5 Popular Excuses For Not Casting Black Superheroes - CineMania - Home Of The B-Movie Fan

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5 Popular Excuses For Not Casting Black Superheroes
By: Mickael
A few weeks ago, I did a horrendous job of exploring Hollywood casting calls and chastising the industry for its racist hiring practices. My overall point was that in any other line of work, it would be seen as unacceptable discrimination to post a “help wanted” ad specifying that any prospective employees had to be of caucasian descent. I also argued that, with the exception of a few characters whose lineage is clearly defined as being a white of European descent, and for whom that distinction heavily steers the character’s storyline, we could recast virtually any film with a broader, more diverse range of actors and the film would not suffer for it. I criticized the whitewashing of films like “Gods Of Egypt”, but also pointed out that iconic characters like Superman (an alien), or Indiana Jones (a college professor), or James Bond (a master spy) could be equally played by whites, blacks, hispanics, latinos, or Asians. It’s clear that film producers, directors, and casting agents are all culpable in the discriminatory hiring practices that leave us with so many white-biased films. And like I said, I did all of this rather poorly and with hams on my fists. Now, I’m going to step right back into the same minefield I failed at the first time and try to sort out why there aren’t more black superheroes in films.
#5: There Aren't Enough Talented Black Actors To Fill The Roles
The first step to having better diversity in superhero films is to find the right talent to cast in the role. I think we have that. Terry Crews, Dwayne Johnson, Idris Elba, Will Smith... you can’t tell me that Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and Andrew Garfield are all more charismatic & talented than their African-American counterparts. Eight years after the financially successful (but critically derided) film Hancock, Will Smith is finally getting his second chance at the superhero genre with his role of Deadshot in the Suicide Squad film. While he’s technically a villain, anyone familiar with the comics recognizes that the Suicide Squad is a role-reversal of sorts, with incarcerated villains temporarily playing the role of anti-heroes. The casting of Smith onto a character that is traditionally portrayed as white is a small step in the right direction, but ultimately still an example of Hollywood “playing it safe”. They’ve merely taken one character in a large ensemble cast and filled the role with an already established superstar.
However, with actors like Djimon Hounsou, Michael B. Jordan, Terry Crews, Omar Epps, Tyrese Gibson, Morris Chestnut, and Michael Jai White roaming the mean streets of Hollywood, there’s really no excuse for not filling all of our summer blockbusters with the kinds of rugged, charming heroes that these guys were clearly born to play. I mean, for fuck’s sake, you’re telling me that Ant-Man, Beast, Angel, and that useless motherfucker BUCKY all had to be white? Okay, maybe I went too far. White people can keep Bucky. The 40s can keep Bucky. The Nazis & Hydra can keep Bucky, for all I fucking care. Let’s do an Avengers: Days Of Future Past where Iron Man goes back in time to December 16th, 1991 and kills Bucky with his own stupid metal arm, just to spare us the hours of torment we all experienced watching that emo-looking bitch.
Validity: FALSE.
There are a dozen well-known, award-winning black actors who could dominate these roles far better than their white contemporaries. Who knows how many more actors of color could be superstars, but aren’t even on our radar because of these despicable hiring practices?!
#4: Changing A Comic Book Character's Ethnicity Alters Their Personality
Another hurdle to overcoming the diversity issue in comic book movies is that the comics themselves aren’t that diverse. It’s frustrating as well that many black superheroes over the years are so identified by their race that they actually have “black” in their names: Black Lightning, Blackwing, Black Eagle, The Black Spider, Black Vulcan, Black Racer, Black Ice, Black Samson, Black Hood II, The Black Musketeers, Black Panther, Black Talon... not many of these characters are likely to score their own solo movie anytime soon. So, to anyone who would use “staying true to the comics” as an argument for why there aren’t more African-American superheroes, I would issue this 2-part rebuttal: 1) A black actor can be cast in any role, as long as they’re talented enough to pull it off. From Spider-Man to Superman, most heroes could be pulled off by an actor of ANY ethnic background, because their ethnicity isn’t a critical piece of their character. 2) Comics actually DO have some decent black characters already. John Stewart is one of the toughest of the Green Lanterns, and would have made a better movie than the relatively boring Hal Jordan version that made it to the big screen with Ryan Reynolds. Cyborg, Firestorm, Mister Terrific, & Luke Cage could all make for interesting on-screen characters, even if they don’t get their own standalone films.
A tertiary aspect of this argument that befuddles me is that, when convenient, Hollywood producers will totally change a character’s race anyway. Originally, Nick Fury was white. In his first film appearance, a 1998 TV movie titled Nick Fury: Agent Of SHIELD, he was portrayed by David Hasselhoff. In 2001, the “Ultimate Avengers” comics introduced a black Nick Fury that was purposely modelled after Samuel L. Jackson, and now we have a cinematic icon. While the comics did lead the way in this particular example of race-shifting, I don’t think anyone could reasonable argue that we should convert back to a white Nick Fury now. Sam Jackson has simply owned the character from his first appearance. Less successfully, Warner Bros. once cast Halle Berry as the typically caucasian Catwoman, but even that wasn’t an original concept. 40 years earlier, the seductive Julie Newmar was replaced as Catwoman on the popular Batman TV series by the striking Eartha Kitt. It was a controversial decision for the time, but Eartha’s portrayal is as fondly remembered as anyone’s. So, when they have a transcendant star on their hands, Hollywood is comfortable overlooking an actor’s race in their quest for the almighty dollar. Otherwise, they’d rather hand the reigns of a popular character over to seemingly any generic white person, for “safe keeping”.

To say that changing a character’s race alters that character irrevocably is to indicate that you believe black people to only have “black experiences” instead of human experiences. The human condition is universal, with people of all race, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds experiencing love, loss, joy, fear, and suffering in very similar ways. You can’t deny a person’s humanity based on the color of their skin. You can’t marginalize people that way.
Validity: FALSE.
Nobody worth impressing gives a fuck about a fictional character's ethnicity. Mix it up.
#3: White Stars Drive More Box Office Than Black Stars
Another common misconception in Hollywood circles is that casting a black lead will diminish your box office returns. Let’s stare this falsehood straight in it’s eyes: the one time you cast Wesley Snipes as a lead in a comic book movie, you ended up with a trilogy that netted you $227.5 million in profits. The one time you cast a then-unknown Michael Jai White in a superhero movie, you grossed $88 million in the fucking 90s, before comic book movies were “hot”. If you find the right marriage of actor and character, as you’ve so patiently pursued for the likes of Robert Downey Jr, Ryan Reynolds, Ben Affleck, and a whole host of other caucasian actors that could have been labelled “box office poison”, then you’ll find that you will achieve the monetary success you desire. It is show business after all. And oh yeah; last year, African-American led films topped the box office for weeks at a time.
Validity: FALSE.
Black actors can drive immense box office numbers, and white actors often bomb at the box office. But by all means, let’s keep giving Taylor Kitsch and Johnny Depp more 200-million dollar epics to sink.
#2: Black Heroes Are Already Well Represented In Film
If you wanna stretch the truth a little bit to argue this point, you might be tempted to include the occasional Sci Fi film that stars superpowered black characters, such as Mario Van Peebles in Solo or Laurence Fishburne’s “Morpheus” in The Matrix trilogy. And if you REALLY want to test the parameters of this article’s conceit, you could include Blaxploitation characters like Shaft or Dolemite in the conversation. But arguing that Blaxploitation films satisfy the audience’s craving for powerful African-American characters is the same as saying that if blacks want to star as superheroes, then they have to resort to creating their own genres. That’s tantamount to gentrification. Why on earth couldn’t we cast a black Gambit, instead of the incredibly dull Taylor Kitsch or the occasionally funny (but often generic) Channing Tatum? Are you going to argue that there isn’t a substantial black culture in the so-called “chocolate city” of New Orleans, where the character supposedly originates? #BlackGambit
You could also say that Men In Black, having been based on a comic book, sort of counts towards the portrayal of African-American heroes in film. However, the Men In Black is clearly a Sci Fi espionage story, more akin to the X-Files than anything resembling superheroes. When you look at it as a whole, over the last 40 years there have been 101 mainstream film adaptations of comic book superheroes; and only 15 black superheroes have appeared among those films. In many of the ensemble films, like The Avengers or X-Men, there are 5 or more white heroes on screen for every 1 black hero. It’s pathetic.
Validity: FALSE.
There is a plainly obvious lack of diversity in film, no where more obvious than in superhero blockbusters.
#1: There Are Plenty Of Movies Coming Out With Black Superheroes, So We've Cured 100% Of All Racism, Okay Guys?
The future is looking bright for African-American superhero films, with Black Panther’s standalone film coming in 2018, Dwayne Johnson starring as Doc Savage in a couple years, and Cyborg’s aforementioned future films. But, as I already stated, of the over 100 superhero films that have already been made (and more being released each year), only 15 starred African-Americans in some sort of prominent role, which shows that there’s still a lot of room for improvement. Really, it’s not about fulfilling a quota of x amount of black characters, x amount of female characters, or x amount of gay characters... what it’s really about is simply creating new stars. Just as sports teams need to draft new rookies each year to allow themselves the opportunity to discover the next superstar, Hollywood needs to be willing to take a risk in its hunt for discovering top talent.
Today’s action stars are aging... Jason Statham is 48. Hugh Jackman is 47. Vin Diesel is 48. What if your favorite NBA team's 3 best players were all pushing 50? Sure, it's worked out so far for the Spurs, but think about what that means for the team's future. Action movies require intense physicality to appear authentic-- and I'm sorry, but injecting Aaron-Taylor Johnson with steroids ain't gonna cut it forever. If Hollywood puts an emphasis on using these big superhero action/sci fi flicks as a feeder system for developing the next generation of diverse action heroes, stars who look and act differently than the homogenous white-guy-who-does-crossfit-and-takes-HGH that we’ve been force fed for the last ten years (sorry, Channing Tatum) then we’ll all be a lot better off and, more importantly, more entertained. My hope is that in 10 years' time, the biggest summer blockbusters will be as inclusive and ethnically diverse as the country that invented the genre. Here's holding out hope that our most creative artists can learn to paint with a more colorful palette.
Validity: WE'LL SEE...
While there are definitely more blockbusters featuring black heroes lately, they're also being relegated into smaller and smaller roles. EVERY single black superhero in the 90s was the star. Now, black heroes are marginalized as sidekicks and cameos. As usual, the biggest of the starring roles for black heroes are the movies that don't exist yet: Black Panther, Cyborg, Doc Savage, and so on... and so on... and so on...
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Oh Yeah, Here's Every Black Superhero In Film History:

Abar, The First Black Superman
1977
Star: Tobar Mayo


The Meteor Man
1993
Star: Robert Townsend


Blankman
1994
Star: Damon Wayans


Spawn
1997
Star: Michael Jai White


Steel
1997
Star: Shaq


Blade Trilogy
1998 - 2004
Star: Wesley Snipes


X-Men Series (Storm)
2000 - 2014
Co-Star: Halle Berry


Catwoman
2004
Star: Halle Berry


Avengers Franchise (Nick Fury)
2008 - Present
Co-Star: Samuel L. Jackson


Hancock
2008
Star: Will Smith


X-Men Origins: Wolverine
(John Wraith)

2009
Cameo: Will.I.Am


Iron Man 2 (Warmachine)
2010
Co-Star: Don Cheadle
Yes, I know that technically the James Rhodes character appeared in 2008’s Iron Man, but he was a third-tier sidekick behind Happy and Pepper, not having any actual ass-kicking duties until Don Cheadle took over the role for the sequel.


Thor (Heimdall)
2011 - 2017
Co-Star: Idris Elba
In Thor, Idris Elba was cast as the guardian of Rainbow Road, the deadliest of all Mario Kart tracks, a role which he handled mightily.


X-Men: First Class (Darwin)
2011
Co-Star: Edi Gathegi
This character is actually a symbol for Hollywood racism. The one and only black mutant in the whole movie is unceremoniously killed.


Captain America: Winter Soldier
(Falcon)
2014
Co-Star: Anthony Mackie


X-Men: Days Of Future Past (Bishop)
2014
Cameo: Omar Sy
Not exactly a starring role for a character that is epic in the comics. I think he may have had 2 lines in this film.


Ant-Man (Falcon again)
2015
Cameo: Anthony Mackie


Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice
(Cyborg)
2016
Cameo: Ray Fisher
Blink, and you'll miss this character's "appearance".


Captain America: Civil War
(Black Panther)
2016
Co-Star: Chadwick Boseman
Also featured Anthony Mackie's "Falcon" and Don Cheadle's "War Machine"


X-Men: Apocalypse (Storm)
2016
Co-Star: Alexandra Shipp
Though she does get a character arc, she is the 14th billed character in the movie. All 13 before her are white.


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