Generally speaking, people don’t like their stuff messed with, and this extends especially to hardcore comic fans. For example, it surprised no one when some of these said fans expressed their disapproval of noted black man, Michael B. Jordan being cast as Johnny Storm—illustrated white man—in Marvel’s forthcoming reboot of the Fantastic Four franchise.
Although it’s likely the majority of folks shrugged at this news, as always, it was the reaction of the disgruntled who garnered the lion’s share of attention following the announcement—of which occurred way back in February 2014. Evidently though, a year and change was not enough to quell those fans’ displeasure, because two weeks ago Jordan wrote a now-viral essay for Entertainment Weekly about the backlash he’s received.
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?
You go, Michael. In addition to defending his casting, Jordan avowed to become a torchbearer of sorts, and to “shoulder the hate” in paving the way for future generations of melanin-laden actors who wish to assume similarly-plum roles. However, it bears mentioning that such roles are a rarity not because of casting directors, but rather, because of the white-washed comics and stories these movie franchises are adapted from. So when Latina actress/goddess, Michelle Rodriguez “stuck her foot in her mouth” back in February—“stop stealing all the white people’s superheroes,” she told TMZ—the ensuing shitstorm ended up doing a bit of good actually, in that it forced some to question when the few comics featuring non-white leads would be adapted into screenplays.
However, Marvel, without any arm-twisting or public pressure, had already begun addressing the issue. Of the projects currently in-development, two—Luke Cage, set to bow on Netflix in 2016, and Black Panther, set for theatrical release in 2017—feature (gasp!) black leads: Mike Colter and Chadwick Boseman, respectively. And, if that weren’t enough, the faces that will, in one instance and could, in another, helm the projects, are both black: Cheo Hodari Coker will serve as showrunner and exec. producer for Cage, and Ava DuVernay (!) is rumored to be directing Panther.
Coker isn’t a household name per se, but he has executive produced shows in the past, like Showtime’s Ray Donovan. Surely, his tapping is no coincidence but Coker’s hiring is less a diversity play than a proven talent receiving his due. Speaking of proven talents, as for DuVernay, her name was in a whole lot of households last Oscar season, as the Selma director’s snub for Best Director was common fodder in the Academy Awards’ run-up. Despite the Academy’s slight, DuVernay remains a hot commodity, and though her directing Panther is no slam dunk (apparently, she could instead be directing Captain Marvel, which would have a female lead), she would be both the first woman and person of color to direct any Marvel feature, yet another coup for Hollywood’s under-represented.
Full disclosure: I’d never heard of Luke Cage (Johnny Cage, yes) nor Black Panther (the Black Panther Party, yes) before the announcement of their developments. But, despite relatively low mainstream profiles, anything that falls under the Marvel umbrella is bound to garner attention. While Jordan’s Human Torch performance in Fantastic Four may still be important for his own career, he needn’t worry about blazing any trails—no matter his reviews, people of color will have their chances to star (and direct, and showrun, etc.) in major superhero-themed projects, and very soon. Hooray!
When it comes to more popular franchises, though, like say, Spiderman, it doesn’t appear that anymore “creative decisions”—which is what Jordan billed his casting as—are on the horizon. Recently reclaiming its rights from Sony, Marvel is set to reboot the Spiderman franchise yet again in 2017—third time’s the charm!—but according to Marvel president, Kevin Feige, the movie’s plot will (again) involve Peter Parker, who will (again) be portrayed in awkward, teenage fashion. The news all but kills the internet’s hope of seeing longtime favorite, Donald Glover don the Spidey suit, though Tyler James Williams (of The Walking Dead and Everybody Hates Chris fame, and, who like Glover, apparently moonlights as a rapper) has been given his own online push to play the web-slinger recently. Any campaigns may be moot however, with the aforesaid insistence by Marvel that Parker’s storyline continue. Most fans had pinned hopes on seeing either Glover or Williams star in the franchise as Miles Morales, whom, after Parker’s comic book death, took over as the new, higher-pigmented Spidey. Basing the film around Morales would’ve made for much easier fanboy digestion than Jordan’s turn as Storm, but alas, it’s probably not meant to be. (Though Glover’s voicing of Morales in an animated version of Spiderman, on Disney XD, is a small consolation for fans.)
But even if it was never in the cards for Glover or Williams, a Morales storyline would’ve been a nice change of pace in that it would have opened up several potential casting opportunities. (Rico Rodriguez, anyone? #Rico4Spiderman?). While it’s often black actors who are viewed as the aggrieved in these circumstances, Hispanics, Asians and other minorities have also been—if not more so—under-represented as leading heroes and heroines in Hollywood. They deserve storylines and shine, too. But, that’s another topic for another day. In the meantime, credit to Marvel for expanding its cinematic universe in not just size for once, but also hue. It’s nice for us to finally see some familiar faces.