Picture this — you’re a fourteen year old kid. You have a PS4, a PS3, a PS2 and all of the dumb XBOXes. You have dozens of toys — more than you could use. Just literally covered in toys. Picture it? How would you react if someone wanted those toys for charity?
Would you whine? Would you scream and insist their not anyone but yours? Or would you realize, “Hey, maybe I have more than enough toys?” If you’re a Marvel fanboy, not the second one!
There’s a lot of twitter about Michael B Fucking Awesome in Chronicle Jordan playing Johnny Storm. Something which people have been complaining about since it was just a rumor. Some people are asking questions like, “How can Johnny be black and his sister be white? How come Johnny can be black and Storm can’t be white?” There are a lot of simple answers to these questions.
Storm can’t be white because she is black: it’s a part of her character because that’s how comic book characters were written for a long, long time — if you want characters to be black, it has to be a part of their character so that your boss can’t make you change it. There are exceptions to this — Robbie Robertson could be white in an adaptation without it changing his character much, if at all. (There’s problems with changing even him though but I’lll deal with that in a minute.) But how could you change Storm into a white girl without making it weird and problematic. There are a lot of other black characters that are brought up in exchanges like this — Power Fist (or, Luke Cage), Falcon (the first black superhero without “black” being part of his name), Black Panther* — and these issues apply to a lot of them. Their blackness is part of their character, informs their entire history and in some comics even affects how they deal with situations.
Let’s look at this from another perspective — one that is, I hope illuminating. What would happen if you changed Reed Richards to a black man? The audience figures for the first weekend of your movie would decline rapidly because audiences still think of main black actors as creating another genre — Black People Movie. But aside from that, what would change about his history? How does him being white profoundly affect him? Does he have some weird part of his history I missed where he, in his youth, was a skinhead? Was he involved in the Troubles (and no I’m not saying that black men weren’t; I’m saying I think, from my admitted limited understanding, that being black during the Troubles would change how you were affected by them)? Is his Father a Nazi? What is there about him that makes his whiteness important to his character? Aside from the fact that people who don’t want his race/ethnicity to change are scared of anyone darker than Snooki? There’s not a goddamn thing that means he has to be white. I’d argue that of the big superheroes in both DC and Marvel only one needs to be white and that’s Batman — only because I believe he needs to be the most privileged asshole on the planet. And hell, even that’s just my subjective opinion. There’s no need for any of these white boys to be white.
Okay, now before we move on to what I’d like to dub the Robbie Robertson problem, let’s deal with Johnny and Sue. ARE YOU FUCKING MENTAL ASSHOLES!? It’s 2014, fucking deal with it. Interracial marriages, a step-mom and a dad, adoption. For fuck’s sake people, are we kidding here? Gay marriage is becoming a thing, get over interracial families now. Okay?!
So no reason for Johnny to be white. And there is a reason for Storm to be black. But what about Robbie?
As I alluded to earlier Robbie’s character’s race, pretty much has nothing to do with his character. In the comics there are a few — no more than a handful — of issues that do deal with the color of his skin. So why not Robbie being white? What’s the big deal?
Well, let’s go back to the kid I had you think about above — the one with the toys, XBOXes, stuffed animals, a whole other room to store his Gundams and all that. Got him in mind?
Now let’s flip it. Think of a kid who lives with his two sisters and his uncle — all of them in one room. His parents and his baby bro live in the other room. He has a few animals, most of them broken and/or hand me downs. Now think if someone offers him a toy… but every time they do a handful of people scream at him for accepting charity… or when he goes to school the other kids are nasty and tell him that that was their toy first and their parents made them give it away. Think of this kid, okay? This is his life.
Now how would he feel if someone asked him to give some of his toys away… and not to other, less fortunate kids — but back to those fucking assholes who are nasty pricks to him? How would he feel? How would you feel?
Why doesn’t it matter when you turn white characters into black characters? Because if you look at comic book characters, you’ll see the overwhelming majority of them are white. The ones that are black were either heavily stereotyped and are just now becoming not or were so badly written that they’ve just fallen by the wayside.
Can you name one black superhero who had a movie? Blade. But no one even knew he was a goddamn superhero! There’s Falcoln in Captain America: Holy Shit It’s Going to be the Best Marvel Movie Ever but even he (and Scarlet Widow) are going to be playing second fiddle to two white boys. Who else you got? Avengers could be called White Boys the Movie. It’s ridiculous.
I get it doesn’t matter for the kids, or in this case white privileged fan boys complaining. They don’t understand. Why are you taking their toys away from them? Well, because there are other kids who don’t have any toys.
Changing characters who are white into characters who are black is the exact same as donating some of your toys to help the less fortunate. I’m not saying it should be the norm. Hell, no, I think the norm should be an equal amount of “minority”*** superheroes to white superheroes.
Sharing is a good thing to do — whether it’s clothes, food, toys or in this case superheroes.
Kids need role models that look like them — that reflect their life. That they can see themselves in. Miles Morales is a godsend. Luke Cage is the best. A Black Widow*** movie would be the best thing Marvel’s done since Iron Man. Don’t even get me started on the idea of a fucking Luke Cage/Jessica Jones movie. I will write nothing but the letters “A” and “H” for five hours and end it with a novel-length amount of exclamation points.****
Kids need someone to look up to as well. So, come on guys, learn to share.
* Seriously? Black Panther? I can’t even with you white boys. C’mon now.
** Minority. Please. White people are barely the majority in America. And even so the amount of comic book superheroes who are white to any other race is fucking pathetic. Thank Christ for fucking Brian Michael Bendis making Luke Cage the hero of New Avengers and showing how fucking cool a minority Spider-Man could be. (And no, you don’t get credit writer of Spider-Man 2099. No one even liked that comic. [To those who did: shusssssssssh. No one CARES, guys, NO ONE CARES. Warren Ellis even said that he could do whatever he wanted with Doom 2099 because no one at Marvel cared, which is how we got a minority Spider-Man in the first place.])
*** I don’t think she should count as much though because A. she doesn’t have superpowers; B. she was introduced as an almost third-tier character in the worst Marvel movie ever made. And because fuck yes, I want a goddamn Carol Danvers movie. I want a fucking Captain Marvel movie.
**** There’s an entire paragraph worth of talking to do about gay superheroes — especially uncliched ones in actual normal relationships such as the one that Apollo and the Midnighter are in in the Authority. I want that to be a movie for so many reasons. It would possibly be the best superhero movie ever made. It’s already possibly the best superhero team comic ever made. I want to write about it so badly but I’m not going to be because it is my goddamn dream to make it a movie myself so ha!! keeping it to myself!
***** This has no connection to the article but I wanted to write that Captain Jack being in Doctor Who, to me, was a godsend. Before him, the only bisexual male on television was the Todd from Scrubs. And while a great show, he was not a great role model. But even him, even having that, helped.