When Michael B. Jordan scored the role of Johnny Storm (The Human Torch) in The Fantastic Four reboot, a certain section of fandom went up in flames. Jordan held the support of the studio and Stan Lee. Chris Evans (who previously played the role in two movies) expressed excitement to watch Jordan reinvent the role. Yet the fandom didn’t put on a united front over Jordan’s casting.
Fanboys care deeply about their comics, and they take casting decisions seriously. Jordan understands the concerns of loyal comic fans. He also realizes that some of the criticism involves switching up Johnny Storm’s race. The reboot has entered post production, and promotion has kicked off in grand fashion. Jordan penned an essay to address his casting controversy:
You’re not supposed to go on the Internet when you’re cast as a superhero. But after taking on Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four–a character originally written with blond hair and blue eyes–I wanted to check the pulse out there. I didn’t want to be ignorant about what people were saying. Turns out this is what they were saying: “A black guy? I don’t like it. They must be doing it because Obama’s president” and “It’s not true to the comic.” Or even, “They’ve destroyed it!”
It used to bother me, but it doesn’t anymore. I can see everybody’s perspective, and I know I can’t ask the audience to forget 50 years of comic books. But the world is a little more diverse in 2015 than when the Fantastic Four comic first came out in 1961. Plus, if Stan Lee writes an email to my director saying, “You’re good. I’m okay with this,” who am I to go against that?
Jordan goes on to address the “it’s not true to the comic” crowd. He stresses how adaptations should translate the spirit of source material, rather than replicate a comic, frame-by-frame.
Some people may look at my casting as political correctness or an attempt to meet a racial quota, or as part of the year of “Black Film.” Or they could look at it as a creative choice by the director, Josh Trank, who is in an interracial relationship himself–a reflection of what a modern family looks like today.
This is a family movie about four friends–two of whom are myself and Kate Mara as my adopted sister–who are brought together by a series of unfortunate events to create unity and a team. That’s the message of the movie, if people can just allow themselves to see it.
Sometimes you have to be the person who stands up and says, “I’ll be the one to shoulder all this hate. I’ll take the brunt for the next couple of generations.” I put that responsibility on myself … To the trolls on the Internet, I want to say: Get your head out of the computer. Go outside and walk around. Look at the people walking next to you. Look at your friends’ friends and who they’re interacting with. And just understand this is the world we live in. It’s okay to like it.
Some would argue that casting controversies happen all the time with comic adaptations. These people are correct. Look at all the ruffled feathers when Ben Affleck received the Batman role. Even Michael Keaton suffered a backlash in 1989 when people believed he was too funny to play Batman. The controversy surrounding Michael B. Jordan took a different turn, which reflected a more sordid side of the fandom. Jordan’s essay handled the situation well. Respect.