Let’s Make Superman A Minority
If you’re going to go after Hollywood whitewashing, challenge the established racial profiles for the most popular superheroes
I’ll get to Superman in a minute. But allow me to first react to Ed Skrein.
Ed Skrein is an English actor who stepped down from a role in the newest Hellboy movie. The role of Major Ben Daimio, whom is Japanese-American in the comics, was given to Skrein and received backlash from the comic purists.
I think the premise of Skrein feeling he must step down from a paycheck because of how a comic book character was written is ridiculous. That being said, if Major Daimio being Japanese-American is important to the overall story, I can understand there being qualms about the casting choice. But focus in on the last two words.
Casting directors make casting choices.
Skrein may well be in a financial position where he can turn down a role, and that’s his choice, a bold one, and one he speaks good intentions of. Skrein is correct that Hollywood is fraught with whitewashing. But if an unknown white actor looking for a breakthrough role got the Daimio part, he shouldn’t be asked to step down. Actors get paid to act. In order to act, you need to be selected for the part. It’s akin to any regular job you may apply for. Would you turn down a great job offer and give it to someone else if you’re deemed most qualified?
It’s a harsh truth that’s not racial from the perspective of those looking to get hired. Skrein wasn’t trying to get a part in Hellboy to take the job away from an Asian actor.
The problem is systemic, as it often is. Systemic problems are frustrating. Racial divisiveness is a systemic problem in America, and whitewashing in Hollywood is an effect of that. The Verge gives examples such as Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell as a recent example. Matt Damon was in a movie called The Great Wall which I feel like speaks for itself. I take no issue with Damon or Johansson in these roles, but rather understand it speaks to how Hollywood views American audiences.
Hollywood wants to produce films that a white American audience can feel comfortable with. The trend currently is white superheroes from the Marvel and DC universes.
Now let’s get to the fun part. Let’s talk about Superman.
I like to think I have a basic understanding about Superman. I’m no comic expert, but I’m fairly 118% certain that the planet Krypton is a fictional planet in deep space that was occupied by an alien race. That alien race happens to be humanoid to the point that they’re really just humans with god-like superpowers.
This alien race also happens to be, by my understanding, predominantly white. Let’s see if Google images supports my claims. I Google the term “Kryptonians”, and here’s what I get.
Some will bode the question, “Why are most superheroes inherently white?”
Let’s use basic logic to answer this question. Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel are the creators of Superman. Both are white American men, Shuster being Canadian-American. As a white man, you are most likely to identify with the issues of your culture. Growing up with a basic understanding of your own culture, its much easier to write a story about people similar to you.
It’s not impossible to write about the opposite gender, or a different race, but if you lack a knowledgable understanding of someone who is different culturally than you, you may fall into the trap of being disingenuous. If I was to write a fictional story like The Outsiders, about a gang of greasers, I’d need to stay true to the roots of what gangs of that era are all about. I may know what greasers are on a stereotypical level, but there may be nuances in the greaser community that I would have to study up on to write about accurately.
Shuster and Siegel created a character in their own image, But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a new take on Superman today.
Superman could be African American, Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern. Pick a race. Clark Kent is an alien. There’s no appropriate lore where Kryptonian’s can only be white people. Kryptonians can be whatever we imagine.
The Green Lantern character has been through several renditions throughout his lifetime. Different names, identities, backstories, and races. And while Green Lantern is a key member of the Justice League cartoon series, he’s been snubbed from the recent JL cast.
Green Lantern is proof that comic book superheroes are a result of how a writer projects onto a character.
I don’t see any logical argument as to why Superman can’t be non-white. That argument would be purely sentimental. Sentimentality is often the cause of arguments more than logic.
Let’s rehash the Idris Elba for James Bond campaign for a moment. As a huge Bond fan, I’m not opposed to Elba in the role, but I understand that most writers would take on Fleming’s origins of Bond being born in Scotland.
Logic plays a factor here, as Trevor Noah pointed out in his recent Netflix comedy special. If Elba was to play Bond, it’d be pretty difficult for Elba to get lost in a crowd. But even still, there’s wiggle room for Elba to be Bond, especially with a 2017 world.
I’d like to single out Superman because he’s the great white American hero, despite coming to America as an illegal alien. In Trump’s America, Superman would be deported. But that’s a different hypothetical satirical article.
I’m trying to be serious, because I fully am confident that if Michael B. Jordan was announced as the next Superman, half (or possibly over half) the American populace would lose its mind.
Too many emotions for one society to balance. I don’t know if white America could handle a non-white Superman.
Gal Gadot is Israeli, and she was received positively, but she’s fair skinned that it’s easier to overlook her background. Without a doubt Gal Gadot was casted as Wonder Woman because she owns the screen and is a talented actress.
11 actors have played Superman. And they all look the same. It’s the Superman that was originally created, updated, but would always remain as the pinnacle of the white American dream. The altruistic superhero who fought against corruption and always for the greater good.
Why does it matter?
If we really want to challenge the idea of whitewashing in Hollywood, let’s see the reaction to Ludi Lin (Power Rangers) or Jay Ellis (Insecure) as Superman.
This logic doesn’t apply just to Superman. Batman is another fictional character hailing from a city that doesn’t exist. Batman could be any number of nationalities.
Now before the torches come out, and who am I kidding, the tiki torches were out before I wrote the headline, casting choices shouldn’t be made just to cast a multicultural actor. I’m also not advocating that Lin or Ellis are actual choices I would make for a major DC superhero character, because as fans, we look at casting choices mostly on the surface.
Does Ben Affleck look the part of the Batman we’re used to? That’s how Twitter casts its actors.
My point of contention is, complaining about Skrein being cast in a supporting role of a cult comic hit is not going to stop whitewashing in Hollywood. If we want to start a real discussion, let’s re-evaluate how we see the top tier superheroes.
Superman, Batman, Iron Man, Captain America, Spider-man, Thor, The Hulk. It’s too late in the game now to change actors in the already established “universes” that DC and Marvel have created. But in a world of reboots, we could be 5 years from the next Spider-man reboot, just saying.
Cavill won’t be Superman forever. Maybe Downey Jr. will die in an Iron Man suit, so he’ll be the exception.
A parting thought I can’t put a definite answer to is, “Do superheroes transcend race?” They shouldn’t right? Does their racial background matter whether they’re a space alien or if they grew up on the streets of Detroit?
Racial backgrounds can determine certain prejudices you may experience in society, and superheroes are always trying to mesh as humans in society. I remember when I was young watching an episode of Static Shock that tackled this exact concept. I think my struggle to answer that question is because a superhero’s race only matters if they AREN’T white.
I believe we’ll really see that theory put to the test with the Black Panther film.