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.