Changing Face: Diversity & Change in Comic Books and Superhero Movies

Published 4 years ago by , Updated February 15th, 2014 at 8:47 pm,

Spiderman Peter Parker Miles Morales Changing Face: Diversity & Change in Comic Books and Superhero Movies

One would think that lovers of comic books and superheroes would be open to the idea of diversity. After all, if you’re open to the idea of mutants, super-powered aliens, genetically-altered humans, mythological figures, and intergalactic cops wielding power rings, one would think that race wouldn’t be all that big of a deal.

However, as times change, and the face of comic books and the superheroes chronicled therein change with these diverse times, it seems there is a still a serious debate raging between those who label themselves “traditionalists,” resistant to the idea of certain changes being made to superheroes, and those who stand ready to embrace the new opportunities of  superheroes re-imagined for modern times. Of course, as always, there are also those standing patiently in the middle ground, holding off on taking sides until they see how the creators actually handle these new spins on familiar icons.

If you’re not familiar with the issue, we’re talking primarily (but not exclusively) about race/ethnicity and how it relates to the creative liberties that are being taken with certain comic book characters, or characters featured in comic book movies. In the last year alone, there have been issues with the casting of Idris Elba as a Norse God in Thor; the social media fight that erupted when Community actor Donald Glover claimed he wanted to portray a black version of Spider-Man; the casting of Laurence Fishburne as the traditionally-white Perry White in the Superman reboot, Man of Steel; and maybe biggest of all, the decision by Marvel Comics change Spider-Man into a half-black/half-latino character in their upcoming reboot of the Ultimate Spider-Man comic book.

I’ll let the Interwebs continue to argue over each of these individual topics – but having paid attention to most of the discourse that has taken place over the issue of character changes in comic books and superhero movies, I do have a perspective to share:

Like anything else, there are rules to this kind of thing. As is the reality of so much in life, these rules are subjective, and malleable, and change with the context of the situations to which they are being applied. They are not rigid, and do not allow for the ease of absolutism (that corrupt mindstate of The Sith). And, just like our infamous post on the rules for movie remakes and reboots, I will now lay down some guidelines for changing a comic book character or icon.

1. What is Essential To The Character?

The Kingpin Daredevil comic book Michael Clarke Duncan Changing Face: Diversity & Change in Comic Books and Superhero Movies

This is the first question that should always, always, be asked. Is Peter Parker’s race essential to his character? Let’s see: A bright but wimpy kid from Queens, NY who has a broken family structure (no parents), and is considered an outsider, gets bitten by a radioactive spider and at first uses the power as a cash hustle. His uncle dies violently as a result of the kid’s indifference about right and wrong, making the kid want to clean up the streets and be a force for good.

Are we really saying that this story, in modern times, can’t be about a minority character?

The usual counter-argument you get here is that other races would feel snubbed if their iconic characters were suddenly “race-switched.” One person commenting on the Fishburne/Perry White casting claimed that blacks would be upset if, say, Shaft or Apollo Creed were both re-cast as white characters in modern remakes of Shaft or Rocky – the same way Perry White or The Kingpin were recast as black men in Man of Steel and Daredevil, respectively. I don’t know if that was an intentional easy pitch – but hey, I’m happy to swing at it:

Shaft and Apollo Creed Changing Face: Diversity & Change in Comic Books and Superhero Movies

Do Apollo and Shaft have to be black?

Shaft is a character who is predominately defined by his race. The themes of the character have to do with the fact that he is a black man looking out for his people and community (hence the Shaft theme song). Apollo Creed is much the same – the whole point of that character was that little Italian Rocky was taking on a big black bruiser like Apollo – race had a lot to do with the undercurrent themes of that character. The Kingpin and Perry White, by contrast, are in no way, shape, or form, defined by their race – they are both defined by their attitudes and behaviors. They could conceivably be played by anyone, of any nationality, so long as the themes and natures of the characters didn’t change.

I’d be more worried if Perry White were portrayed as a sensitive mother-hen type in the next Superman movie. Even if the actor was white, an Emo Perry White would dishonor the essential “character” of the character. So long as Fishburne plays Perry White as a gruff father-figure type, his skin color shouldn’t matter. Same goes for Michael Clarke Duncan playing the Kingpin – if he portrays the character as big, smart, and ruthless, he’s pretty much The Kingpin.

Idris Elba Thor Heimdall Changing Face: Diversity & Change in Comic Books and Superhero Movies

Idris Elba as a Norse god?

To be fair, Idris Elba playing Heimdall in Thor is a much more sensible objection, given that the character is based on a figure of Norse mythology (which tends to be filled with pretty much fair-skinned individuals). Still, it was Marvel that re-constituted Thor and his Asgardian brethren as aliens from another realm who were mistaken as gods by primitive Earthlings; but even then, when you think about it, Norse people painting a black man in their myth books would’ve warranted some serious scientific study.

Ultimately though, many people walked away from Thor with nothing but praise for the nobility and stature Elba brought to Heimdall – even if the casting was pushing the line of diversity quotas a bit too far. The actor picked for the part had the chops to make the part memorable – so nothing was really lost, only gained. The filmmakers pushed the line, yes, but stayed on the right side of it in the end. If anything, they expanded the noble essence of Heimdall in ways the comics haven’t been able to achieve: how many more people like the character now that he’s connected with Elba?

Changing Times…

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  1. Good article Kofi. Touchy subject that needs to be discussed in a civil manner. Enjoyable read.

    • I’m with you, Paul. A good read, indeed. But will those individuals who most need to “get it” truly understand it? Or will they just dig in their heels and hold on even tighter to their racial prejudices and, further perpetuating the racial status quo in America? Minority individuals and groups have been making similar arguments for decades, for centuries, and yet we as a country still have a ways to go. I often use Hollywood as a litmus test on America’s racial awareness and racial ignorance, and many people still cling to old, racist ideas and notions of white supremacy. Not all may be as blatant, but they’re still finding ways to hide it or disguise it and still push it forth.

  2. I think the motivation of the comic book companies is also a factor in how turned off or not turned off I am. If it stinks of “politically correct” activism with no real addition to the depth of the character, I’m not really impressed.

    • why it got to be “politically correct” look when its black actors play white character everyone loses their mind but when its white actors play asian and black characters its alright?

      • Well for the record I never said anything about which race is switched. Either way, if it’s just done because they want to come across as PC, I’m against it. I’d say it’s just the way things are that the trend for these kind of PC switches is white to something else, not the other way around. I don’t control reality so I can’t really speak to that point.

        • what about Asian or Black characters changed to be white. it has happen alot of time i.e.

          Spawn film had D.B. Sweeney a white actor playing Terry Fitzgerald a black comic character in the Spawn comics.

          Goku in Dragonball is conside as the Japanese version of Superman and Monkey King been play by a white actor not a Asian-American actor.

          what about the up and coming Akira movie Kaneda and Tetsuo will be played by white actors.

          heres another one The Weapon comic about a boy named Tommy Zhou A third generation Chinese American superhero. well Hollywood want to make a movie about The Weapon but the person who has been rumored to be casted is Disney Channel star David Henrie, who is Italian American, to star as the Chinese-American character.

          • Ok I have to say it, you assume too much…we have all agreed that main characters should not be changed while secondary characters are open game…the spawn debate is irrelevant…

            I seem to recall people being roayally upset about the Dragon Ball Evolution movie, and guess what? it bombed…Akira is on the back burner because guess what? no one, i repeat NO ONE wants to see white actors portraying asian icons…when the remakes of Jacki Chan fims start coming out with white actors, then give me this debate…

            Not familiar with the weapon, but keep in mind rumors are just rumors…doesnt mean it is happening and doesnt mean the studio will do it…that being said it is disney…so I would say that rumor could be true…

            • We have NOT all agreed to only secondary characters being fair game. You REALLY should not be so presumptuous…by that, I mean WRONG.

            • why Spawn debate irrelevant its the same thing.

              also what about Angelina Jolie as Fox in the film Wanted. Fox in the comic is actually a black woman not a white women.

  3. I agree that race should not be an issue, but if it is a change that can offer a different dimension to the character, isn’t race being used on purpose? For example, if they picked Laurence Fishburne BECAUSE he was black and wanted the character taken from a black man-I find that to be an issue. If an actor is chosen because he can add a different flavor to the character, despite his/her race (or race of the character), then I am all for it. I believe Iris Elba was chosen for Heimdall because as an actor he brought a lot to the table, not because he is black.
    Now I will have to say that I find your comments about a black Captain America to be a little offense. You make it seem like a black man in the 40’s can’t have American ideals. While civil rights were (and still are) an issue then, it is entirely possible for a black man to be chosen for something like that. To say only your average white guy is acceptable is slightly racist.<—you should check out the comics for The Blue Marvel for this.
    I just would like actors to be chosen for their abilities and not their race.

    • I think people underestimate the Cap situation:

      I think there is a sector of the African-American community that would see a black Cap touting how great America is as a slightly “Uncle Tom” type character.

      • i can understand that…i think some people may tend to forget that a white character’s race can have a lot to do with who they are and what they become as well.
        I mean, my experiences growing up as a mixed kid *father was black, mom was white* but seeming all Caucasian are very different from say a Hispanic child of the same age.
        People are beautifully different, and those beautiful differences shape all of our stories in one way or another

      • Ok, I agree that it is a complicated issue. But there could be more to it. Instead of claiming “how great America is” it could be more about his struggles, physicality and race. It could show that even though he was the greatest soldier, he was still viewed as a lower class citizen because of his race. <—it would offer a different dimension to the character. The "Uncle Tom" reference threw me for a minute though. I understand that he would be (in a way) subservient, but maybe it could be from his country and NOT his white comrades. …again, see The Blue Marvel for a comparison.

      • their is a Black Captain America in Marvel comics he go by Isaiah Bradley

        • Technically he wasn’t Captain America, since he was imbued with the re-created Super Soldier Formula, and Cap had been in existence almost a year prior (comic book time). He never even took up the mantle if Captain America, he was sometimes referred to as the “Black Captain America”.

          • he still is Black Cap America doesnt matter how long

  4. Beautifully written, and I agree 100% with the points that you brought up

  5. Very nice work man, very well thought out.
    I think there being a real REASON for the change makes all the difference.

  6. I’m a proponent in keeping characters as they were initially written/drawn. I think that there is a severe lack of quality minority characters in comics, but it can be easily remedied by adding more diverse writers. The preeminent black characters in Marvel seem to all have been created by white creative teams. So while I can appreciate their inclusion into the Marvel-verse, I feel like some minority characters CREATED by minority writers might go a long way. Just my thoughts on it.

    • YAY! ^

    • Amen, sir.

  7. Granted I know next to nothing about comics but isn’t there a black captain america? Isiah Bradley, according to google.

    I agree completely past that.

    also Donald Glover should have been Spiderman, that would have been awesome

  8. I am open to diversity. But not changing the heroes race. We will never see a White Panther or a white Blade. All I ask is that they create characters that are black rather then steal them from white characters, and then the media acts like anyone that’s a against that is a racist.

    • what about the spiderman change???? its along the lines of the green lantern mantel. Spidermans race didn’t CHANGE. the role was simply taken over by another person of another race??

    • yes their is a White Black Panther Steve Rogers wore the Black Panther costume in the Ultimate comics. also Kasper Cole a New Yorker who is biracial Jewish/African-American character took the role of Black Panther in the comes. so for your info it has happen to Black Panther.

      • I want to see them do that in 616. I don’t read Ultimate’s.

        • Kasper Cole Jewish/African-American character did become Black Panther in the 616

          • I’m sorry but we all know half black is not a big stretch. In most case’s Being half something is ignored. I’m 6 different nationalities.

            • Kaspor Cole in the comics does not look black but more white thats why his nickname is Kaspor cause of his skin colour.

              Kaspor Cole look like actor Wentworth Miller who is half Black/White but alot of people eyes he is a white actor actually most of his roles making him a white person.

    • @Norman, your mention of a “White Panther” makes it seem like you didn’t read Kofi’s piece in full.
      He spends a portion explicitly discussing how, for certain characters, the race or ethnicity is relevant, and thus certain characters are race-specific. Panther is a race-specific character.

  9. My main issue with having established characters redone as minorities is that it is, in my opinion, a cheap way to get minorities into comics. It’s a gimic. Why not create characters that are interesting enough to carry a title on their own? If you create interesting, compelling, and well thought out characters, it won’t matter what race, sex, sexual orientation, or whatever else they are, the comics will sell. Right now, all I think when they replace a known character with a minority, is why are they messing with a character I love just to sell comics?

    I did like the John Stewart Green Lantern though. Not sure why, but he just appealed to me.

    • Spider-Man mantle always has been taken over by someone else thats a fact.

      Miguel O’Hara aka Spider-Man 2099 took the role of Spider-Man in his time and he is half Irish and Mexican no one did not cry its PC and etc.

    • ^THIS^

      I think you’ve nailed it. If the character is established it’s doing them a disservice to change a significant part of who they are. I am an advocate of better NEW characters as opposed to the gimmicky idea of switching races. John Stewart as Green Lantern makes sense, since Green Lantern is a mantle that can be picked up by others. Miguel Morales as Spidey doesn’t bother me either. It would be bothersome if Hal Jordan or Peter Parker were retconned to be black. I guess what I’m saying is give a character their due as opposed to trying to change them into something else.

      • ok, I dont disagree with anything youve said really, but heres my point:
        Green lantern is part of a corps, its a police force, its totally logical for other to use that title for themselves as the name doesnt refer to any one specific person, but an entire gorup. captain america or batman are symbols, and both mantles where taken up by thier trusted friends whom they worked side by side with for decades, its a logical story progression. miguel ohara of spiderman 2099 is the spiderman of the future, its set far in the future where superheroes no longer exist and a new person taking up the role is logical and different. the new ultimate spiderman on the other hand.. he was brought in to REPLACE a character whose current persona is directly connected to the identity of peter parker. hes not a ‘future’ take take on spiderman like miguel ohar or terry mcguinness’s batman beyond. Miles morales is just a replacement using the name spiderman now that peter has died (for only a few WEEKS mind you ) and he has no sidekick connection to peter or anything, they arent even aware of each other. it just screams gimmick and a poor one at that. if they wanted to introduce a new spider type person who was biracial, why not just call him ultimate scarlet spider or something new entirely? dont kill a beloved character to make room for other to be more ‘fair’. i actually like the idea of perry white being lawrence fishburne, he has the attitude needed to portray the character in film and very much enjoyed idris elba as thor. not liking something in terms of these types of stories doesnt alway mean its a racial issue. peter parker is modern day spiderman to me. hes not replaceable and doesnt need changing. whew. ok im done now.

        • they have not confirmed anything about the Miles Morales conccetion to Peter Parker. also Spider-Man mantle has been taken over by many other people

          – Gerry Drew
          – Ben Reilly
          – Dr. Max Borne
          – Pavitr Prabhakar from Spider-Man: India comic book
          – Hobbie Brown aka The Prowler who is African-American also wore Spider-Man costume

          • Miles was never a supporting character and has never been shown interacting with peter previously is what im saying here, in contrast to bucky and grayson having known cap and batman respectively. as far as all these other people who wore the suit i have one response, did those stories do well? no, they did not.

          • THANK YOU for the reminder about the Indian Spider-Man…I could not, for the life of me, remember his exact name for my comment on a later page. He WAS Peter parker, just the Indian version of him.

  10. I think things should just be left as they are. Political correctness gone rampant. If you wish to represent “minority” races, then create new characters, don’t pander to the liberals.

    • Terry, since when are corporations who answer to share holders “pandering to liberals”. Do you really think it is about pandering or is it about profit motives and expanding market share? Being in business for 15 years I never knew one corporation that intentionaly chose to lose profit and shareholder value to “pander to liberals”.

    • Diversity is a liberal concept only? lol, oh dear

      • It’s both amusing and frustrating how people keep on talking about how Hollywood studios and other entertainment companies are liberal. They’re all driven by conservative ideals. I have no idea where the myth that the media is liberal came from. Perhaps it came from conservatives who want to keep the racist status quo alive — the same racist status quo that relegated minorities to only the lowliest of roles, or no roles at all. Simply repeating the same thing over and over doesn’t make it any more true. I could repeat “I’m 7 feet tall” over and over again, but it won’t make it true. Hollywood is not liberal. They see certain markets, and if they think there’s money to be made, they’ll tap into it. Hollywood, as an institution, is just as racist historically as just about every group or corporation that has existed in America’s past. And sometimes they need to be pushed because racist ideology does run deep in American institutions.

        Hollywood and other media corporations are all about making money. They won’t do anything unless they think there’s money to be made. The half black, half Latino Spider-Man would not have been created if Marvel didn’t think money could be made.

        Hollywood still has a ways to go in terms of truly open and honest casting. If Hollywood were truly liberal, why would the studios keep on seeking whites only to play Asian characters? It’s because they’re not liberal and still cling to the belief that, overall, whites do not want to see Asian-American actors in movies. Hollywood is not only whitewashing Asian fictional characters, but historical ones as well. Even if an Asian character is race-specific, Hollywood is still seeking only white actors to play them.

        • So conservatives are racist?

        • Hiro,

          If you think Hollywood is conservative at its core you are living on another planet. It’s extremely liberal, by admission of those in the industry and conservatives who work in Hollywood have to keep their opinions to themselves if they want to work in the industry.


  11. A fantastic article. I agree with everything you say 100%.

    However, I could see someone argue about whether or not the opposite was true. What about a situation where a white actor is playing a comic book character who is black? Certain characters certainly would not work since their race is a significant element of the character (such as Black Panther or Falcon). But what about a character like Blade or Bishop or Captain Marvel (Monica Rambeau)? The race of those characters are really not a significant element to their characters. What would have happened if they had cast a white actor to play Blade in the films or to play Jim Rhodes in the Iron Man films? I am sure there would have been outrage even though both of those characters could just as easily be played by a white actor as a black actor. Is there a double standard here?

    • well white actors been play every single Asian character roles in Hollywood. instead of casting a Asian-American actors they cast a White actor instead. i believe thats a bigger issue IMO

      • Good point Mace. Remember Bruce Lee was supposed to play David Carridins character in Kung Fu.

      • The problem is you are talking about 40 YEARS ago. That doesn’t happen today and they have a large number of Asian actors to play racially correct roles.

        • what are u talking about it doesnt happen now are u crazy.

          – 21 (2008 film) is based on Asian-American MIT students instead of casting Asian-American they casted white actors in the lead roles.
          – The Last Airbender had the whole casting call outrage.
          – Dragonball movie they casted a white actor for Goku instead of Asian-American.
          – Akira
          – King Of Fighter film

          and many others. all have white actors playing Asian characters on film

        • @Mongoose, it sure does happen today. Hollywood’s been holding casting calls for roles that explicitly express their desire to have whites only to play Asian characters.

          There’s also an upcoming Hollywood movie about Genghis Khan, the Mongolian leader, and guess who’s playing him? Mickey Rourke. Also in The Weapon, white actor David Henrie is to play the lead character, Tommy Zhou.

          And, in addition, how many times do you see movies that are supposed to be about other countries, other cultures, races and ethnicities, and the movies are made utterly preposterous by forcing in a white character, so the lead is white? It makes such movies seem more like a fantasy than anything remotely realistic. Hollywood is also making yet another “yakuza” movie, but with a white character who becomes one of the yakuza. That type of movie has been made many many times, and it’s being made again.

          And then there’s that 47 Ronin movie, with Keanu Reeves as the lead actor. While, yes, Reeves is part Asian, he’s long identified himself as a white person, and he doesn’t look very Asian either. But that’s not even so much the issue as that he’s going to be surrounded by high-caliber Japanese talent, yet they’re all going to play second fiddle to him, when any one of them could easily play the lead, and are far better actors than he is.

          Also, I should bring up the TV show Firefly, and its movie Serenity. Both actors playing the Tam siblings are white. Summer Glau may look as if she’s part Asian, but she’s not. It’s a David Carradine in Kung Fu thing all over again.

          • I forgot to mention the recent movie “Extraordinary Measures,” which starred Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser.

            The movie is based on the real-life story of a doctor named Yuan-Tsong Chen, who developed a cure for Pompe disease. But when it came to making a movie, they turned him into a white doctor named Robert Stonehill, who was played by Ford.

    • What about if Angelina Jolie had played Storm instead of Halle Berry? People would have gone nuts over that.

  12. That was a surprisingly well written and thoughtful article. A few points.

    1) I think a commentor above made the point about the “white washing” of traditional ethinic movies in the remakes. For example, Dragon Ball and the up coming Akira remake. These tend to have much less outrage than when it occurs in reverse.

    2) Traditionalism in comic books. Often I don’t think it is so much about changing the race, but changing the character and canon. For example, see how often fanboys re-act negatively to comic book movies changing the structure of the story line, history, or characters of the comic book for the movie. I have a friend who WILL NOT see X-Men 1st Class because of deviations from the original story.

    3) So with that in mind, I don’t think most folks would generally have a problem with Superman being Black if Superman was always Black. But that then leaves us with a few options. Because many of our iconic superheroes were created in a time when there wasn’t diversity in the comic industry we either say A) We should look at changing the flavor of the characters to reflect modern diversity (which is different than political correctness) B) We should stay with status quo comic ethnicities or C) We should create new characters more reflective of modern diversity.

    4) An finally one thing NOT touched on in the article is the possibility that the comic book industry is trying to expand its base into the future. Remember, America is fast becoming a minority majority country. Whites are expected to be under 50% of the total population within the next few decades. It could and probably is somewhat a strategic plan to ensure future profit by appealing to new demographics.

    Good article!

  13. Nice posting. Excellent.

    I agree with your point on Cap’t America… it does add an element that could change the character.

    MOST of the time, if you capture the essence of the character, that SHOULD be good enough (see Jackman’s Wolverine… not short or stocky, but still is acceptable).

    I do think comic books should change over time. It isn’t odd, it happens ALL THE TIME. We’ve had several Wonder Womans, Blue Bettles, Firestorms, etc… Change happens. Changing characters happens… people just pick and choose which ones they decide to be upset about…

    As a black male, I happy to see the change. While I completely understand the traditionalist – I too LOVE the old characters – I ALWAYS wondered why black heroes were limited… There were a handful…

    In an odd way, it feels good to see diversity.

    Also, to your first point, changing a character from a minority to a white person happens ALL THE TIME (see the films “21” “Last Airbender” “Prince of Persia” “World Trade Center” Just to name a few)! As a matter of fact, when it does happen, it is usually dismissed. I’ve even heard folks go as far as saying it SHOULD be switched to appeal to a larger audience; as if white people will ONLY watch other white people on the screen. So the “what if” question is invalid. It is already happening and it is defended.

      • “The Last Airbender” is pretty much a pefect example of when non-whites are changed to whites on film for no good reason. True, it is never stated in the cartoon series that the characters are Asian, but it obviously heavily influenced by Asian culture, and based on Anime which is traditionaly a Asian style of animation. The characters write using Chinese characters and there clothes are obviulsy Asian in design.

        It was expected that actors with Asian ethnicities would be cast for the majority of the roles in that movie. When it comes to “The Last Airbender”, you cant even argue that the actors were chosen for there superior acting abilities. Rathbourne was clearly picked for his “Twilight” connection, and that kid who played Aang? Forget him. It’s also worth noting that people of colour were cast for major roles in this movie. The bad guys.

        When you take a movie like this and fill it with White people, Hollywood looses the right to be upset when Perry White is played by Laurence Fishbourne.

        • Ummm, people in Hollywood are NOT upset about Laurence Fishburne playing Perry White. It’s the ridiculous number of posters on various websites who are (for some very silly reasons, IMO) upset.

      • If the Avatar: Last Airbender world isn’t Asian per se, then the Lord of the Rings (and any medieval-based fantasy) world isn’t European at its core. Both such arguments are preposterous.

  14. Great article Kofi!!!
    In the 21st century, the world has become more mixed, more tolerant and more open than ever. It means that our species have evolved. The new generation growing up is being raised in a different world than were our grand fathers, our fathers and even ourselves. We have evolved as a race by learning to accept each other`s differences so we can put everyone`s ability for the greater good. we should be proud of ourselves for where we have come from and honestly, going that route, the future feels much better for our kid. Hey!, the rainbow would not be so beautiful if it was one color.
    `There comes a time when time itself is ready for a change`
    `The only thing that is constant is change`
    if you cannot evolved, the world will leave you behind. :)

    My kid is being raised in

  15. Last question…

    Would Superman, Cap’t America, Batman, Spider-Man, etc… be as big and popular if they were always African American?

    I’m not convinced.

  16. Here is one I want to toss out just for fun. The “ethnic group” with the most individuals in the world are from some type of Asian background, yet how many Asian superheroes are there? Logic says that if you are going to be a mutant, git bit by a spider, get provided a super-ring, get chosen by a god that the odds of you being Asian would by much hire than white, hispanic or Black.

    Just a thought.

    • Not in North America where these comics are set…. Your comment is neither here nor there.

  17. Wow, great read!

    Honestly, it just depends on how it is done. Writing is a transparent art. Motives are easily seen, and that is what makes it so easy to love great writing and hate poor writing. In the case of the new Spidey, it flows with the original story. You have a new character, a role model for young kids regardless of their race, just like the Peter Parker was, and It comes off as a good move. In the case of the Michael Clarke Duncan playing Wilson Fisk, you have a blatant race pander by the studio, and the character was so poorly written, it was a disgrace within a disgraceful effort of a film. (I personally love most of Mr. Duncan’s characters, so don’t go their people.) So it just depends on the motives of the writers, and where the story goes.

  18. As a Black American who read comics for most of the 80’s and 90’s it was always in the back of our minds how few minorities were in comics overall. I was never a reader of DC comics probably for that very reason and most of the Marvel books I read like X-Men, Power-Man and Iron Fist, etc. had more diverse casts. One reason I think Marvel kind of had to acknowledge these matters was that they based the majority of their books in New York City and the ethnic make-up is not the same as Smallville, which is clearly a 50’s Midwest Utopia devoid of color.

    At this point the changes being made to established characters seems to go hand in hand with the fact that the companies “re-boot” everything every few years to cycle in new fans (and probably lose old ones) and that they have a need to sell their product to a wider audience since one group clearly isn’t holding the whole business up at this point. The movie angle is also an issue since as of late some movies have been doing better in foreign markets and the whole American white-wash formula might not play well in some markets at all.

    At this point though it comes down to allot of comic book writers being white and the business not ever being very diverse behind the scenes. Having known people in the business in one form or fashion the fact is there has been few people with varied enough backgrounds to even broach the subject in the past. The underlining fear is probably that a new character might not sell so it’s a hard road to create new ones that gain fans. The short-cut they are taking of trying to change established characters to mitigate an long standing practice might not go over well with some and might not gain the readers they want at this point. It’s just too bad that nobody can create interesting characters of any background with some depth that they feel strongly enough about to champion.

  19. It all depends on the character.

    A Black spiderman… debatable.

    But Captain America, a comic book character that comes right out of world war 2. It just wouldn’t make sense to make him black really.

    • why wouldnt make sense black people was fighting in the WW2. plus their is a black Captain America Isaiah Bradley

      • Isaiah Bradley, thats the name I was thinking of when a black cap was mentioned… but steve rogers is white and in that time period it would make sense that a white person was used for promoting the war and not a black person (not racist, just recalling history)… black superman? ild love to see how thats done, but if its like hancock i may not like it at all…

        some characters should be kept the way they are like black panther, luke cage, storm and colloses who are african and russian… and thats what make the character so good and unique…

        although, someone that lives in a pretend country (lets not include black panther for a second) like dr doom, where the country could very well be 90% asian or black or whatever else just as easily as white… they (doom) could be something other then white…

        its a shame that there are not as many minority superheros in the mainstream… most of them are white… hopefully they make a power man and a black panther movie and they will be more mainstream… hell, iron man was (kinda) underground untill that 1st movie, then it came out and he was awesome… i think that if black panther had the same treatment, he would also have his own video game and toy line…

        • exactly. its the 1940’s good luck finding a black guy to advertise the war. It wouldn’t make sense in that part of history.

          • dont be silly did u watch Cap America film they did not follow the history like everyone knows. they had black and white soldier working with each other. so having a black Captain America is not hard at all.

    • none of it makes sense. this is all to please a small crowd of people who think they are doing the right thing.

    • agreed with ya

    • Read Captian America “TRUTH”.

  20. I’m tearing myself apart about this whole race thing. In comics, not movies. Like Kofi said, if the guy can play the character how he’s supposed to be played, then more power to him.

    I comics though, ugh . . .

    Sure I try to be all for embracing change and whatnot, but I just don’t agree makiong Spidey a “blatino”. I hope I’m not sounding racist or anything, but it’s just not something I actually imagined happening. Furthermore, does the last section of this article really make any sense to these writers, or are they just trying to seem visionary and bold with a *gasp* black Spider-Man? The way I see it, the people who go for this stuff and debate about how it’s good are no better than the “racists” who knock it and talk about how it’s bad. Should race even be ackowledgable? Should we even be making issues about all this?

    The way I see, Brian Micheal Bendis (gifted as he is) and all the other writers behind such changes are equally to blame for this controversy as the people who make it controversy. All I really want to know is WHY? Why do they even think to do this? We *do* have guys like Black Panther and Luke Cage and Falcon, why are we trying to alter the race and such of familiar (in this case too familiar) characters?

    I dunno. Maybe I’m just ranting about stuff I don’t know what I’m talking about. Maybe I am just a racist.

    • I don’t think you need to be a racist to say why not leave a traditional chracter alone, although it’s been said that black or ethic characters just don’t sell (albiet that was about 15 to 20 years ago,) certainly I didn’t believe it then nor do I believe it now especially when things in our world makes more closely related each day some folks are still clinging to the old ways witrh a Kungfu grip, it still comes down to story telling, there are thousands of diverse characters out there that know one is ever going to hear about, strictly because how saturated the market is with these same old characters, hence the need for all the reboots to generate a contemporary, when what is really needed in all these industries, is the ability to see and develop something new altogether.

        • Same here!

    • I kinda agree with you, (and I don’t think your racist BTW)

      I do have some opinions of my own I’d like to share though:
      I’m all for change, but I do think there is a line that has to be drawn somewhere…
      For instance, if Peter Parker can’t fulfill his role as Spider-Man anymore (for whatever reason: death, injury, vacation) and a new guy has to step in… I see no reason why the guy can’t be black or Asian or etc. it’s completely fine! But, if they suddenly decide to make PERTER PARKER a black guy (i.e. change the iconic character that’s been around for over 70 years…) that (IMO) is a little insulting. Stan Lee built that character out of nothing, he made him a specific way and I think he (Perter Parker) should be honored and respected the way he was created.

      Concerning Heimdal: I think we can all agree there was quite a bit of controversy concerning Elba playing the role of a NORSE GOD. I was one of those guys who said “Don’t be so judgmental, give him a chance” – and look what happened: HE WAS GREAT! Elba was the highlight of the movie for me (with the exception of Loki), but looking back, I can see why some people didn’t like the idea and now I’m thinking Marvel got lucky with that specific casting decision and if they try something like that again, I think it could very well backfire (don’t ask me why, it’s very hard to explain – it’s very hard to understand myself).
      Let’s look at it this way: if they were to make a Luke Cage movie now and they decided to cast a white guy as the leading man… who would welcome that idea? Not me, that’s for sure. It’s because Luke Cage is an ICON… Luke Cage is Luke Cage and trying to change that isn’t a very good idea… sweet christmas, it isn’t a good idea! Now that I think about it… the reason Heimdal’s “racial change” in the movie didn’t backfire was because he wasn’t a very BIG character… it wasn’t really that big-a-deal, am I right?

      So in short (for those who didn’t bother to read the whole thing ;)): an iconic character (like Spidey/Peter Parker or Luke Cage) shouldn’t be changed… but if that super-hero is being replaced (like when Tony Stark got ill and Rodey donned the Iron Man armor), then I’m fine with it.

      There is a line (one that’s very hard to explain) and I don’t think it should be crossed.

      • I agree 100% with you Joker’s Wild and The Avenger.

          • I just hope tehy didn’t kill off Peter to make way for Miles. . .

      • There! That’s what I was trying to say!!!

        Not that I’m taking credit for your words or anything. . .

  21. I want characters to be represented based on how they were conceived. That is not racism. I am tired of minorities trying to play the oppression game when things are not split straight down the line 50/50. Not all people are black. Not all people are white. The same goes for comic characters. Yes our country has changed a lot since comics came out but that is no reason to change key characters that were created during that time. The article mentions Shaft and Apollo Creed. Those characters should always be black. So should Black Panther, Blade, Luke Cage, Bishop, and so many others. Keep the characters true to their creator. Comics have changed “color” over the years and that is for the better. But to change iconic characters over this issue is not necessary and should not be considered by anyone as an insult. History is history. We are meant to learn from it. Not repeat it. My point is look ahead and quit trying to change characters from out past. It helps nothing.

    • Well said, Alpine. I agree 100%.

    • Dude… that was VERY, VERY WELL SAID. I applaud you!

      Keep the characters true to their creators.

      Couldn’t agree more!

    • @Alpine, but the problem is we as a people are not learning from history. And Hollywood, for one, is practicing many of the same racist things it was doing decades ago. For example, studios are still casting white actors to play Asian characters. They may not be throwing on buck teeth and slanty-eye prosthetics, but it’s just a modern-day version of yellowface. I won’t start getting into politics, but I’ll just say that it’s not just Hollywood that still perpetuates the racist status quo.

      We still need to look back in order to move ahead. Again, the mistakes of the past are unfortunately being repeated today.

  22. Yea notice how the characters they changed in movies( not spiderman) are NOT the main character. Black/Hispanic spider-man = not good. How do you just kill off the main character like that?

  23. I agree with Kofi on all points here. The overwhelming percentage of white males in comics is so one-sided that it almost seems inevidetable that this would happen but it’s mainly because most of the artists that created these characters were white males themselves. As said before, the characters of color within comics were and still mostly are either stereotypical, corny, sidekick types, or carbon copies of white superheroes. What needs to be done is the creation of NEW iconic characters of color. I agree that some of these characters are so middle ground that race would neither matter or even be MORE significant if they were another race all together. If SuperMan was a black man dealing with racism, just imagine how deeper that story would’ve or could’ve been. A whole new generation of diverse heroes is needed not necessarily turning white super heros into black ones all of the time.

  24. I have no issues with the changing of a character’s race if the character is still the same person inside. i.e. Nick Fury let’s face it the character is a badass who’s the biggest badass in hollywood right now? Sam Jackson. He had BMF engraved on his lightsabre in Star Wars for goodness sake.
    Balck Spidey, ok I can go with that. I agree that a black Captain A Not so much

  25. u did not mention Colin McFarlane a black British actor who played a white comic book character Gillian B. Loeb in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight

    how comes this article is mostly about Black actors playing white characters.

    how comes their is no mention of White actors playing Black, Latino and Asian characters from the comics.

    Spawn film had D.B. Sweeney a white actor playing Terry Fitzgerald a black comic character in the Spawn comics. also in the Spawn comics Jim Downing a new character who is white took over as the new Spawn.

    Tom Hardy a white actor playing Bane a Latino comic book character in The Dark Knigth Rises

    • Good call on Loeb, mace. I’m surprised only WallyWest has mentioned Tim Burton casting Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent in Batman (if anyone else has I’ve missed it). As I understood it back then the thinking was to try and explore Williams’s subsequent descent into becoming Two-Face from a black/white perspective of race as well as morality versus madness. How successful that might have been in Burton’s “hyper” take on the Batman universe is debatable, but it could have been VERY interesting. The tertiary villain role in Batman Returns ended up going to Christopher Walken, and Schumacher and the producers (including Burton) went with – and wasted – Tommy Lee Jones in Batman Forever. One of those intriguing what-ifs.

      Great thought-provoking article btw, Kofi.

      • Although McFarlane’s Loeb is really more like the guy who succeeded Gordon for a while in the comics (can’t remember his name).

      • @ The Big Dentist

        I read that when Tim Burton was still attached as director that he only intended to have one villain in Batman Forever which would be the Riddler & would of had him like the cartoon version as seen in Batman:TAS. Two-Face was added by Schumacher & WB as they wanted a 2nd villain in the film. Thats what i read it as.

  26. I think changing a character to suit “the times” is fine. Changing a character to promote a political agenda is unnecessary and divisive (eg – Superman’s citizenship). But, when it comes to changing race it kind of seems obtuse to only change them from black to white.

    Apologies: Have not had time to read whole article, so my comments are based on skimming.

    Also, why not just make more culturally diverse characters rather than changing existing superheroes? Spawn is the first person that comes to mind. I know he’s been around for a long time, but he was VERY popular, unique and very well done. And honestly, I never even considered his race. I just took him him for who he was.

    I think race is becoming an antiquated debate. But others may feel it’s still very relevant given their life experiences.

    /end my 2 cents

    • But racism still exists, and minorities are still on the short end of the stick. Simply ignoring it won’t make it go away. Some of us can’t simply ignore. It would be nice to be able to make that choice, just sweep it under the rug, but the only people who can do that are those are members of the majority.
      Ignoring that there’s whitewashing of Asian characters in Hollywood movies won’t make that practice go away. In fact, it will make it more prevalent. Hollywood keeps on doing because they think (and they’re made right) that white people and those who aren’t Asian don’t care.
      So, what happens? Asian-Americans can’t get roles in Hollywood movies playing Asian characters. And Hollywood studios often say, Well, there are no famous Asian-American actors. Well, why is that? It’s just an endless cycle, perpetuated by Hollywood. They’re always pushing and pushing the next big white actor, but always making excuses as to why they won’t give Asian-American actors a chance.

  27. I don’t think you need to be a racist to say why not leave a traditional chracter alone, although it’s been said that black or ethnic characters just don’t sell (albiet that was about 15 to 20 years ago,) certainly I didn’t believe it then, nor do I believe it now especially when things in our world makes us as a people, more closely related each and everyday,though some folks are still clinging to their old ways and ideals, with a Kungfu grip, it all still comes down to story telling, there are thousands of diverse characters out there that know one is ever going to hear about, strictly because how saturated the market is with these same old characters, hence the need for all the reboots to generate sales to a contemporary audience, when what is really needed in all these industries, is the ability to see and develop something new altogether.

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