This Week's 2 Cents: Hollywood, Truly Embrace the Marvel Universe
Thursday, June 26, 2014
A few evenings ago I was sitting with a fellow nerd, in a restaurant patiently waiting for some delicious tacos and beer, when I overheard a comment about the possibility of Black Panther arriving in the future Marvel cinema universe. Naturally, my ears perked up as they do anytime I hear excited news about comics (I’m a Blerd!).
But seconds after mentioning Black Panther, a voice asked, “Who do you think will play him?” and a voice replied, “Michael B. Jordan, duh!” and an uproar of laughter soon followed. My friend replied to my expressed confusion by informing me that Michael B. Jordan is now a running joke within movie blogs. I thought to myself, “This is still a big deal?!” Basically, since he (a black man) can play the (white) Human Torch, the joke is that he must be able to play any character.
So, I decided to do some Internet snooping. There has been much continued debate and uproar due to Michael B. Jordan’s casting as the Human Torch. Since the initial announcement of Jordan’s involvement in the new Fantastic Four movie, many have stepped to Marvel’s defense, writing that his race does not matter. It is true that Jessica Alba’s background didn’t seem to matter in 2005.
Considering how diversely American culture interacts with one another, it would not be an egregious idea that The Invisible Woman could still be the sister of an adopted or inherited by a new marriage, Human Torch. Some bloggers claimed this would cause for an explanation, but honestly, I don’t think it does. Anyone who looks at a white mother with a brown baby, really should let go of the confusion, and remember that sometimes adoption, interracial dating, etc., DO occur. The more that racial progression is presented to us as the norm; the less explanations need to be made.
Therefore, I have absolutely no issue with Michael B. Jordan portraying Johnny Storm. What I DO question is something that Jonathan Rich brought up via Bleedingcool.com (full piece here: http://www.bleedingcool.com/2014/02/24/the-image-of-a-black-man-on-fire-casting-michael-b-jordan-as-the-human-torch/). As stated above, I do not believe an explanation is needed for Johnny Storm, but I also do not believe it is an accident that Sue Storm (you know, the brother of Johnny Storm) could not be portrayed by a black woman.
Perhaps Hollywood is afraid of the marketability of a black woman lead in a film. After all, the rare times it has happened, those black actresses have been met with overwhelming praise, as if it is such a leap to think they could headline a film (think back to Halle Berry’s career). Perhaps black women are simply not thought of as a woman of desire, much like Sue Storm is.
Black women in general are missing from Hollywood films, let alone the Marvel cinema universe. Even in the X-Men series, Storm (played by Halle Berry), a MAJOR X-Men character barely saw any screen time and was not portrayed as a complex character. Other than Storm, we have yet to see a major black woman superhero.
In fact it is about time that our own media outlets have caught up with the racial progression Marvel started in the 1960s and 1970s. For example, with the introduction of Ororo “Storm” Munroe. Ororo “Storm” Munroe has been just as successful. Hailing from Africa, Storm was worshipped as a Goddess before joining the accomplished X-Men. She proved to be such a successful character that Marvel has dedicated their writers and artist to her for over thirty years. They have turned Storm into a Co-Leader within the X-Men and eventually the headmistress of the esteemed Jean Grey School. She then married Black Panther and became the Queen of Wakanda, one of the most technologically advanced and wealthiest nations on the planet. When the Civil War began, Mr. Fantastic wanted to make sure the couple was not going to get involved—showing the magnitude of their power and influence in the Marvel universe. Finally, many men (of all DIFFERENT backgrounds--some not even human) have sought after Storm’s attention: Black Panther, Forge, Dracula, Dr. Doom, and one being the franchise heading Wolverine.
If there has been evidence of an awesome black presence in the Marvel universe, why haven’t we seen the same type of headlining in Marvel’s movies? If Johnny Storm could easily be conceived as black, why not Sue Storm? Isn’t it about time that our own digital media meet the standards of the progressiveness of Marvel’s printed media? Comic book fans are some of the most obsessively loyal, but given the many different characters in the Marvel universe, they are (or need to be) also open-minded. Besides, many superheroes are “super” because they are different. It is that difference that inspired many different superheroes.
Considering Hollywood in general barely keeps people of color in mind when writing roles, Marvel has been placing people of all backgrounds in their comics. It is about time that a Marvel film reflects that same diversity. While I’d personally love to see a Black Panther and Storm film (bring them back together!), it is clear we are a long way from that in Hollywood, but Michael B. Jordan may be a step in that direction. I do have to wonder, if such an uproar has been made about The Human Torch, what would have happened if Sue Storm had been cast as a black woman in addition to her brother? It is a question Hollywood is obviously too afraid to explore.