Fantastic Four: Michael B. Jordan will be the perfect Johnny Storm, regardless of skin colour

Keeping a character white just because he’s always been white isn’t comic book purism

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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.

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.