Age of the Geek

Racebending The Rules

 

     The Human Torch is black now.

     Deal with it.

     Travis Fischer is a news writer for Mid-America Publishing and…

 

     Okay, let's back up a bit. Fox Studios, desperate to keep their hands on the few comic book licenses they have left, is rebooting their Fantastic Four movie franchise.

     And playing Johnny Storm, aka The Human Torch, is Michael B. Jordan.

     In the comics, Johnny Storm is white. Michael B. Jordan is not.

     One can easily see how this would become a source of contention.

     And while a certain number of the complaints spawn from nothing more than pure racism, many come from people who are less malevolent but equally stubborn. Source material purists.

     And I get it. When it comes to adaptations, I want the movie to be as faithful to the source material as possible. Not just out of reverence to the original story, but because it's very rare for an adaptation to diverge from the source material without undermining the story in some way. If you're ever watching a movie based on a book and something seems out of place or contrary to the rest of the story, it's a safe bet that's because the movie changed something from the source material.

     Sometimes it's done out of necessity, sometimes it happens because movie makers want to stamp their mark on something, and sometimes it feels like the director just wanted to do it that way. No matter the reason, it rarely works out well.

     But while I understand the knee-jerk reaction against these kind of changes, in the case of race-bending, I just cannot bring myself to care.

     Johnny Storm is a brash teenager with a smart mouth.

     Michael B. Jordan played a brash teenager with a smart mouth in 2012's "Chronicle." He did it quite well in fact. Considering the director of the new Fantastic Four movie, Josh Trask, also directed "Chronicle," it's safe to assume that's the reason Jordan was cast for the role.

     Now, would I have cast Jordan for the part? Probably not. It wouldn't even cross my mind to cast anybody other than a white guy. But it did cross Trask's mind and that's fine with me. There have been worse casting decisions. Jordan is far more suited to play the Human Torch than Tobey Maguire was to play Spider-Man.

     It's also a good choice because representation matters and white guys shouldn't be the only demographic that get to see super heroes that look like them.

     In a perfect world, new characters would be created and rise up to better reflect demographic changes over the decades. We don't live in a perfect world. We live in a world where the foundation of popular culture was laid in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, and that foundation was made up almost exclusively of straight white guys.

     New characters rarely manage to get enough traction to maintain their own comic book, much less get movies made about them. Out of Marvel and DC's entire history of movie adaptations, 24 characters have been put in starring roles. Only two of those characters were created after 1976.

     Once you resign yourself to the fact characters created after the 70s aren't going to be commercially viable on the big screen, the only black characters left on the list come from the same era that brought us the Blaxploitation film genre.

     That's just not acceptable.

     So you cheat, do a little racebending, and Michael B. Jordan joins Samuel L. Jackson, Idris Elba, and Michael Clarke Duncan on the list of black actors playing white comic book characters. All of these guys were awesome in their roles and I expect Jordan will be the same. Not because he's black, but because he's a good actor that is right for the part.

     And besides, who honestly expected a source-faithful Fantastic Four movie anyway? Certainly nobody that saw the last two.

 

     Travis Fischer is a news writer for Mid-America Publishing and doesn't bother with race unless it involves go-karts.