Fantastic or Not?

Blog | | Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Does a change in skin color represent the original character or create a continuity problem? Michael B. Jordan may find out in playing the Human Torch.

Ultimate Human TorchNews broke last week about the casting in a new Fantastic Four movie scheduled to open on March 6th, 2015. The “surprise” is that director Josh Trank has cast black actor Michael B. Jordan to play the Human Torch. I say surprise in quotes because the rumors had been circulating for months as noted at ScreenRant.com.

This decision has apparently been hotly criticized by fans of the comics, though I didn’t run across said criticism in my research. All the sites I looked at were for it, mostly considering it a necessary adjustment to 50’s racist values, the need to modernize the franchise, or just smart business sense to give the black community a reason to see the film.

I’ve always had a problem when movies or other media change the character as created.

Certainly characters evolve, but I’ve yet to see a caucasian turn black, or a black person become white.

Last year, in responding to the idea of him playing the Human Torch, Michael B. Jordan said:

“Things change and time goes on, it’s 2013 right now,” Jordan says of the Torch talk. “The characteristics of the Human Torch are his name is Johnny Storm, he’s charismatic, and he’s a playboy. That’s it. You know what I’m saying? That’s all there is.”

I respectfully disagree, especially as a writer. You change skin color, hair color, eye color, personality, etc., you no longer have the original character. You have a new character. For me it is a matter of continuity. If there is going to be a change, it needs to be explained in a rational way how that white dude suddenly became black.

Ironically, the article about this subject at Comics Alliance, while praising the decision to cast Michael as the Torch as a strike for racial equality, goes on to say about the decision to cast Jaimie Bell, that “English guy,” as The Thing:

What does Bell actually bring to the role? Does he embody hangdog word-weariness? Can he offer an immaculate Lower East Side accent?

So, let me get this straight. Skin color–not a reason to match with the original character. But an English accent is bad casting for what is supposed to be an East Side one? Only goes to point out how important continuity is for a character, including skin color, sex, and accent, among others.

The fact is that the four have always been white, even through the Marvel Ultimate modernization and the recent films from 2005. Then with no explanation, he turns black.

Note: I would love to see more black superheroes hit the big screen. Also Latinos are absent, as are Asians. They missed their chance to put one of each in this new film. My beef has nothing to do with racism, believing it will ruin the movie, believing that Mr. Jordan isn’t a good actor who could otherwise play that role with skill. It is due to the reality that changing the characteristics of a character makes it a new character.

But I have a suggestion on how Hollywood should go about this. Create new superheroes that are black. Both Marvel and Hollywood should take that advice. If you do change up the original character, you’d better provide a good reason why, or you end up with not a black Human Torch, but a new black superhero with similar powers replacing the Human Torch.

It would help if Hollywood didn’t fixate on rebooting the same stories over and over again.

I’m guessing we’re in for another serving of “our version” of the origin story. Oh boy. I can hardly wait.

What do you think? Good casting call or do you have a problem with it?

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As a young teen, R. L. Copple played in his own make-believe world, writing the stories and drawing the art for his own comics while experiencing the worlds of other authors like Tolkien, Lewis, Asimov, and Lester Del Ray. As an adult, after years of writing devotionally, he returned to the passion of his youth in order to combine his fantasy worlds and faith into the reality of the printed page. Since then, his imagination has given birth to The Reality Chronicles trilogy from Splashdown Books, and Mind Game, Hero Game, Ethereal Worlds Anthology, and How to Make an Ebook: Using Free Software from Ethereal Press, along with numerous short stories in various magazines. In his Texas Hill Country residence, he continues to create and give wings to new realities so that others might enjoy and be inspired by them. Learn more about R. L and his work at any of the following: Author Website, Author Blog, or Author Store.

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38 responses

  1. Problem too is that Johnny Storm and Sue Storm are brother and sister in continuity, so this is a sign they are willing to toss continuity out to make their film, and hard. That never ends well. I can see the immediate cause: Chris Evans now plays Captain America, and you can’t have him play two heroes in the same universe. But it’s sounding like they don’t care much about the actual property itself, which is going to  be rough.
     
    I have to admit though I am more turned off by the Guardians of the Galaxy film though.

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  2. Steve Taylor says:

    I have no idea what point you are trying to make but I do know I am looking forward to the new Shaft movie coming out staring William Shatner as Shaft. It should get good publicity in the news once the trailer is released.  
     

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  3. Steve Taylor says:

    I have no idea what point you are trying to make but I do know I am looking forward to the new Shaft movie coming out staring William Shatner as Shaft. It should get good publicity in the news once the trailer is released.  

     

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  4. If they had to make the Human Torch black, then Sue Storm should be black as well, since they’re siblings. Is it too much to ask that siblings be played by actors of the same race? Or do they just not care? 

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    • The sites I’ve read defended the blended family as more up to date with reality. Of course the real problem with that is you have even more character changes not only with Johnny, but also Sue who has now grown up in a blended family, or with an adopted black brother…however they might try to play that.
       
      A different character history can create a “new” character as well. But movies are always playing with cannon to “make it their own.” I guess it depends on how extensive the changes are.

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    • If they had to make the Human Torch black, then Sue Storm should be black as well, since they’re siblings.

      Let’s show some imagination and reality here! I am a mother to seven–I am brown skinned, my husband, light skinned. Our children run the gamut from dark to light–tell them they’re not siblings just because they don’t have the same shade of melanin. None of them are adopted and all of them share the same parents.
      And yes, the franchise missed an opportunity to freshen the superhero world without changing the long-running construct of that world
       

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  5. Literaturelady says:

    I agree; change an aspect of a character, either physical or a character trait, and you have a new character.  But this would be cool: if a screenwriter wrote an African-American character who loved the Fantastic Four films/comic books, and chose to undergo experiments that turned him into a version of the Human Torch–wouldn’t be an exact match with the comic book character because he’d bring his own experience and personality to the superhero role.  That would be a movie I’d anticipate.
     
    But what really makes me twitchy (being the obsessive-compulsive creature I am) is historical inaccuracy with ethnic groups.  If a film were set in Japan, and all the actors were Caucasian…*twitch, twitch, twitch*.  Or, hey, an adaptation of a Biblical account with Asian actors (looking at you Bible miniseries!)…*twitch, twitch, twitch*.  Greek and Roman settings?  Everybody Caucasian instead of Middle Eastern?  *Twitch, twitch, twitch*.  (To a lesser degree, incorrect accents do the same thing to me, which is one reason I liked War Horse so much: the French had French accents, the Germans had German accents, the Brits had British accents.  Imagine that.  :-) )
     
    Maybe that was a little off-topic.  Great article!
     
    Blessings,
    Literaturelady

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  6. Literaturelady says:

    I agree; change an aspect of a character, either physical or a character trait, and you have a new character.  But this would be cool: if a screenwriter wrote an African-American character who loved the Fantastic Four films/comic books, and chose to undergo experiments that turned him into a version of the Human Torch–wouldn’t be an exact match with the comic book character because he’d bring his own experience and personality to the superhero role.  That would be a movie I’d anticipate.
    But what really makes me twitchy (being the obsessive-compulsive creature I am) is historical inaccuracy with ethnic groups.  If a film were set in Japan, and all the actors were Caucasian…*twitch, twitch, twitch*.  Or, hey, an adaptation of a Biblical account with Asian actors (looking at you Bible miniseries!)…*twitch, twitch, twitch*.  Greek and Roman settings?  Everybody Caucasian instead of Middle Eastern?  *Twitch, twitch, twitch*.  (To a lesser degree, incorrect accents do the same thing to me, which is one reason I liked War Horse so much: the French had French accents, the Germans had German accents, the Brits had British accents.  Imagine that.  :-) )
    Maybe that was a little off-topic.  Great article!
    Blessings,
    Literaturelady

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  7. Literaturelady says:

    Sorry about the double post; something went wrong when I submitted it.  *sigh*

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  8. I think the reasoning that had them cast a black guy as the Human Torch springs from the same source as the reasoning that wanted a POC 12th Doctor–though at least the later does have in-universe rationalization, and a prior example (Mels).  
    Though I’m not very well-informed about comic continuity,  I think some raceswapped replacements are meant to be a new generation of heroes, so “inspired by” may play a role.   TV Tropes entries on affirmative action legacy and race life  explain both approaches.

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    • Yeah, that’s it. The Doctor could potentially be a woman within the cannon. Or Black, or whatever, upon regeneration.
       
      Marvel rebooted several of their characters into different races, but I believe did so within an explanation of parallel worlds or something (I don’t recall the premise behind the Ultimate reboot). But they never changed the F4′s races through that reboot, upon which this movie is based.
       
      Hollywood has done this before. So this isn’t new. They can certainly do it, and sometime enough people not familiar with the canon don’t care. It doesn’t mean the movie itself will be bad or not worth watching.
       
      What it does mean is that for fans, it will present a disconnect in the character, unless they provide a believable reason he’s now black when he’s never been before. Then it could work.
       
      A good example of that is the Star Trek reboot. Alternate time line from the original series, so they were free to make Spock more emotional. Enough to yell out . . . well, you know. Don’t want to give away spoilers if someone hasn’t seen the last one. Even then, in my mind, that’s just something Spock wouldn’t do. So even with the in-universe explanation, it felt like a disconnect.
       

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    • They have the Ultimates line (or had, I think it’s getting folded back in to the main Marvel Universe) where they were free to do this. This is why Nick Fury is now black instead of white, and they have Miles Morales the black/hispanic Spiderman for example. Problem is even in Ultimates the FF was white, though. Something like the Dark Avengers with Luke Cage would have much more amenable to fooling around with.
       
      I think it’s bad too because out of all the superteams, the Fantastic Four suffer the most when changed. Avengers or X-men can be reshuffled with little loss, but each time they do it with the FF they have to fix it. 

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  9. Honestly, I was squinting my eyes and going This feels racist, but is it actually racist? Because I’m sure none of us grew up as PTSD’d uber-rich children, but we’re expected to relate to Batman. How would the Human Torch being black make him any less relatable than his being white? He’s supposed to come from essentially the same background as White!Human Torch dude, right?, and blended family is rather more plausible than other hand-waves Hollywood comes up with.
    I think the real question is how good Michael B Jordan is as an actor than whether the Human Torch ought to be any other color than white. Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury is awesome, but that’s mostly because Samuel L Jackson is awesome. 
    And whether the script isn’t a pile of poop. That helps. 
     
    And, honestly, that’s something to think about, how much race makes up of the factors in culture that influence one as one grows up. For example, there’s a girl in my Whitecrackerville community who is half black. But she’s grown up virtually the same as every other kid in this Whitecrackerville community, going to the same church and school, doing 4-H, etc. How much of her perspective and experience is “black” in ways that the inner-city kid’s perspective and experience is “black”? But let’s not do No True Scotsman in saying that one matter more than another, though theoretical inner-city kid experience is probably more common than my Whitecrackerville girl-bro’s.
    And then there’s dissecting how much of any given discrimination is due to pure racism or pure classism, since the two are so tangled.
     
    Honestly, I don’t know. And that’s my handicap in attempting to write non-Crackerville characters. All I can do is study as well as I can and try to make them plausible and relatable.  And hope somebody calls me out if I do something stupid.

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    • “How would the Human Torch being black make him any less relatable than his being white?”
       
      Never talked about relatability. It is whether it makes him a different person than the original character that I posited. I specifically said I didn’t believe this had anything to do with the quality of the movie (aside from believability if not handled well) or Micheal’s acting skills. He may play the part brilliantly. Only point is it won’t be Johnny Storm short of a believable explanation.
       

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  10. It changes the character, though. A blended family in upper-middle class Long Island is far different from a white family, and black Johnny would have to deal with a lot of things white Johnny would never have to.  Sue would also relate to him differently, and you’d wind up having a new character with the same name and backstory. Maybe he’d be angrier, because he would have to earn a right to fit in or deal with casual racism that white Johnny never did. Or maybe his partying would be more self-destructive (or that he would party less if at all to get back at them and prove himself.) It’s not a matter of relating, but you wind up changing the character and the relations of the team.
     
    It’s not normally a bad thing if you frame it as a reboot, but the FF does really bad with reboots and people HATE it when they do. They simply aren’t as good when they divert from the classic Jack Kirby or John Byrne mode. You get stupid stuff like the Future Foundation or retiring members in favor of nobodies or weird changes like killing off the Human Torch. Whenever anything happens to suggest a reboot, hackles are raised. 
     
    Especially when the past movies did some bad retcons of Doom and the Silver Surfer. Doesn’t really inspire confidence when people make changes off the bat in casting either.

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  11. I disagree that changes like hair/eye color give you a different character than the previous one. And while i think it’s possible that a black Johnny Storm would have had a different upbringing than a white Johnny Storm, i don’t think that it would have to be that way. 
    To be fair, i’m not especially familiar with the Fantastic Four – or any comic series, really – but i don’t think a black Johnny Storm is in itself a problem. 

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    • “I disagree that changes like hair/eye color give you a different character than the previous one.”
       
      Don’t see how you could say that. Yes, if I were wearing colored contacts or something, I’d be the same person. Short of a believable explanation, it would be my evil twin brother. I have brown eyes. Anyone with green eyes wouldn’t be me.
       
      Now, eye color in actors depicting someone is probably not going to be a concern except for purist and the fact fans would rarely notice short of some closeups of his face. But noticeable characteristics that define the identity of a person does make a different person if changed. If not, why do we bother to describe our characters as writers?
       

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      • Just to keep the conversation going, how much of character race (especially in non-visual mediums) is based on assumption of the majority culture? Some people would argue that that ‘white unless otherwise mentioned’ is the default in American lit.

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        • Julie,
           
          I’ve often wondered about that. In many of my books, I refrain from describing race, in the vain hope that the reader would default to their own race. But I don’t know if they do. If they see my picture on the book, will they assume I’m writing white people in there? Or do cultural ques cause them to categorize (harder to do with alt. world fantasy and non-near future sci-fi), or if they are in a minority race, do they assume, as you said, to default to white unless otherwise specified?
           
          I don’t know, but would be interested to find out. I’ve only got one series where I spell out other races in the supporting cast. In that case, one would assume the ones I don’t specify are white.
           

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      • So if God changed your eye color overnight from brown to green, you’d suddenly be a different person? Would anyone, if they couldn’t see your eyes, recognize a difference in you? Obviously you wouldn’t be exactly the same as you were yesterday, but then you wouldn’t have been the exact same person even if your eye color stayed the same. Eye color is a poor indication of one’s identity. 

        By that logic, any change from the written character whatsoever produces a “different character”. And while i’ll allow that to be true in a certain sense — every adaption changes things — i reserve the use of “different character” to describe someone who is fundamentally or meaningfully different from how they were portrayed. Eye color, to me, is quite possibly the least significant detail, unless there is something specific in the original medium that indicates otherwise (ex. Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive features a culture that bases its class system on eye color). 

        And not all authors bother to describe their characters. Some people believe it completely irrelevant. I describe mine on occasion, but if by some miracle one of my works got filmed in some form i wouldn’t care one iota if they changed the eye or hair color.

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        • Like I said, if there is a believable explanation for the change in the person, that is one thing, like explaining that God zapped me and made me a blue-eyed man instead of brown.
           
          If it wasn’t part of the original character’s description, then no, wouldn’t be important. I think that’s pretty much what I said.
           
          Still, unless there is a reason it happened, a green-eyed me isn’t going to be me. I’m talking real life. Once you move to movies, less important unless it is an important part of the characterization. But that would be because it never is described in a book, or a closeup shot enough to distinguish eye color in a movie. Contrasted to skin color, which in a movie shows up in most cases.
           
          Of course with comics to movies, both are visual mediums. Unlike a book to movie.
           

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  12. In the original post, you stated that “You change skin color, hair color, eye color, personality, etc., you no longer have the original character. You have a new character. For me it is a matter of continuity. If there is going to be a change, it needs to be explained in a rational way how that white dude suddenly became black.”

    I agree that a different personality changes the character. I agree that some kind of explanation will be required in the FF movie as to why Sue and Johnny have different skin tones. I absolutely cannot agree that changing the hair or eye color of a fictional character changes them in any way. If in Movie A Jane Smith has brown hair and in Movie B she has blonde with no explanation offered — such as she got a wig or dyed her hair or even God changed it — then that would be poor filmmaking, but i would hardly consider Movie A’s Jane Smith and Movie B’s Jane Smith to be different characters.

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    • Different hair color could be explained easily. Not sure in that case you’d  need to, as most people would assume they dyed their hair for some reason. Changing eye color would be a little more difficult to explain, if it was important. Most people wouldn’t notice that level of detail. So its not likely worth the time. If they needed to match eye color because it was important to the story, they could have the actor wear colored contacts. Or change it to the right color in post-production. But you’re missing my point here.
       
      In real life, my eyes are brown. If someone described a criminal having green eyes, one would believe it is someone else other than me. In a movie, no one expects a perfect match in looks. It’s impossible if you have more than one actor play the part. No one actor will look exactly like the comic versions. I’m sure eye color isn’t one of the requirements for an actor to play Johnny Storm.
       
      But back to the topic of the post. Do you think changing the skin color changes the character from the original?
       
       

      I agree that some kind of explanation will be required in the FF movie as to why Sue and Johnny have different skin tones.

       
      Sure, and I’m sure some explanation will be offered. That won’t be hard. Blended family. Adopted. Alien insemination. Who knows. But I don’t think that is the question that they aren’t likely to answer.
       
      As I understand it, this version is based upon the Ultimate Fantastic Four. The Ultimate series is a parallel world to the original Marvel superheroes, which gave Marvel the opportunity to do things like make some of their heroes of different races among other things. Problem is, Johnny Storm along with the rest of the family wasn’t changed.
       
      So my question still is will they give an explanation as to why white Johnny is suddenly black (I’m doubting they will), and if not, doesn’t this make him not Johnny Storm in the minds of the fans. He’ll be a different person.
       
      I’ll help them out here. Plausible explanation #1: The frequent use of his flames plus the increased radiation levels in his blood from the accident that gave them their powers has genetically mutated his skin pigment to get darker over time.
       
      But if this starts out as another origin movie, that wouldn’t fly. Oh well. We’ll see next year.
       

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  13. This article’s slant and most of the comments disturbs me. The term “race” bothers me and it especially bothers me when it is used by Christians! The idea of race is based on evolution and is a historically dangerous term and concept. It is rebellious, antagonistic and unbiblical. Do a little research and see what this term race has done to humans–and it’s not over!
    What does the word really mean? Race to the top of the evolutionary totem pole. Degrees of innate intelligence and progress. Favored status based on superficialities beyond one’s control. The concept of race is the doctrine of demons. An evil doctrine used to separate man from man, a wicked twisting of the imaginative and creative intent of God. God made a pair of humans, Adam and Eve, and out of their blood do we have all the people of the earth–NO MATTER THE COLOR!
    Christians need to be the first ones to put the dangerous word “race” to death. We are all human–that’s it! Refuse to speak of one another as if there are different species and subspecies of human. We need to get back to the Bible and believe it.
    Blessings!

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    • True, we are all one family. We are all human. We are all of equal value and worth in God’s sight.
       
      That doesn’t change the fact that our identity involves many factors, including race, culture, nationality, physical characteristics. Change any of those things in my history, and I would not be the same person I am today.
       
      That is all this article is about. Continuity of a character. It has nothing to do with racism or the other stuff you mentioned.

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  14. I feel like a movie adaptation should be expected to be non-canonical, so physical discrepencies in a character should not surprising. This would probably have been less of an issue of the movie was an adaptation of a book instead of a comic.

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    • That, and movie adaptations change the physical body type, hair colour, eye colour and so on of their characters all the time. They also massively change details of people’s origin stories, social backgrounds, and other aspects of the original continuity.

      If we can watch SHERLOCK HOLMES without feeling the need to point out that Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock does not resemble the canonical Holmes in height, build, facial structure or even personality, and if the Asgardian mythology in the THOR film differs in some significant particulars from both actual Norse mythology and the comics continuity, why is it such a big issue for a new Fantastic Four movie to cast a young black actor we haven’t even seen in the role yet as Johnny Storm?

      You’re totally right, he doesn’t look like the blond, blue-eyed Johnny from Marvel Comics. My question is, why should we care? The movie isn’t slavishly copying every detail of the original (which would not only be boring but impossible, given how many times Marvel contradicts and amends its own continuity), it’s telling its own story using the comic as a springboard, and if it makes for a strong character and an interesting story, I’ll be on board with it. James MacAvoy doesn’t look a thing like Charles Xavier either, but strangely, I don’t see a whole lot of posts complaining about that.

      In conclusion: Heimdall. Don’t anyone tell me substituting a black actor for a white one can’t be awesome, because Idris Elba was great in both Thor movies and I can’t even be bothered to remember what the comic-book version looked like now.

      P.S. There have been people of varying skin colours in every country throughout history, and the idea of a “white race” is in fact quite recent. If you cast a historical movie about 17th century Denmark with all-black actors that would certainly be an odd choice, but putting one black actor in the mix would be no more essentially “unhistorical” than doing a film set in Africa that includes a white missionary. How much more probable is a mixed-race cast in modern America?

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  15. I guess it somewhat depends on whether you consider a fictional character as a “real person” or as an archetype.
    Take something like Cinderella, the same story has been done in various cultures with very different Main Characters (MCs) but the MCs are still all recognizable as Cinderella.
    I see Johnny Storm as the same way. As long as the character is still an obnoxious playboy who gets turned into a Human Torch in the company of the three other Fantastics, I’m gonna consider him the same.
    I can understand it being really confusing if the character is more a real person in your mind. But I can’t come up with an example where I would feel the same way. The closest I can get is examples where changing the race of the person would require you also to adapt the story world. (Like if Elizabeth Bennett in Pride & Prejudice wasn’t white because Victorian England was definitely both very white and very rascist).
     
    Another way to look at it would be, when is skin colour a defining characteristic of a character? As much as writers like to think our characters are as fleshed out and complex as real people, really there’s usually just a few key characteristics that are required for their story arcs and the rest is adaptable.

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    • No, I’m not thinking of characters as being real people, but they’re expected to reflect reality to some degree. One of those being defined characteristics.
       
      In a novel, there can be a lot more leeway depending on how much description the author provided. Comic book characters, however, are different because they have to draw the character to be this or that, male or female, depict their nationality/culture, etc. They don’t have the luxury of a novel writer to give only a smattering of description and let the reader fill in the details, like Tolkien tended to do.
       
      Even in comic books, character change over time, but they still have a basic look, a continuity with what has gone before even if some minor changes are made. So I think movies based on novels tend to have a little more leeway than from comics because of that.
       
      It was the same issue  I had with Will Smith playing West in the Wild, Wild, West. That and the time period it represented didn’t fit having a black man in that role.
       
      I understand some people aren’t going to care. But for many, that significant of a change in the character without adequate explanation is going to be jarring.
       
       
       

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      • “the time period it represented didn’t fit having a black man in that role.”

        But you were okay with the nitroglycerin powered penny-farthing and the giant mechanical spider? Those details fit into the time period of the Old West just fine?

        To be fair, I used to think the same way as you do myself. In my late teens I was outraged by Kenneth Branagh casting non-white actors in his adaptation of HAMLET, for instance, because I believed that only white people lived in Denmark until modern times. But since then I’ve found out that’s not actually, factually true — it’s only what I’ve become used to seeing portrayed on television shows and movies.

        I’ve also come to realize since then that stories and characters can actually become more interesting and even visually appealing when you’re willing to step outside the “default=pale pink skin” assumption. Just changing someone’s appearance to non-Caucasian doesn’t have to make the story some preachy fable about “race”, either — it may be a factor to be touched on, a bit of cultural detail to help round out the character, or it may be virtually a non-issue depending on the time and place the story is set. (One example that falls somewhere in between: Mako Mori in “Pacific Rim”, who is petite, a woman, Japanese, the adopted daughter of an African-American man, and a likeable and interesting character whose story is not “about” her race.)

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        • There have been people of varying skin colours in every country throughout history, and the idea of a “white race” is in fact quite recent.

          Totally agree. God separated the people at Babel by language, not by color. Specialization of skin tones and features occurred during the culling of skin tone types unable to cope to the environment people of the same language migrated to. Lighter skinned people are more prone to skin cancer in hot, sunny areas while darker skinned people are more likely to develop rickets due to the lack of Vitamin D in colder, less sunny areas, thus reducing the chance for them to pass on their genetic material through procreation because they died out.

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        • ““the time period it represented didn’t fit having a black man in that role.”
          But you were okay with the nitroglycerin powered penny-farthing and the giant mechanical spider? Those details fit into the time period of the Old West just fine?”
           
          I never said that. Though the Wild, Wild West was always steampunk-like, so the giant spider wasn’t totally out of story canon, though quite a bit over the top and not real believable.
           
          Will Smith did a fine job in that role. I still watched it and enjoyed it for what it was. But just as much as the giant spider, having a black man play the role of West in that time period was a point of losing the suspension of disbelief on those points. Aside from the point that changing the character that much caused it to feel like a different person than the West from  the TV series.
           

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          • I’ve just looked up the character’s biography to be certain I have the details correct. So you’re saying there were no black officers who fought for the Union during the Civil War and attained the rank of Captain? According to this article, there were approximately 110 African-American officers who made it into the army’s ranks, despite all opposition. Just because it wasn’t easy doesn’t mean it wasn’t possible — and we’re talking about a fictional character here.

            But if we want historical precedent for a specially commissioned, respected and successful lawman of colour hunting down criminals in the Old West, may I introduce you to Marshal Bass Reeves?

            Again, just because you’re not used to seeing a black man in the kind of situation or role that Capt. Jim West plays in the movie doesn’t mean that such a portrayal is unhistorical or implausible. It just means you’re not used to considering the possibility, because you’ve been wrongly led to believe that there were no free or successful black men in the Old West.

            And also, who cares if the West in the movie isn’t exactly the same as the West from the TV series? I’m sure that the casting of Will Smith in the role wasn’t the only significant change that was made in adapting an old TV show into a modern movie.

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            • R. J., I stand corrected on the historical likelihood of a black man potentially being in West’s shoes during that time. Thanks for the correction.
               
              Of course, that aspect of that movie was a side note and doesn’t affect the original point of the blog post. It was still, for me, a disconnect from the character as played in the original TV series.
               

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              • Okay, but you keep going back to the example of a black man playing a part originally conceived of as a white man, rather than using other examples of radical changes to characters made for film.

                What about the way Spiderman’s back-story has been altered in the recent movies? What about the fact that Sally Field is a lot younger than the original Aunt May (whose thin face and tight grey bun are pretty iconic), and looks nothing like her whatsoever? Why do we keep going back to the idea of changing a character’s skin colour as though that alters the character beyond recognition and means bad things for the movie?

                Have we got over Nick Fury being black in The Avengers yet? It certainly doesn’t seem to have hurt the film’s success or turned the character into a tortured victim of institutional racism that detracts from the tough, authoritative, no-holds-barred Fury we know from the comics. So why are we worried about Johnny Storm?

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              • 1. Yes, those other things can create continuity problems depending on how or if they are explained. I think I’ve said as much. My focus was on Johnny Storm because that is recent and has made the news.
                 
                2. Nick Fury at least has a black counterpart in the Ultimate Universe. I’ve not heard whether the Avengers are based upon the Ultimate world, but the black Nick Fury would suggest it. Johnny Storm is white in both universes, so this is more pulling it out of thin air.
                 
                3. I’ve made the statement more than once that this issue doesn’t necessarily affect the quality of the movie or the acting. If it bombs or succeeds, it probably won’t be because of this issue, unless they end up doing a terrible job on the character as a whole. Then it will get lumped into those other reasons why it bombed.
                 
                4. My only point was whether changing identifiable characteristics in a character tends to create a continuity problem and make it feel like a different character. I expected for some it would, others it would not. Most of us have different points where our suspension of disbelief will break down.
                 
                5. Continuity problems abound in movies. We could grow a long, long list if we wanted to. For example, another one would be Captain Picard in the last TNG Star Trek movie. There were other problems with that one, but one of them was that Captain Picard did match in attitude and feel of what had gone before. It felt like a different person. Not because of any outward characteristics since he was played by the one actor who has always played him, but because he was written and directed to exhibit non-Picard actions and attitudes at points in the movie.
                 
                The fact continuity problems happen often doesn’t change the fact they are problems for a character or movie. For some people it will make him not feel like the original Johnny Storm character. I’d probably be one of those. I don’t care for it when a character is altered that significantly. Many others, especially if they’ve never paid attention to FF comics or previous movies, probably won’t notice or care. Even many  that do pay attention won’t care. That’s fine. There’s no right or wrong answer here.
                 

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  16. A quick note upon running across a quote by Michael Jordon tagged to play Johnny Storm in the new FF movie. He is responding concerning the backlash of him being chosen to play the role. In short, he gets what I’ve been saying…
     

    It was expected. You kinda know going into it that people are used to seeing something one way, it’s a continuity thing more than anything. People don’t like change too much. But annoyed? Eh, you just kinda accept it, it is what it is. You can’t make everybody happy. You just gotta accept that and know. I’m an actor, I have to do my job. I’m going to do my job the best I can and the way I’ve been doing it my entire life, my entire career… I don’t really let it bother me at all. I just want to go into it and do the best job I can. We’ll see what happens.”
    http://www.themarysue.com/michael-b-jordan-human-torch-backlash/
     

    Kudos to him on his attitude. I’ll be interested to see what he and the director do with this character. I hope they don’t just stick him in and ignore the needed history change, even if it is to create a third parallel universe.
     

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