Cycles change. Patterns change. Throughout time, all things change. As history treks on, devices change, people change; even norms change. The longer Hollywood prevailed, the more Blacks began to get their fair share; or what they were offered, in the film/tv world. With present day in view and hopes of the future, the media climax changes for the better as racial representation slowly, and I do stress, slowly, begins to reflect a more accurate view of America.
The ever changing entertainment wheel had finally delivered Black Panther to audiences with record breaking results. It’s the Marvel superhero film the world didn’t know it needed. With Black Excellence both in front and behind the camera, it has erupted into the 10th highest grossing movie of all time (as of April 2018). There are many factors that add up to a successful film; specifically, in Black Panther, the story was a definite standout factor.
The philosophical argument behind Erik Killmonger’s dangerous goal of utilizing Wakanda’s technology and weapons for his own revenge against the world in the name of his father and his people; Black faces from the past, present, and future versus T’Challa’s goal of keeping his father’s kingdom in order as best he can, which includes; protecting Wakanda, its resources, and its people from the world. Hidden from those not worthy of its existence. Despite the state of life outside of Wakanda. The connection to real life becomes clear: Malcolm X and his radical approach of equivalent exchange of white oppressors through the Black Panthers (and other methods) versus Martin Luther King Jr and his non-violent practices/call to action. Through this particular analysis, one can find it hard to find an unwavering stance. Personally, I found myself rooting for both Killmonger and T’Challa at various points. Those more rigid in their morals/ethics would have had an easier time rooting for their player. With so many ways to adapt a comic book, it was refreshing to have a different introduction to a new hero outside of a standard origin story.
Blacks are now becoming the center of live action superhero adaptations just as they have been in comic books for years. Netflix’s Luke Cage, focuses on the title character trying to change his city for the better after acquiring powers during a prison stint; which led him to be nearly indestructible with extremely dense skin and muscle tissue, superhuman strength and stamina. To an even greater mote of the character, he eventually is romantically involved with Jessica Jones, a gifted human as well. The cast largely features an all black cast and is one of the more popular shows among subscribers. Luke Cage was a shoo in for the planned adaptation of The Defenders, which features Cage teaming up with other heroes to combat a most heinous plan.
CW’s Black Lightning is yet another example of a comic book adaptation that centers around a Black family. Jefferson Pierce is Black Lightning, after discovering his ability to control and generate electricity. Through years of donning the costume, he gives up the task to be family man with an honest wage but is forced to rejoin the heroic fold as his kids begin to get involved in the machinations of the city; one wanting to be a hero on her own, the other, a bright mind, is recruited by a gang. Having just wrapped its first season, Black Lightning has accumulated its own faithful audience. Luke Cage and Black Lightning are important milestones considering the history. From starting out being pushed far away from the camera, Blacks now rise in the creative bubble as well as starring in all formats of media.
Unfortunately, Blacks can only get so much shine. When it comes to the same comic book adaptations I was praising, people (fanboys looking at you) get very touchy when any version of that world is different from what they have been accustomed to seeing or what they imagine. This is perfectly highlighted when 20th Century Fox decided to reboot Fantastic Four in 2015. What stood out wasn’t so much the choice to go with a young cast to play the team (though to some, it was worth noting); it was the radical, and arguably plausible, casting of Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm, aka “The Human Torch”. Susan Storm’s brother in the comics will now be Black with the origin story modified to him being an adopted sibling instead of a blood relative. As news got out, what developed can best be described as acts of true societal digression. Jordan and the coming project were wrongly torched before it debuted. Prejudging something based on face value, where have we heard that before?
Fast forward years later, the CW continues its trendy controversial casting within their comic book adaptations by casting Candace Patton as Iris West in The Flash. She was mentioned in part 1 of “You Are What You See…” but here she’s brought up again due to the reception from the public. Like Michael B. Jordan, Candace Patton was largely flamed by the same fan base she was trying to entertain. The Flash was a hit from the beginning, regardless of public outcry over a more diverse cast in a superhero world. CW didn’t stop there, seasons later, news broke that a major character in The Flash comics, Wally West, would be a Black role. Enter Keiynan Lonsdale, what soon followed, a public lynching of sorts as venomous verbiage somehow one upped Fantastic Four’s drama. I refuse to highlight any specific comments or criticism from any of these flair ups. Those inclined, feel free to check the local Google for quick answers. America has a huge issue with Blacks playing roles “meant for a white person”. It’s truly ironic as Hollywood has problems of its own when it comes to casting diversity.
The beauty of a film/tv adaptation of any form is taking the story and expanding on certain ideas and plots. The most important (and effective) feature of an adaptation is the casting. Taking a popular art piece and adapting it to a visual medium where the right individuals can bring it to life and do it justice is quite an achievement when it comes to adaptations. The strength in an American film adaptation would ideally be all races and backgrounds filling the world of an imagined space. As America easily represents the most eclectic mix of people, however, what Hollywood chooses to deliver is a far departure. Time and time again, adaptations are skewed in favor of an all white cast (whitewashing) which will usually sour the same audience Hollywood tries to entertain.
Fist of the North Star, Street Fighter, Edge of Tomorrow (based on: All You Need is Kill), Speed Racer, Dragonball Evolution, Ghost in the Shell are all but a few in a long list of Hollywood adaptations that largely suffer from the same problem: whitewash casting. Takes a special group of people to tear down a black actor or actress for being cast in a diverse adaptation of a comic yet is content with white wash casting in an adaptation of an anime or foreign project. A simple google search of the American work and the source material greatly underlines this problem. Further analysis will show overt disrespect to the audience with film adaptations of Ghost in the Shell and Dragonball Evolution. Fans of the source materials were treated with perplexing, and mostly, borderline offensive storytelling in addition to lazy casting.when longtime supporters watch an adapted work, they have an idea of what to expect from the story and a look of what/how the characters should be. For Hollywood to try and throw a white face an a watered down, confusing story at the people after (what takes years of) clamoring for a live action adaptation is truly sad. Studios clearly bank on the weight of the project generating revenue rather than putting out a good story in the name of the project and respect to the fans. If we want true representation and diversity in our projects, we must kill Hollywood’s obsession with whitewash casting AND kill comic book fanboys’ strange focus of literal racial transference from comic book superheroes that were long created before they were born to reflect a time they never knew. To not do so only cements the idea of creative hypocrisy.
America, Hollywood, people, all have come a long way from deeply unpopular roots to the diverse mix the USA now broadcasts. The predecessors have set the standard in every way but that doesn’t mean the culture can’t change. From background. To fodder, to the sidekick, to lead and superhero; Blacks remain in Hollywood’s scope with no signs of regression despite objections from social media. What is being missed now for Blacks is a fair chance at executing the roles they’ve earned as opposed to the blind burning in a public forum. That goes double for simple adaptations of complex source material of cherished works. The best actor and actresses should be getting the roles regardless of race or any other factor(s); though an Utopia we are not.