A black person is being cast as a white comic book character! This news sends the internet into a tizzy, but how much of that is Aspergian slavery to canon versus straight up racism? After all, internet comic book nerds regularly fancast people in comic book movies based solely on their looks; every redhead in Hollywood has, at one point, been fancast as Mary Jane Watson.
Let’s be kind and assume that not everybody who is freaking out about black guy Michael B. Jordan playing Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four reboot is a virulent racist. Let’s assume some of them don’t like change or they're painfully literal-minded. Here are some talking points to explain why this is no big deal.
1) Johnny Storm isn’t white, he’s default.
All through the 20th century, new comic book characters were, by default, white. This wasn’t some kind of big choice on the part of the artists, it’s just the way it was.
This default status is important because for 90% of white comic book characters, their whiteness has nothing to do with their character. The opposite, however, is almost always true for ethnic characters - most black, Hispanic or Asian characters have backstories heavily influenced by their ethnic heritage/race. You’ll hear people saying “Would you be okay with having a white guy play the Black Panther,” but they seem to not understand that being a black African king is in fact an enormous part of who T’Challa is. Remove that stuff and you no longer have the Black Panther.
Sure, some white characters need to be white. Dr. Doom is the regent of an Eastern European nation, and he’s of gypsy blood (although I guess some would claim that makes him non-white as well. Let’s not split national socialist hairs). Bruce Wayne’s old money background pretty much means he needs to be a white guy. We can have an interesting discussion about how central Superman’s white midwestern upbringing is to his character. But most everyone else? Hell, Thor isn’t even blonde in the original myths, so who gives a shit what color his skin is? He could be purple.
Can you even tell me what nationality Johnny Storm is? It may be mentioned on some Wiki somewhere, but the reality is that the Storms’ heritage has no bearing on who they are as characters. Hell, their name sounds like a fake one someone came up with at Ellis Island to hide their deeply Semitic background.
2) There are still lots of white superheroes and lots of white actors.
Sometimes you get the sense that people who get mad about race-bending casting feel threatened, like their white heroes are being taken away. They’ll wonder why people complain about white actors playing ethnic roles when they champion non-whites playing white roles. The reality they’re not seeing: almost EVERY hero is white. Making Johnny Storm black doesn’t suddenly mean we’re in danger of losing all of our white heroes. We got plenty.
Meanwhile, it’s important to note that roles for non-white actors - especially leading, heroic roles - are scarce. When you put a white guy in an ethnic role you’re keeping non-white actors out. Again, there are plenty of parts for white guys, so maybe it would have been cool to have an actual full-blooded Native American in The Lone Ranger.
3) It’s about the acting, dummy.
Michael B. Jordan is a terrific actor. He was amazing on The Wire, he killed it in Chronicle and he’s getting Oscar mentions in reviews of the upcoming Fruitvale Station. He’s a good actor who can do the role justice; his skin color is the least important thing about his casting. The goal should be to have the best actors doing the best work in these movies. If some gooned out rapper had been cast maybe we could raise an eyebrow, but Jordan is a for real actor who has done for real great work. We should be happy about this.
4) They’ll figure out the sibling stuff.
I’ve seen people wonder how a black guy can be the brother to Allison Williams, who is the leading contender for the Sue Storm role. I like the idea that people online think no one involved in the movie even considered this. And I like the idea that people online seem unable to understand concepts like adoption or step-siblings. Guess what, guys? There will be an explanation as to why the Storm siblings have different skin tones, and it won’t be very important and we’ll get on with the movie.
5) He’s a guy who is consumed by fire and doesn’t die.
If you’re drawing the believability line at his skin color, you may be focusing a little too tightly.
I’m excited for Jordan. I think that he’ll make a great Johnny Storm (if he takes the role). And I welcome a bit of color in Marvel’s First Family. Hell, I welcome some color and diversity in every single comic book and comic book movie. This stuff isn’t just for white people. It’s time to share.