Geeks, nerds, or fans. Whatever we call ourselves, we can be an extremely possessive and entitled bunch. Ten years ago, Bond fans who objected to the casting of Daniel Craig as 007, set up this website in protest. The mission statement is enshrined in the domain name and still runs today, undeterred by either Craig’s length of service or financial and critical success.
This kind of behaviour isn’t unusual, or even necessarily a bad thing. The fan – short for ‘fanatic’ of course – has a personal connection to the property, and we can’t help but feel protective once we know it will be adapted or updated. Much as we are excited for the new iteration, we feel compelled to be watchdogs- encouraging (intimidating?) the film makers into remembering what made it so special in the first place.
Sometimes the fan’s frustrations can be very positive, sparking their creativity and bonding them together to make the version they’d like to see (for example, professional-standard Star Trek fan films). And sometimes it can feel altogether more sinister. Like protesting when an ethnic minority is cast as a character previously depicted as white.
Such is the case for this year’s new Fantastic Four movie. Johnny Storm (aka The Human Torch) has hitherto been white. In August, the part will be played by rising star, and African American, Michael B. Jordan. From what we have heard so far, there is no reason to believe that Johnny will be stripped of any of the personality traits (cocky, brash, charming) which make him such a distinctive part of Marvel’s first family. In fact Jordan’s work to date has already shown that he is more than capable of playing this part and playing it well.
But he’s not white.
Hollywood whitewashing controversies
Hollywood whitewashing controversies
1/11 Scarlett Johansson cast as Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell
Blonde, white US actress Scarlett Johansson was announced to be playing the clearly Japanese character Motoko Kusanagi in Hollywood's Ghost in the Shell remake, much to the dismay of Asian film fans
2/11 Tilda Swinton cast as The Ancient One in Doctor Strange
Marvel sparked outrage when Anglo-Scottish actress Tilda Swinton was cast as Tibetan mystic The Ancient One alongside Benedict Cumberbatch in Doctor Strange
Zoe Saldana was criticised for 'blacking up' to play the considerably darker-skinned soul singer Nina Simone in Nina
4/11 Jake Gyllenhaal stars in Prince of Persia
The half Jewish, quarter Swedish actor was cast to play a Middle Eastern Prince in Disney's 2010 film
5/11 Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily in forthcoming film Pan
Mara was been cast in the role of American Indian Tiger Lily, sparking an online protest from angry film fans
6/11 Christian Bale plays Moses in Ridley Scott's Exodus: Gods and Kings
Ridley Scott claimed he would never cast 'Mohammed so-and-so from such-and-such a country' in a lead role in his Biblical epic, and went on to cast an entirely white cast instead
7/11 Jim Caveziel plays Jesus in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ
Catholic star Mel Gibson chose to cast a Caucasian American actor in the role of Jesus for his controversial film
8/11 Micky Rooney plays a Japanese neighbour in Breakfast at Tiffany's
Who better to play Holly Golightly's Japanese neighbour IY Yunoishi than American actor Mick Rooney. At least Hollywood has come some way since 1961
9/11 Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez in Argo
Ben Affleck became the subject of a few editorials in Latin American newspapers for casting himself (an American with English, Irish, Scottish and Swiss ancestry) as a Mexican CIA operative
10/11 Jennifer Connelly plays Alicia Nash in A Beautiful Mind
Alicia Lopez-Harrison de Lardé was a naturalised US citizen from El Salvador, but was played by an actress of Jewish, Irish and Norwegian descent
11/11 Chinese actresses cast in Memoirs of a Geisha
What better way to alienate Japanese cinemagoers than to cast three Chinese actresses in the lead roles in a film about Japanese culture
Why does this bother so many fans? They assure us it is not because they are racist. Simply purists, demanding that film makers stick to the source material. Another familiar refrain is to cry double standards. That you could not turn a minority character (like Black Panther) white.
Both arguments are easily dismissed. In the latter case Black Panther (like many minorities) has his ethnicity wired in to his story. Johnny Storm is white by default. The Fantastic Four is being updated for the modern day so unless you’re arguing that the movie should be a period piece, never leaving the sixties, you accept the influence of our modern world the moment Johnny picks up a smart phone.
But EVEN if this were the case, we should STILL be approaching these characters differently. To simply accept the natural and institutional biases from the decades past is to perpetuate them.
Jordan has his eyes open. Writing for Entertainment Weekly he implores:
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.
When it comes to mainstream entertainment, the geeks have inherited the Earth, but for a community used to being on the outside, we should be more inclusive.Reuse content