AFRICANGLOBE – The art of film has always been a powerful tool in shaping the minds of people. Magnifying an image hundreds of times larger than its actual size creates a power play for dominance in both the conscious and subconscious. Once under its spell those images are emblazoned onto the subconscious mind of the viewer and are repeated hundreds if not thousands of times. This further entrenches the message that the filmmaker intended all along.
Recently Zoe Saldana (Drumline, Avatar, Colombiana) came to the defense of fellow actor Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station, That Awkward Moment) who has come under scrutiny from the legion of internet trolls who have taken issue with his portrayal of Johnny Storm, Human Torch in the upcoming blockbuster remake of Fantastic Four. The movie is based on the Marvel comic book superheroes that make up the Fantastic Four. In it Johnny Storm is blue eyed with blond hair and, you guessed it, white.
Michael B. Jordan is Black.
The outrage coming from fans of this yet unreleased movie is isolated to the fact that a Black man is portraying a white character (who happens to be fictional…let’s not forget that). From comments directly insulting his blackness to the more passive aggressive ones that seek to hide behind their whiney, hipster I’m-not-racist vitriol, they all pretty much sound the same. One particularly astute comment stated that “the only reason he got the role was because the President is Black” (I guess we can thank the President for the slew of movies with Black leading characters.)
For sake of historical accuracy The Fantastic Four was first introduced by Stan Lee back in 1961. In this country it had not been more than seven years earlier when Brown vs. The Board of Education had just made segregation in public schools illegal. It would be 4 more years before the Voting Rights Bill would pass, 7 more years before any form of a restrictive housing covenant was deemed illegal, and 6 years before interracial marriage was legal in
all 50 states.
The world that welcomed the Fantastic Four was white and undeniably male. This was the same world that, cinematically, would portray Cleopatra as a blue-eyed Anglo Saxon (Elizabeth Taylor) and Othello as an Englishman in black face (Laurence Olivier). Then, like now, there was no attention given to historical accuracy or to cultural sensitivities.
And that same overt disdain for documented and peer reviewed historical fact is still at play today, churning out cinematic portrayals of people of color portrayed by white actors. Christian Bale playing Moses, Sigourney Weaver playing Ramses’ mother and Ben Kingsley playing Ramses (all the while the distinctly Nubian cast members were relegated to supporting roles) shows an almost diabolical disdain for historical facts when it comes down to whites playing non-white roles.
But it’s the Black man portraying a fictional comic book character that is unforgivable. Never mind the fact that the creator of the comic book character agreed with his casting. Oh no, let them all eat cake. Johnny Storm is white and to dare have him portrayed as something other than that is an affront to the true fans of the series.
Or so the narrative goes.
What this clearly shows is the dichotomy between being normative in a white world versus being normative in a Black world. And while many white critics point to hip hop as being the Black version of white exclusivity, that’s patently untrue. The hip hop movement began in the early 70’s in New York by youth who were displaced by the power structure and left to fend for themselves. It was never exclusive and has always welcomed people from a multitude of ethnic backgrounds to participate. The only requirements have always been the same; style, authenticity and transparency.
Those sentiments don’t seem to be the same outside of our community.
The world today has changed from the way it was in 1961, and rightfully so. Those characters have, indeed, undergone the same transformation as society has. Poetic license can more easily be applied to fiction rather than reality. What the weak minded often do is fall back to their version of normal. The very existence of anger that wouldn’t exist had the actor been white shows that colorism is both alive and well in the minds of people whose normative behavior promotes exclusivity.
By: Steven Robinson