Oh, what? He isn’t? Are you sure? I mean. He’s black. That means, like, Sue has to be black, right? She doesn’t? Johnny or Sue could be adopted? Or they could be children of different mothers or fathers or maybe they’re interracial or something? But I thought if you’re half black and half white you just look almost white? That’s not true? Really? Well, the original Johnny was a white guy, so he has to stay white. What about Idris Elba? Oh, yeah, he was cool in Thor? The original character wasn’t a black guy? Oh, well, then that’s OK because he’s not a major character. Besides, this doesn’t have anything to do about race. I know I keep talking about it. But just because I talk about race doesn’t mean what we’re talking about is actually about race, even if the only reason we’re talking about it is because a black guy might be the Human Torch. It’s just not about race, OK?
That pretty much sums up the stupidity you’ll find online about the rumor of Michael B. Jordan’s (of Chronicle fame) possible casting as the Human Torch in the reboot of The Fantastic Four.
Cracked.com has a brilliant take-down here. Read the comments on the first link at your own risk (I’ll post some gems below).
Let’s call this for what it is: soft racism. For example, here is this amazing quote from The Wrap (linked in the previous paragraph):
This is a horrible idea. Johnny Storm is an iconic Marvel character, a blonde, blue-eyed, party boy daredevil. He’s not a second string character, he’s a principal team member of one of Marvel’s flagship series. As a long-time comic book collector, it would completely distract from any story to change Johnny’s ethnicity. (It was bad enough that Jessica Alba was such an awful, awful blonde). Johnny once dated a Skrull – an African American could play her, or She-Hulk is an ancillary FF character – her ethnicity could be changed with little distraction, even Ben Grimm would be less distracting as another commenter suggested, although that would raise the question of whether Ben would stay Jewish (there are far less Jews in Marvel Comics than African Americans). But Johnny Storm? Comic book fans take “canon” very seriously, and this idea just smells like disaster.
Translation: Johnny Storm was white in the comics, and if you made him black, we’d all get distracted because he’s black; if you’re going to have black people in this, let them play aliens or green rage monsters who are secondary to the plot, but don’t you dare put a black guy as a main character, because I’ll just be so distracted by…black guys.
Clearly, none of this has anything to do with race, am I right? If you’re distracted by black people, you’re not distracted because they’re black; you’re distracted because they…are…look at the beautiful sunset! There are a lot of people arguing variations of this type. The irony is that in throwing a hissy fit over this topic, these commenters have inadvertently punched themselves in the face. It’s not possible to wiggle out of a soft racism charge when your main argument is “black people are distracting when they are in my movies about white people.”
Some, however, have taken a different strategy, such as this fellow over at IGN:
The whole “defined by whiteness” arguement is stupid (by that same standard many black heroes should easily be recast as white as they’re not “defined by blackness”), the guy is wrong for the role plain and simple, it’s about race because that’s where he’s wrong for the role…if he was a 300 pound white guy that could nail Torch’s personality exactly, he’d still be wrong for the role. Rather than taking the time to proper cast the movie the guy is trying to go with an associate wrong for the role, it doesn’t matter how good he can act, Johnny Storm is white, and people are looking for proper adaptations for things of this sort…try creating or utilizing the existing black super heroes if it’s that important rather than lazily shoehorning bad choices for the sake of it.
i.e., even though the Human Torch is not defined by his whiteness, he can’t be played by a black guy because he’s not black. If you can see the circles going around and around here, you deserve a pat on the back.
The irony with statements like these is that they often not only refute themselves, but they also fall for the typical anti-racist-is-code-for-anti-white rhetoric that assumes that because you can’t do the same thing to other races, it is just as racist to do it to white people. Let’s set aside the fact that changing the Human Torch’s race isn’t really an insult to white people (after all, it’s not like we don’t have a shitload of white superheroes in film already *coughWolverineCaptainAmericaCyclopsProfXBatmanGreenLanternOnAndOnAndOncough*). What is alarming about arguments like this is the bizarre amnesia to which their proponents have succumbed. Not to beat a dead horse, but racism is alive and well in this country. This is why I find historical amnesia on this subject disturbing, since it allows people of any race to make arguments that are counterproductive and, in some cases, damaging. The two positions are not equal: casting a white guy as Luke Cage is not the same as casting a black guy as the Human Torch. There is no history of white people being denied entry based on their race (especially in American comics). Isolated cases may exist, but one cannot rationally argue that whites are discriminated against at the same level as blacks (today and in the past — see here) — it’s an absurd claim.
None of this is new to the world of film adaptations, though. We saw something similar when Idris Elba was cast as Heimdall. Not surprisingly, when the film came and went, it didn’t seem to have that much of an impact on, well, anything. Are people still throwing a hissy fit about it? Not really. It turned out that casting a black guy for a role previously written as white really didn’t matter (and let’s admit: Elba was pretty awesome as Heimdall). If Michael B. Jordan is officially cast as the Human Torch, I doubt anyone but the fervently racist will really care. The only difference, of course, is that the Human Torch is a larger role than Heimdall, which has some people in a tizzy — hence the “just cast some black folks as secondary characters” argument.
There are also comments like this:
honestly I am not racist..but I am a die hard fan of the fantatisc four..and I dont want them to just cast a black guy because…of whatever reason.its like they are not even trying at this point. He was white for petes sake ..if this is real i am not watching it
The infamous “I’m not a racist, but…” phrase. I suppose the historical absence of black superheroes in the classic Marvel canon has remained unknown to this author. There are a lot of them in terms of gross numbers, but most of them have remained relatively obscure (or firmly as secondary characters). Few can name many black superheroes who have been around since the Silver Age who have the same staying power as the Fantastic Four. Luke Cage and the Black Panther are about it (and you’ll never get a movie about the latter because of the name)(please correct me if I’m wrong about this). I don’t actually know why there are so few black superheroes who have the same “fame” as the Fantastic Four or the Avengers or X-Men. Maybe we need something along those lines one of these days…
Of course, I’m sure this person also doesn’t know that another always-has-been-white character was fairly recently replaced by a black guy. Also, a latino. Both in alternate Marvel universes (Ultimates and 2099 respectively). Somehow, those changes didn’t destroy Marvel forever!
However, I think the more humorous comments fall in the “you can’t change things” category, such as:
Make a movie for actual black characters from the comic books. The background is already there why change it up. A Luke Cage and a Black Panther movie and a Storm movie I would watch. Changing Nick Furry (sic) black actually made him better but making Johnny Storm Black well then you have to make Sue Storm black as well and honestly I wouldn’t watch it if you paid me.
Of course, this individual is oblivious to the myriad of ways that Sue and Johnny could be different races (adoption, different mothers/fathers, or, you know, maybe Sue ends up mixed race and the entire universe collapses). The commenter even makes the amusing argument that it was OK for Nick Fury to end up black, but you can’t blackify Johnny because…err…Mr. Angry Comment just won’t pay to see it. In other words, he’ll pay to see black characters if they are secondary to the narrative OR if we are talking about imaginary film adaptations, but if you screw with a major character, well, no money for you.
But what is truly amusing about this is this individual’s profound ignorance about the Marvel universe. Marvel has already changed characters. Most famously, and not without controversy, they completely rebooted a sea of characters when they created the Ultimates imprint — they changed background stories, updated the settings, and so on (and, yes, switched some characters’ races). There are numerous instances in the Marvel universe where alternate worlds have come into existence, characters have been completely rewritten, and so on and so forth. The Marvel universe is called a multiverse for a reason: it’s full of pocket universes, external realities, and so on. Ultimates literally occurs in a different continuity — a different “universe,” if you will. And since the film universe is already completely different from the comics, it is no less ridiculous to change Nick Fury’s character than it is to change the Human Torch’s (or Heimdall’s, for that matter). These film incarnations of the classic heroes are not the same heroes from your comics. They aren’t even the same heroes from the updated Ultimates line. They’re not the same heroes from any of the other side universes either (except, perhaps, the Marvel Now universe, though I haven’t read my Iron Man comics yet, so I can’t say whether this is true or not). They are completely different versions of our favorite heroes, and even more so now that Columbia has rebooted Spider-man and, now, The Fantastic Four.
Lastly, I think the only thing that really matters is whether Michael B. Jordan can perform the role well. Having seen his work in Chronicles, I think there’s potential. Whether he will have the same cocky attitude as Chris Evans in the first two Fantastic Four movies, I cannot say (assuming that’s what we’re looking for, here). But I can say that all of this hubbub about how wrong it is to have a black guy as the Human Torch has made me realize that I really shouldn’t care if Idris Elba becomes the next 007. Anyone who has heard me argue against Elba’s casting in that franchise can officially toss out everything I said as nonsense. If Idris Elba brings something to the table as a possible future Bond, then let him have a stab at it. And that means we should all support him for no other reason than whether you think he, as an actor, can play the role. Who cares if James Bond has always been a white guy? Not me. Not anymore.
(Idealistic Shaun for the win.)