would be a different person from a white middle class youth growing up with his aunt. While I could easily see that being the case, I don’t think that has to be the case. Oddly enough, Stan Lee gave his blessing to Donald Glover playing Spider-man. Since he created Spider-man, I would think that would settle the issue, but it doesn’t. All that says is that Stan lee doesn’t think anything of essence would be lost by casting to a different race. Even so, the fans disagree. What good reason is there not to make Peter Parker something other than Caucasian? How about because there is no reason to do so? Why change his race just for the sake of it? Especially if race doesn’t matter as people say, then why the big push to change his race? I’m really sick of the hypocrisy from people who feel the need to make things equal when they are not, because they have fooled themselves into thinking it is fair and “progressive”.

Oddly enough there seems to be an outcry when a white actor is recast, but not so much when non white characters are played by white actors. It seems like this would be more cause for outrage, yet people have been mostly silent on the issue. Some good examples are Ras al Ghul and Bane in Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies. Ras al Ghul is meant to be Middle Eastern, but is played by the Irish Liam Neeson. Bane is meant to be Hispanic, from a comic book equivalent to Cuba, and is now being played by the English Tom Hardy. I suppose part of this is peoples lack of familiarity with these characters, still it is frustrating. Bane grew up in a Latin American prison hell hole, being punished for his father’s crimes. That was a big part of who the character is, something that is lost when a white actor is cast.

So far it seems to me there is rarely a good reason to change the race of a character and often good reasons not to. Sometimes how well known or developed the character is plays a big part. Perry White being black isn’t going to change anything about the character or how he deals with Clark. Bane not being Hispanic is going to change a lot of details about the character, for no good reason. Why not use a different character? A friend of mine believes that we should be casting vastly more minorities as well known characters to even out the odds. I think that’s just bullshit. White people in the USA…nay the west are a majority. That’s just how it is. Why would a world based on ours not reflect that? If 10% of the US population is Black, shouldn’t roughly 10% of the US Super-Hero population be Black? Why should it be artificially inflated to say, %25 ? To try and pretend minorities are not minorities and they are every bit as common as a majority? This is political correctness gone insane. Don’t change the race or other core details of characters without good reason and don’t artificially boost minorities to paint some bullshit false depiction of reality.

Interestingly, I like what Marvel has done with the new Spider-Man. In the Ultimate continuity the new Spider-Man is mixed race, Black and Hispanic and potentially gay. I have absolutely no problem with this because they are not fucking with Peter Parker. Peter Parker is the character people are attached to. Spider-man can be anyone who wears the suit and has a spidey sense. What I don’t get is why people were upset about this. Peter Parker is white, Spider-man doesn’t have to be. A Superman who isn’t a Kent or a Batman who isn’t a Wayne can be any race they want and may well be interesting characters in their own right. It does feel a tad forced, with him being 3 minorities in one…but still. I have no problem with diversity in characters – as long as it’s not forced and as long as it’s not screwing with characters developed over several decades just for the sake of it.

May 10, 2010

Racial drama on the subway in NYC

Filed under: Issues...the world...etc.. — Tags: , , — allthatiswrong @ 7:57 pm

So late Saturday night I was coming home from a night out in NYC and witnessed a fight break out on the subway. I didn’t see the start but apparently an Indian guy called a black girl a nigger. If it was just out of the blue or provoked or what, I don’t know. Now I understand how offensive an insult that is and that it simply should not be considered acceptable in modern society, but that does not justify the behavior that followed.

The girl who was insulted started yelling very loudly, over and over that “I ain’t no nigga”, “you wanna see a nigga I’m gonna show you what a nigga do” and similar phrases. This drew everyone’s attention to the situation and made people angry and think lowly of the girl who was originally insulted. It started with her and her friend trying to physically assault the guy, following him when he moved away to sit down, spitting on him and various other attacks. Throughout all of this the guy was not provoking her and just trying to move away and end the confrontation.

As offensive as that insults may be acting in such a fashion only makes things worse. Acting so gives the original person who said it and people who may use it in the future ammunition. Even people who would never use the word will now be looking at the victim as the offender, rather than the offended. As hard as it may be to simply ignore such an insult, it is the correct action to take. There were several other black people on the train who surely would have found the insult just as insulting, yet instead of taking any violent action against the offender or making a spectacle of himself they chose to ignore him.

The night ended with most people having forgotten the original person who said the insult if they saw it at all, with most people seeing this black girl saying the word nigger over and over and acting violently against this Indian guy. This went on for about 5 stops until she reached her stop, where she had to be escorted away by police as she was preventing the train from going. The point is that it is better to ignore such insults. Acting below the common standard of decency only gives such words more power, and empowers the people who use them. As hard as it may be, ignoring such behavior is the correct approach. People who use such words are generally below the people they insult and thus don’t deserve the benefit of acknowledgment.

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