Thursday’s news of the Fantastic Four’s cast announcement could have been summed up in one sentence: Michael B. Jordan is the Human Torch. Nothing else really mattered here. And once again, we’ve got controversy around the use of a person of color playing a White character. Now what?
Jordan’s casting as a character who is usually (read: always) a White character isn’t the first race swap in a Marvel Comics film. The move was first done in 2003’s Daredevil, when Michael Clarke Duncan was cast as the Kingpin. This move ruffled some feathers but not seen as a tragedy, maybe because the overall horribleness of the movie overshadowed any issues of race. Neither was Samuel L. Jackson’s casting as Nick Fury, since they were basing the movie character off an alternative version of the Fury that was already Black. Some fanboy outrage and murmurs of racist comments (not to be confused with each other) hit the Internet when Idris Elba took up the mantle as the watchman of Asgard in the Thor franchise. But I’m already sure it’s nothing compared to what’s happening with this casting.
It’s important to acknowledge that there will be two types of critiques of the pick. The first, the fanboy outrage, will at times avoid racial language and stick more to the fact that some fans hate having things changed for the films. It’s an understandable reaction (see: Ben Affleck as Batman), considering how much many fans care about their comics. But when you consider that the films are just an adaptation and not direct frame for frame translation of the comics, it becomes kind of silly when some casting choices are criticized. This realization doesn’t stop us fanboys from being outraged.
The other critique is most certainly situated in racial and, usually, racist language. It’s the idea that there is some egregious affront to mankind committed when a White character is converted to a person of color. Cries of “racism” and the like will appear in the comment section of comic and film websites.
This ignores the countless instances where characters of color were White-washed when they were taken from books, comics, video games, etc and put on the big screen (see: Dragonball Evolution). As well as the fact that the majority of protagonists in Hollywood films are White, so it doesn’t hurt anything when you add a little color occasionally.
The only instance where I can legitimately see a gripe, is when the character’s race is central to the character’s story, history, and mythology (like turning the Black Panther white or Captain America Black). The only real gripe that could come out of the Human Torch’s race would be if it affected the family dynamic of the Fantastic Four. If Johnny and Sue are somehow not related anymore, this will cause a tidal wave of outrage…which may be warranted.
Yet, even with these objections it’s worth noting that they tend to be the minority. For every person on a website crying about the loss of one of their White brethren, there are dozens more going to the movie theater to watch that same character. Fox wouldn’t have made the choice if they didn’t think it profitable.
And considering the rising star of Michael B. Jordan, they probably did the right thing. If nothing else, as we learned from Chris Evans’ casting as the Human Torch in the original film series, Jordan can always look forward to playing a bigger superhero later on.
What are your thoughts? Do you care about the race change? What about the casting in general? Was Jordan the right pick or would you have picked another Black dude?
When asked by TMZ, Jordan had a simple response to it all: “They’re still gonna go see it anyway.”