Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Ethnicity in Entertainment
Here’s my view on why this is a problem. When you are translating from one visual medium (comic books) to another visual medium (movies) you should not mess with the visuals. That being said, artistic license is ok, and re-imagining is fine. But at the core, the character has to be recognizable as the same in both.
For instance, there have been many actors to portray Superman. And all of them have been fair-skinned white men with black hair and blue eyes (well, a couple of them didn’t have blue eyes). If one were to cast Denzel Washington as Superman, how would people feel? He could do an amazing acting job, and he could make a great Superman. But he would not be Clark Kent/Kal-El Superman. He would be someone else.
Similarly, Gina Torres could do a wonderful acting job, and could make a great Wonder Woman. But she wouldn’t be Diana Prince. She would be someone else. To try to portray her as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman would be an insult to the fans of the comic book. And, IMHO, that’s who superhero movies are supposed to be made for. Yes, we want them to have a wider appeal. But honestly, is having a black Wonder Woman going to broaden her appeal enough to offset all of the pissed off fans?
All of that being said, there is a sliding scale on this point. The more iconic the character, the more close to the original they should be; the less iconic, the less strict. Case in point, the best part of the Daredevil movie with Ben Affleck was Michael Clark Duncan as the Kingpin. In the comics, the Kingpin is basically a white guy with the build of a sumo wrestler. However, by making him a black guy in the film, they were able to give him a more realistic “criminal rags to riches” background. Let’s face it, street gangs are not populated with white folk. And that’s not a call for social commentary, that’s just a statistical fact. And it worked because, outside of comic book fans, and fans of the 90’s Spiderman cartoon, no one really knows who Kingpin is. Therefore, less iconic character = less strict adherence to the source material.
And even so, the studio got a lot of flak for his casting. It was just that the film had so many other flaws, that that one was pretty minor in the grand scheme.
In my opinion, the bottom line is this: when dealing with iconic characters, either stick to the source material as closely as possible, or re-invent the character to be someone else. So, Gina Torres could make a very good Amazon, but she would have to be someone other than Diana.