Is changing the race or gender of an established comic book character a good idea?

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Comic book movies and television shows have been powering moreso through Hollywood in the past 10 years. We’re at an age where we can just look at a popular comic book and we’ll immediately see their characters on the screen. Both Marvel and DC have created a lot of memorable and iconic characters throughout the decades and they’re still utilizing a majority of them today. However, there is a new trend that’s occurring for some of our beloved characters and that’s racial and gender bending of these famous characters.

Now let me start by saying that I’m not against Marvel or DC changing the race or gender of their characters, because it’s their property they’ve created and they can do what they want with them. The question I have for them is this: Is it necessary to change them for the movie screens? Some have said that the characters NEED to change in order to gain “superhero diversity” because let’s face it, a lot of the characters are usually male Anglo-Saxons or “white”.

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In order to achieve a better comic book driven future, we definitely need to understand its past. When Batman, Superman, Captain America, and the Fantastic Four were created, it was during a time in American history where the audience they were targeting were young male white Americans. This was not purposefully being racially or gender exclusive, but that was just the mindset of society at the time. Creating a racially or gender different hero during this period wasn’t something that was going to grab the audience’s attention during the 1930s and 1940s; with the exception of Wonder Woman who was made to balance out Superman. It wasn’t until the 1960s, which was a socially turbulent time in America, where we finally got a black hero by the name of Black Panther and additional heroines like Batgirl.

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I don’t want to sit and bore you with history and social studies, but ever since that period in America’s history, there have been new black heroes and new female heroes added to the rosters. So I ask the question again, is it necessary to change the race or gender of these original iconic characters as they are adapted to the movie screen? Now don’t bite my head off, but personally speaking, I believe the answer is no. Or at least, they shouldn’t have to.

Comic books are art, and art imitates life. In our modern society today, we’re at another cultural and social revolution where we now have abundantly more black and female superheroes because we want them there; compared to the early days where they were pretty much non-existent. This is because our society has been outspoken to the point that we can have comic book movies with awesome black heroes like Blade kicking vampire ass all over the place alongside with Storm, who’s both black and a female, controlling the elements and causing doom to any anti-mutant evil-doers. Because these characters were originally created and garnered their own popularity through time, they’ve attained a large following and are characters to admire by their readers; targeting all audiences of color and gender.

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One of the main elephant(s) in the room that I’m going to talk about right now (since there are too many) is Johnny Storm, aka The Human Torch, starring Michael B. Jordan. We all know Johnny Storm originally is a white male. In the comics he’s still a white male, but for some reason on-screen he’s now black. I understand that the director, Josh Trank, wanted this reboot of the Fantastic Four completely different from its predecessors. However, changing the race of a long time iconic character to shock and awe people into watching a movie isn’t the best direction to go; at least that’s what I believe. This change caused an explosion on the internet, and Josh Trank knew it would and this is why he was silent about it. Whether that was a smart marketing choice or not, we’ll find out in July when the movie comes out.

Trank’s decision lead to many, many arguments on social media threads and articles where people were called “racists” for complaining about it. Some of those statements were true because I, myself, saw extremely racist comments that were uncalled for. For myself, I was against this change because it breaks the historical legacy of the character. Mr. Jordan will probably do a great job at portraying the Human Torch and that’s completely fine; however, some people might still call me racist because I’m against him being cast as Johnny Storm, and that’s not true. Put all your extreme emotions to the side for now and let me ask you to get off your soap box for a moment and answer me this: If they cast a white actor to play Blade, would we still hear the same kind of support for that change or would that be reviled? What if Tom Hanks was suddenly cast as Black Panther, that would be okay right? Or if Jean Grey were suddenly cast as an Asian man, that would be completely great too, right? Truthfully? Probably not.

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What I’m trying to get at is that you don’t need to change the characters race or gender to make people watch your movies or buy your comic books. What can work for everyone is re-introducing more of the other diverse heroes in their roster and making them more accessible to the public eye. Not only will this be good for the characters themselves, it will only increase interest for these other heroes that Marvel and DC haven’t fully properly explored. If the character’s changes are something that’s happening through the comic book storyline, ala female Thor, then that’s fine. Just don’t suddenly decide to make Barry Allen, aka The Flash, into a Somalian midget because you think it will garner sales or movie views.

That’s just my two cents. Feel free to sound off below on what you think about this movement.

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Alger Alama
Alger Alama 327 posts

Highly sociable and having been entrenched in Nerd\Geekdom since he was a kid, Alger has seen it all. During his spare time he loves to go out clubbing, sing karaoke, and attend parties. This Nerd is no wallflower. He'll always greet you with a warm smile and a drink in hand.