Tuesday, January 21, 2014
The Racial Face of Film
This post will discuss the authenticity of movie material converted from pop culture literature and thus, delve into the often touchy, but unnecessarily so, subject of race. People tend to get defensive and put their guard up when the subject of race surfaces which, to me, is ridiculous. Clearly we are of one race (human) with many ethnicities and cultural diversity. To always hinge on this fact is pointless, but that said, there are instances when it needs to be discussed and I think film is one of them.
If you are not familiar with my other blog, The Boxed Office, then please treat yourself to an awesome site. Every character I’m about to discuss has appeared in films exclusively discussed there (that is to say that blog is specific in genre). The reason I’m discussing it is because it seems to be a hot button issue with many fans and I’ve not seen anyone anywhere really lay the cards on the table and express what the beef is all about.
Now, I’m familiar with those hardcore fans that want complete authenticity when it comes to converting comics to film, and wish Hollywood would do a better job of attaining it when casting decisions are made for certain characters. I’m one of them…sometimes. However, because I’ve also not seen a single character come to the silver screen unaltered in any way from the original material, I’ve become accustomed to looking the other way and accepting what I’m being fed. I’m not saying this is the right way to be because clearly in many instances, it’s not. Each of us must choose when, and if, we are going to accept such circumstances.
The latest buzz to get the race card pulled is Jamie Foxx as Electro. Yes, Maxwell Dillon is a white man, in both the mainstream and Ultimates Marvel Universe. In fact, most characters at their time of inception in comics were white. To stick with the material means the actors portraying them should also be white. I can understand this reasoning, especially if wanting authenticity with the original material. What I don’t get is the visceral reaction, especially when a character is changed from white to black.
Kudos to Hollywood for knowing how to get the buzz going and get a rise out of people…for ticket sales. Shame on us (the public) for not realizing the game. I’m not a particular fan of Electro, so it doesn’t really bother me. However, as a fan of Wilson Fisk (The Kingpin), I had an issue with him being changed to a black man (RIP Michael Clarke Duncan). My preference has nothing to do with any personal racial bias (I’m a black man not wanting to see another black man play the Kingpin), but from a love of the character I’ve been reading for years.
Now, anybody can use that argument to justify their outrage at Hollywood’s racial changes, but I find it hard to believe there were so many with deep character affection for such minor characters as Perry White (played by Lawrence Fishburne) or Heimdall (played by Idris Elba). If being absolutely true to the source material were the goal of moviemakers, aside from some extras scattered about, everyone in the cast of Thor would have been white…as I have yet to see a single black Asgardian in the comics. I wouldn’t have had issue with that, but Elba did do an excellent job in both films…just saying.
There are two instances where I am staunch in my opinion on ethnic authenticity. One still ended up being an great performance, and the other…not so much. Khan Noonian Singh, the uberman from Star Trek, classically portrayed by Ricardo Montalban is one of my all-time favorite fictional characters. Benedict Cumberbach did a wonderful job as Khan…classic in his own rite. But with all the good Indian actors inundating Bollywood, I very much wanted (and still want) to see Khan finally played by the ethnicity as written. I understand why it couldn’t be done in the 1960’s, but there’s no excuse today.
There’s no excuse for Johnny Depp’s ridiculous portrayal of Tonto in the Lone Ranger. I know there are capable Native American actors available, but Hollywood, true to form, likes to go with name recognition for sales. Didn’t work so well that time. Now they say the Lone Ranger is based off a black man…go figure.
I really can’t speak on anyone’s reasons but my own for wanting to see the material strictly adhered to, in those rare instances that I do. What I see though seems to be Hollywood trying to cash in with their version of playing the race card, and those of us still harboring racial tension using their play as an outlet for venting. No matter where you stand on the issue, it appears further discussion is still warranted. Here is your invitation.