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

Published 3 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.

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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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TAGS: agents of shield, batman, captain america, rocky, spider-man, superman, superman man of steel, the avengers, thor

365 Comments - Comments are closed.

  1. Here’s my issue with the “Create more minority characters” argument.

    There have been Minority characters created. Remember “Shadowhawk?” How about Milestone comics? You know why some of those characters aren’t around anymore? Because the mythos behind them wasn’t as lasting, or worse, people saw them as colorized versions of other characters.

    The simple fact is this: the most popular characters are still around today because the mythos behind them has proven to be universal.

    Superman = Good is strong and always triumphs over evil.
    Batman = Out of pain and tragedy can come righteousness and justice.
    Spidey = Even the meek can do great things (and get the girl)
    X-Men = Prejudice can be overcome through love and tolerance

    These are universal themes that anybody, of any age, race, etc, can relate to. That’s we these characters are so popular, and why other characters don’t last as long or aren’t received as being as popular.

    So it’s not just as easy as “make more characters” you need to make a new universal mythology that happens to feature a person of color, or a woman, or whatever – without limiting the appeal of said mythos.

    That’s not nearly as easy as it seems. There is still a HUGE stigma that, thematically speaking, someone like Wonder Woman can only speak to “girl issues” and someone like Black Panther can only speak to “black issues.” The notion that a person of different race, sex, or even sexual orientation can offer something that would speak to all of us? Yeah we’re still working on that.

    Great writers and thinkers of different race or sex are still (generally speaking) not as recognized or celebrated as their white male counterparts. So why would it be different for comic characters?

    • Good point Kofi…another thing I wanted to point out:

      IT’S NOT PETER PARKER!!!!! jeeeez

      The black/latino character’s name is Miles Morales.

      He is the NEXT Spider-Man (after Peter Parker’s death) in the Ultimate Marvel Universe…..relax people…because based on alot of the views and arguments I read, people are getting upset because they think Marvel is making PETER PARKER black/latino….which is NOT TRUE.

      NEW CHARACTER

      SAME POWERS

      SAME SUPER-HERO NAME

      DIFFERENT COSTUME

      seriously, Google or Wikipedia it.

      • I chould be wrong but i do not think Ultimate Marvel Universe Miles Morales story will not sell so well. Its nothing more then a feeling though.

      • Well said…Does anyone remember the Marvel mini-series “Spider-Man: India” from (?) the late 1990s/early 2000s? It was BRILLIANT, in my opinion. The difference, however, was that the whole Spider-Man story was reimagined as having happened IN INDIA. Spider-Man was a young Indian man named (yes, you’ve got it) Peter Parker, BUT the Indian version of that name (something like Patil Prakur…it’s been years since I’ve seen it)…the very same character as our Peter Parker shown as if he had been Indian. The writer and artist(s?) did an excellent job of transposing the essence, the CORE, of the character to a vastly different cultural setting, and IT WORKED.

        I kept hoping I would see more stories in that universe, but no more came…sigh.

        I recommend the series…especially to those who think changing the WHERE or WHO of the character (as long as the WHY and WHAT FOR remain true) cannot work or should not be done.

  2. I look at it like this they should create new heroes and leave the others alone, the black/ hispanic spiderman not much a big deal.what i see is that we all are so close to peter parker he represents the entire world for many people so yeah i can see people going crazy of this issue. I still prefer peter parker your average quite keep to himself teenager. I believe the new spiderman doent even have powers so thats what makes it bad to me. the black nick fury is a pretty nice change and the whole dick grayson taking over as the new batman not so bad i liked the concept, but yeah not every change is bad. Im hispanic and like i said i prefer peter parker. plus dark and gritty stories are the new in and are better received. look at green lanturn would of been better if it was darker and grittier.

  3. “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.”

    It’s not an issue of race. It’s an issue of people changing things about characters who have been around for decades just so they can seem like they’re diverse and reaching out to the masses. The complaint people are having is the idea that comic characters who have been around for decades are being changed all of the time for stupid reasons. And the dumbest thing is people yanking the racist card just because someone complains. To me, I want to see a character portrayed on the big screen as they’ve appeared for decades in the comics.

    Does that make me racist? TO you guys, yes. But in actuality, no. It’s like if a film was made about Black Panther, and he was portrayed by a white actor. Everyone would complain. Would I be allowed to call someone a racist because they don’t like a white man playing a black character? How about a remake of “Blade” starring Jet Li as Blade.

    It’s considered racist to want to see a guy who has been white in the comics for decades be played by a white man. What’s next? Is it going to be deemed racist to purchase a comic book that stars a white superhero instead of a black one?

    We start with the minor characters, eventually it’s going to be the bigger named characters. I’m not being racist, I’m being a comic book purist. You go on about the characteristics staying true to the characters, like Kingpin still being a criminal mastermind even though he’s now a black man for the film. But that is no real argument.

    And the new Spider-man is just Bendis trying to play revolutionary. Diversity is never a bad thing. But changing things just for the sake of changing them is plain stupid.

  4. Nobody from SR has called anybody racist.

    This article is not about whether or not people like the changes, it’s about what should be considered when making such changes.

  5. No disrespect or bias intended, but let’s have white characters played only by whites, black characters played only by blacks, etc. And I mean that despite the fact some of these actors and actresses portraying other ethnic backgrounds are very good! Not to take away from that, but when I see liberal political correctness people who supposedly know what they are doing making idiotic changes like this, then maybe it is time for Archie Bunker to play The Kingpin, and win an award!!

  6. picking michael clarke duncan as kingpin in daredevil was awesome casting!! I cant think of anyone else who could have been more of a ringer for kingpin. I am really hating both marvel and dc for all these damn reboots that they feel every charecter needs. Killing off peter parker? What the hell are they thinking over there? I would think that alittle color in particular roles is ok, not all of them.

  7. Why can’t white characters play white characters, and black characters play black characters, its so hard to talk about this subject because everyone throws the racist thing in your face so thats why a lot of people say it in the nicest way. Michael Clark Duncan was a great King Pin, i don’t know how it would be if they went to more of a comic like thing, a lot of people didn’t like Daredevil i liked it i was fine with everything. Sometimes there is just a part a white guy can’t play but for an odd reason a black man can. Perry White can be played by anyone over the age of 40-50 I have no idea why they would cast the guy from matrix, as long as Superman is white im fine with it. There are parts where you can share race but some no. I mean c’mon you wont have a white guy play Luke Cage, or Black Panther, it just wouldn’t work. You’re not gonna have a black guy play Superman or Captain America just isn’t right with the fitting but you will have a black guy play someone not so big like King Pin or whoever it is. some you can most you shouldn’t. plan and simple.

    • It’s not the color but how well the actor can carry the part they are playing.

    • You answered it yourself in the very first question…

      Because most are characters that have a base story that can fit any race, sex or dare I say religion.

      You bring up Luke Cage and Black Panther. Lets take Black Panther as it is a little harder to explain.

      Yes you could have a character LIKE Black Panther from England, Japan, Ireland etc. He could be a different race and still go through what T’challa has gone through as long as you can place it there.

      However to have a Black Panther character based from a tribe in Africa covering its (the tribes) history and making him ‘white’ would not make sense. It would seem to much like Tarzan.

      Luke Cage can be any criminal. Luke Cage can be white black asian etc. Luke Cage is a criminal (wrongly convicted) then expiermented on while in prison. You may think he was treated different because he was black however Im sure a lot of other racially diverse prisoners will tell you different.

      I dont recall….. Luke Cage having any issue with being black opposed to white. While he dealt with more issues at an inner city level (hey so does Daredevil) it was not because he was black it was because Marvel was trying to get a more diverse readership.

      Heck the comics took a WHITE Nick Fury and made him BLACK. He is probably more popular now then he ever was. However he is still Nick Fury.

      Ive used Spiderman before also with regards to powers, people around him, villians etc. It doesnt matter. As long as the core Spiderman ‘values’ are there that make him (or her) Spiderman what does it matter if Spiderman is an alien, white, black or pink with purple polka dots. With great power comes great responsibility.

      So yes I believe you can have a black Superman. You can have a Black CA. As long as the story and actor portrays the belief in that character it can be done. Except for in an example the Black Panther scenerio above.

      I should read the article….. :D brb…

  8. I love this article and I’m not surprised by the uproar. Just yesterday I saw some kids about 17-21 trying to petition to get rid of Obama with a poster of Obama with a Hitler mustache. I mean this country is going nuts over these race changes. We must remember the only real Americans are the natives. Everyone else were immigrants. I love the change and even though I haven’t bought a comic in a few years I will now. Yes I am latino, Yes I have a different view of this country because of it, No I’m not nor have I ever been an immigrant. I personally love Jackson/Fury but that’s because I’m a fan of his work not because of his minority status. Maybe this change is good maybe it’s not but if not given a chance we’ll never know. When it comes to spidy the one thing I hope the new kid has is the sense of humor that peter had. Stuff like should be important not the color of his skin. Does anyone remember Iron Man was black for a bit? I didn’t have a problem with that either. Neither did any of my friends that collected also. It’s sad but not surprising just how closed minded people are. SMH

    • No one is going after Obama because he is black its cuz he is a terrible president.

      • Better than Bush, either one of them.

        • Ha. I dont care if he is better than Bush my point is that no one is going after him based on his race. Better than Bush…. LOL

          • @ Dirk

            I had a person at work before try to claim i was racist because i mentioned i didn’t like Obama’s policies. I seen that same crap on tv aswell if you didn’t agree with what he does, you’re labled a racist,lol.

            • Wally I agree.

              Hating Obama doesn’t instantly make you a racist. If that’s the case than I hate all white people because I hated Bill Clinton. Color me a white hater because I thought Jimmy Carter sucked. I’m not a racist I’m just not a far left liberal. I’m not racist I’m simply upset that his new health care crap is screwing over a lot of people.

              • ALL – While I can appreciate and partially agree with some of the comments in this tangent I think we should go back to discussing the topic at hand – diversity in comics and their associated films. Heading into the field of politics (especially health care) will just derail this thread. So far, I’ve only had to remove and moderate a handful of comments. The conversation has been surprisingly civil and I would like to keep it that way. :)

                Thanks,
                Paul

                • THANK you, Paul…Sheesh!

              • @ Daniel F

                Im not racist neither, but irritates me when people use racism as a excuse for their arguement or cause or whatever. I agree about this healthcare crap aswell. Is Jimmy Carter still alive? Couldn’t stand him, neither could my father.

          • Are you sure?

            • @ Kev

              Sure about what?

              • Never mind that was for something farther up. let’s get back on track. What do you think about LF playing Perry White?

          • This is too funny, You say race dosen’t play a part with Obama and here I am reading 6 pages of people arguing about why Spiderman and Captian America should or shouldn’t be black. Man oh man!

            • This is so funny because your comment is irrelevant. Was there a point at all to your comment? It doesn’t prove that race has anything to do with people disliking Obama. It isn’t even remotely related.

              People are not exactly arguing that a character shouldn’t be black. the argument for most here is that they shouldn’t be changed Period. Be it making them black, gay or 60 years old. People are arguing against changing their fave characters not against race.

              Also even if the last 6 pages were full of horrible racist remarks it would have nothing to do with his comment. What everyone else is talking about doesn’t matter at all when it comes to his opinion of Obama. Other people talking about race issues doesn’t suddenly mean he hates obama because he is black. The two have no correlation.

              • Chill, didn’t mean to get you all upset. Because your piont is irrelevant to this topic. So can we PLEASE get back to the subject Cap, Nick and Perry White. So anyway who do you think should play Perry White?

            • @ Kev

              Race doesn’t play part with Obama, it’s his policies plain & simple. Spider-Man & Captain America are comic book character’s & imo should stay the way they are because im more for the traditional take on characters.

              • So since spiderman wears a full mask do it matter what color he is? Just funning, I understand what you mean about traditional.

        • I disagree. He isn’t better than Bush and Bush wasn’t good by any means, but Obama is worse. The only president that Obama can claim to be better than is Jimmy Carter.

          • That’s your oppinion and you are welcome to it.

    • Actually even the native immigrated from Asia so technically there are no true Americans in the sense that there was never really anyone just here originally that didn’t immigrate from somewhere else. But that can be said for everywhere actually. Because depending on what you believe or were taught all humans immigrated from somewhere in Africa or the middle east to everywhere else on Earth. So in that sense we are all immigrants. As far as changing Spider-Man’s race? I guess I would be kind of upset to just find out that the publishers just decided to make him a different race/ethnicity for whatever reason they had. Not because I’m racist but because they were messing up an established literary icon history.
      That being said. From whatelse I’ve read it sounds like the publishers are going to kill off Peter Parker and bring in a new Spider-Man, right? Now I’m upset about them wanting to kill off an established literary icon. I mean Spider-Man is one of my favorite comic book characters so of course I’m furious. But I have no problem with them bringing in a new Spider-Man and making him any race, creed, color, religion, age, or sexual orientation.
      Well hopefully I didn’t offend anyone with my comments. If I did I apologize that wasn’t my purpose.

      • You DO realize Peter will likely return, right? Death is rarely final in comics.

        ;)

        • Arxhaeon doesn’t make getting rid of him suddenly ok. Usually the try to shake things up by getting rid of the hero and yet everytime it hurts sales in the long run and breeds tons of very uninteresting stories. Look at all the other heroes. They were killed off and suddenly their books became a lot less appealing and sagged in quality. It’s a temp boost to sales so people can read the issue where the character died and that’s it.

          • I wasn’t commenting about the wisdom behind the move. I was simply trying to keep Brandon from worrying too much about the situation or feeling nervous about having offended anyone (which seems impossible given how calmly and openly he expressed his opinion, but idiots ARE everywhere).

          • Everything in comics is an attempt to boost comic sales up.

  9. Are people upset because Peter Parker was replaced? Or that because Peter Parker was replaced by a black/latino?

    Considering comics retcon ideas, powers, costumes, relationships etc all the time, why not race? We have had a white Supeman for 70+ years now. A black Superman could have different story ideas and experiences a white Superman just couldnt have. Why limit yourself?

  10. Delete my comments because they bring up facts?

    “Don’t say blacks and latinos as a minority are responsible for an overwhelming majority of the crime – even though it’s true.” -SR

    • responsibility for an overwhelming majority of the crime is a status issue not a race issue. There’s more crime in Brooklyn than say Beverly Hills. Think about bit…..

    • has nothing to do with their race has more to do with the fact more blacks and latinos are poor. Combine being poor with having to deal with race issues and getting an education and a job is much harder, and crime becomes a lot more appealing.

      Of course you wouldn’t know this as you are guaranteed to be a white middle class straight Christian male (ie you have no understanding of being poor or being prejudiced against is like)

      • Sounds like you’re prejudiced against white middle-class straight Christians. Of course I’m presuming that’s the combination and not just all of the aforementioned by themselves.

  11. Maybe be we should look at it another way. Why are white actors playings Asian characters in my anime movies? They ruin my animes, but if the right white actor played the role perfectly and looked half the part i wouldn’t need to complain. Let’s face it, NO ONE has ever gotten anime adaptions right! Race is a small issue in comparison to the entire picture. It would be a nice change if Hollywood let fans decide who they what for their directors, actors, and writers. like a poll and not the ones for strippers.

    • Okay are you talking about the anime to live action or just the anime themselves? Because if it’s just the anime depending on the film I think most of the characters drawn in it look Caucasian. Which could be why the live action version uses Caucasians. But if your just talking about the anime itself I guess I don’t understand your point because the characters are probably going to have to speak English for the American markets unless the want to add subtitles. And I’m not sure everybody would like that.

  12. I picking michael clarke duncan as kingpin in daredevil was awesome casting!! I cant think of anyone else who could have been more of a ringer for kingpin. I am really hating both marvel and dc for all these damn reboots that they feel every charecter needs. Killing off peter parker? What the hell are they thinking over there? I would think that alittle color in particular roles is ok, not all of them.

  13. Kofi, you’ve got guts.

  14. Great article! I just wrote my thesis paper for college about graphic novel/comic book adaption to film, stating how close or how far they stay to the source material.

    I think it highly depends on the character; similar to what was talked about with Cap.

  15. And here I hated it when all they did was give Superman a mullet. Really who cares? It’s not Peter Parker it’s an alternate Spiderman. Just like Miguel O’Hara, a latino, (Spiderman 2099) before him. There has been a black Iron Man, Green Lantern, Captain Marvel, Captain America even Batman and Superman. This is not new. While actually changing an established character like Nick Fury or Perry White is another story. I think they should stay as they were created, but as long as they bring something new to the table and have the creators blessing then I dont see a huge problem with it. There are so many different visions and universes and dimensions anymore. I might not necessarily like the change, but then again I dont have to read it.

  16. Well Shaft and Apollo Creed are easy pitches indeed. And yet still not without holes with respect to your counter to the “black people wouldn’t like it if…” argument. Man of the downtrodden people isn’t an archetype exclusive to “blackness”, and such exclusivity certainly isn’t achieved merely by virtue of a theme song. With a maximum of about 3 edits, Isaac Hayes’ classic track could just as easily score a James Bond movie. With Apollo Creed the racial undercurrent you hint at(but don’t describe)doesn’t predominate the characterization enough to support the pretense that the character is defined by his race. With a little less class and a little more menace Craig Bierko played essentially the same role in “Cinderella Man”. But in any case, try making that counter argument about characters like Cyborg, Falcon, War Machine, Green Lantern(John Stewart), Storm, Black Panther, Steel, Lucious Fox, Blade.

    • You are absolutely right, certain black comic characters are just as changeable.

      I for one would love to see Luke Cage re-imagined a Hindu.

      • I think there’s an issue with Luke Cage being re-imagined as anything but an African American because he was one the first black superheroes in a time when heroes were white. So, for me, the fact that he represents a people, same thing with Black Panther, it’s hard for me to see them re-imagined. Probably the same could be said of Cyborg but the others I definitely could see re-imagined.

  17. They can do anything they want because I am so THROUGH with the stupid comics CRAP.
    Can anyone honestly tell me what is printed today is worth 4 bucks a pop??
    Comics died with Jack Kirby and when Marvel went public. Since then DC and Marvel are just writhing, screaming courpses waiting for that last spike.
    It can’t happen soon enough.

    • Nope.

  18. They can do anything they want because I am so THROUGH with the stupid comics CRAP.
    Can anyone honestly tell me what is printed today is worth 4 bucks a pop??
    Comics died with Jack Kirby and when Marvel went public. Since then DC and Marvel are just writhing, screaming courpses waiting for that last spike.
    It can’t happen soon enough.

    • Again, nope.

  19. Kofi, I think you nailed this issue exactly. While I’m all for promoting diversity, introducing diversity for diversity’s sake is just superficial at best, and condescending at worst.

    The part about the character itself is essential, I think. If the character is defined by his race, then to change it would mean changing the essence of the character. But if the character isn’t representative of race struggles or issues, then changing it would also be arbitrary unless it adds something to the character. I’d hate to see publishing companies start switching all their heroes to minorities just for the sake of being ‘politically correct’ and trying ham-handedly to appeal to more people, IF it does nothing to expand the character. Take the new blatino Spiderman – if he’s just going to be another Peter Parker, what’s the point?

    Movies are slightly different an issue though, because most of the time film adaptations are about interpreting or transcribing the written character – hence in casting, you cast based on character, which is why I feel there’s a lot more room (and less an appearance of being pandering) when characters are cast against race. So I didn’t bat an eye when Samuel L Jackson became Nick Fury, or when Fishburne was cast as Perry White. It never seemed like a problem simply because I see the acting qualities within those actors that mirror those of the characters. And if Fishburne doesn’t do well, it’s also important to note that it doesn’t mean that casting a black man as Perry White was wrong! It just meant that casting Fishburne would’ve been wrong.

    Also, on the note of casting whites in Asian roles: I’m also in the camp of pissed-off people. That they seem to just chuck whites at Asian roles like anime adaptations is more a matter of continuity or internal logic, plus it breaks the rule of ‘changing the character for no reason’. More importantly, those actors did a terrible job (Last Airbender being example No. 1). Actually, people being mad at whites in Asian roles is more an expression of annoyance that the production was too lazy and uncommitted to even reach out to find Asians. But I think people wouldn’t have minded in the end if the acting was just on par – I seem to remember people not being as annoyed that Zuko was suddenly an Indian (yeah, I know he was Asian, but ppl were annoyed that it was changed at all) because Dev Patel at least did better than the others.

  20. I’m sorry, but none of these are even remotely equal to changing Peter Parker. It’s about white or black being important to the character it’s about changing what people have grown attached to and loved for decades for no GOOD reason what so ever.

    Also I love that you only touch on the outrageous switch arguments made like Shaft yet avoid the other ones people asked. For example I pointed out that had they changed Warmachine to a white guy people would be pissed and it would be called racist white washing. However, turn any white character black and you are suddenly racist if it bothers you even a little bit.

    As far as Spiderman goes while I don’t like suddenly deciding to make spiderman a different race for no good reason I’m more upset that they are changing who spiderman is. Spiderman was about Peter Parker and Spiderman is the tool used to tell that story. Changing the character changes everything.

    • This reminds me of the argument, “Why is there a BET channel? Why is there a Latino Music Awards? If there were a White Entertainment Channel or a White Music Awards, everybody would scream racism!” News flash: Every channel is the White Channel. Every awards show is the White Awards Show. Same goes for superheroes.

      The dichotomy is not equivocal.

      • Sorry Ben but that argument is absolute BS. No Channel and no Award show is the white channel or White award show. People of all races win awards and appear on various channels. Especially if we go off your music award comparison. Most music awards are equally dominated by black and Latino musicians as whites.

      • The White Entertainment Channel is ALL the other channels.

        • Wrong 100% wrong.

          The vast majority of television shows and I mean like 95% have diverse casts. In 2011 it’s almost impossible to find a new show that is 100% white. It’s absolutely impossible to find a network that is all white. A few networks that are not BET actually have all all black casts. TBS would be shocked to hear that they are a white channel. As would USA, NBC and even Fox.

          • They are made by white people. Regardless of how diverse the casts are, 99.9% of them are produced, written, and run by white people.

            Also, my statement was hyperbole. It doesn’t mean that they’re literally white channels, or literally white awards. It means that they almost completely cater to whites.

            Very few shows outside of BET have entirely black casts, that I’m aware of. PSYCH is the only show on USA I can think of that has a not-white lead, and he’s sort of the sidekick.

            • Thank you.

            • Ben as far as Psych goes the Star is actually Hispanic and white.

              While most are created by white people (most NOT all) I disagree that they cater to white people. I think most shows cater to a general audience rather than a specific race as opposed to shows like Meet the browns or channels like BET which only cater to black people. Saying most shows cater to white people is like saying black can’t enjoy shows like House, Psych, Burn Notice or The Shield. Which is not true all of these shows have black fans and a good number of them as well.

              Saying they cater to white people is like saying all white people have the same taste and all black people have the same taste but they don’t cross over. I have more black friends that hate Tyler Perry and in general don’t watch BET than I do that like him or watch BET.

              Most shows are not made for White or black people. They are simply made for people regardless of race. Shows actually focus more on aiming at specific ages or genders than they do races.

              Are you saying any show written and created by a white man is only for white people and black people can’t enjoy it?

              • Little known fact, Black people over the age of 16 hate BET. It’s just a Step and Fetch-it subsidiary of MTV/Viacom…..

              • Well said Daniel. Ben, you can’t lump all genres into either black or white entertainment, that’s a very narrow minded viewpoint. I’m not one to throw out racist accusations but your comments reeked of racism towards whites….just saying.

                • Hahaha. Okay. I’m racist against whites, I guess.

                  • FYI, there was no lumping of genres on my part. I’m 90% sure I didn’t say anything about genres.

      • Wow Ben, that’s all I have to say about that comment.

        • Wow this has gone way off track, now back to Nick Fury and Perry White.

    • “As far as Spiderman goes while I don’t like suddenly deciding to make spiderman a different race for no good reason I’m more upset that they are changing who spiderman is. Spiderman was about Peter Parker and Spiderman is the tool used to tell that story. Changing the character changes everything.”

      Who is Spiderman? For that fact who is Peter Parker?

      Peter Parker is a person (kid, teen/adult) that due to circumstances beyond his control obtained powerful abilities that no one else has, or has had before him. Peter Parker in the beginning found out (in a very costly manner) the best use for those abilities after using them selfishly.

      Spiderman is Peter Parker or Peter Parker is Spiderman. However Spiderman is a ‘peoples’ hero. He attempts to put the better of all before the better of him. He has problems and issues that as Spiderman can be easily resolved yet unselfishly he (most times then naught) chooses others before him, because of that costly lesson he learned years ago……

      There is no reason the mythos of Spiderman/Parker cant change to a different race. Im not saying erase Peter Parker. Peter can be a WAS Spiderman but does not have to BE Spiderman.

      It is just another chapter in this thing we call life.

      • Aknot I believe you missed the point I made entirely.

        While it’s true I said it bothers me a bit that Spiderman is suddenly black I said the bigger issue is that they are changing who spiderman IS. IE making Spiderman not be Peter Parker. Who is Peter Parker? He is a guy named Peter Parker with an Aunt and now dead Uncle. Getting rid of him and replacing him with another white guy or a black guy or an Asian is just wrong. Spiderman is and should always be Peter Parker.

        • Peter Parker died a heroic death protecting his family de-masked in front of hundreds. As there will always need to be a Superman, Batman & CaptainAmerica, NY will always need its Spider-man. Some kid with similiar powers decides to take up the mantle. People in the streets, who he just saved, even say it is an insult to wear the same costume/uniform. The Ultimate Spiderman is already extremely different from the 616 Peter Parker anyways.

          Anyways, from what I have seen and where I have lived, a black Peter Parker (or Spiderman) would be great and could stay as true to the original character with an updated setting. His mother and father disappeared/dies and now he lives with his Aunt&Uncle in a poorer neighborhood. His over-protective Aunt forces him to study often, much like 616, and thus he is accepted into a magnet program or private high school in a better area. Making him an outcast in his own neighborhood and school. Because the enviornment he grew up in with his parents was suburbian moving into the hood would make you the subject of ridicule and unaware of the on-the-block culture. Because his school is high society he becomes an outcast due to his lack of wealth and the fact that he cannot particpate in much of the after school functions further seperates him. Upon gaining his powers he could play muscle for some dealers or gangs in the neighborhood. Quickly collecting a sufficient amount of money and attempts to buy his way out of the hood and social status. Ben Parker, a former street hood who wised up, gives him the “Responsibility” speech when he starts to sees Peter “hanging out” more. Ben will die because of the people Peter is helping and in turn he uses a large amount of the money to buy the costume. Through investments with the left over money and work at Daily Bugle Peter is able to put a down payment on a house in a better neighborhood in later issues. Just a thought.

          Moving on.
          @Kofi. Great article. Touchy Subject. I have never been a fan of race change but I always wondered what a black Spider-man (or any teen super-powered individual) in the neighborhood I grew up in would be like. Hopefully written by somebody who had similiar circumstances. Alot of comics paint the poorer areas in a white or black tone when it’s really all grey area.

  21. Man… this discussion seems to have taken a turn for the worse since I last checked in. Let’s calm down, because I can see where this is going… and where it’s going isn’t very nice ;)

    I think the points on on page 2 if this discussion (go check it out) really sum up the important issues here:
    KEEP THE CHARACTER TRUE TO HIS CREATOR/ORIGIN, changing the character just for fun is wrong, but if the character is being replaced by another, new, character (like with the new Spidey), then by all means, let it be of a different race.

    Just a side note: in the Ultimate comics, I’m pretty sure Nick Fury was black and since the Marvel movies are mainly based on the Ultimates Universe, it makes sense that Fury should be portrayed by Jackson. (One of the artists actually admitted that when he was drawing Fury, he based it on Sam Jackson’s looks).

    • I agree.

  22. I’m just waiting for Hollywood to start making superhero movie with people of color in the lead. Haven’t seen that since BLADE. I’ve heard talk but no action.

    • Kev yea they keep talking about making Black Panther and Luke Cage but never do. I’ve never been a fan of either comic they just never worked for me. I thought both showed their age a little two well. It was almost like Marvel thought they could only have black heroes if they were from the hood or africa.

      However on DC’s side my fave GL is John Stewart. I thought he was the coolest and best perston to put on the uniform. Hal was always the most interesting and complex, but John was like this pure form of goodness. He wasn’t as complicated as Hal or as immature as Kyle. I would of loved to have seen a film eventually with a John Stewart GL it’s to bad that terrible GL film ruined that chance.

      It’s to bad all the other black hereos are C lvl heroes and in general have terrible names. I believe one is name Mr Terrific with a giant T on his mask. Could you imagine a movie like that?

      I don’t support changing heroes to black just for the heck of it. I think they should simply create more black heroes. There are heroes like GL and Flash that change often as it is and they could of easily thrown in a black flash.

      I think one thing I really like about comics is for the most part it’s “I’m a Hero” not “I’m a black hero” or “I’m a White Hero”. They were heroes and their skin color was just how they looked.

      • Thumbs up, you make some really good points. SR wrote an article a week or so ago stating that Ryan Reynolds may not be playing GL the next go around and I wrote that I would like to see the next on on John Stewart. I like JS for almost the same reasons as you. I also think Static or Black Lighting might be cool to see on the big screen too. Or a Hawkman/Hawkgirl movie with them being latino like on Justice league “Starcrossed” movie. Where they used people that were latino to voice the Hawk people. Maybe Rosario Dawson as Hawkgirl:) So what do you think about any of that?

        • I’m not big on the idea of a Latino Hawk Girl or Hawk man. The cartoons used Latino voices maybe, but they very clearly drew the characters white. Because that’s how they were in the comics. I’m pretty big on trying to stay true to the comics and only making changes that seem necessary to support the story and maybe cut out some of the more cheesy stuff from decades past, but not changes for no reason at all like skin color just to appeal to minorities. Especially since most minorities don’t really like to be pandered to. Changing characters skin color like that is just like someone saying “I’m not racist look I have black friends” often times if you have to say that and actually think it’s gonna work you’re usually racist at least a little. One thing great about GL was that there are so many GL’s and it never felt like they made a black one just to appease people they just kept getting new GL’s and it was like eventually statistically one of them would have to be a minority.

          Spiderman on the other hand seems like pandering. Especially given the powers like people are just passing out radioactive spiders to anyone who wants one. GL’s have to be chosen by guardians it worked with in the logic of the comic. By doing this it seems odd and doesn’t really make sense. How many spider powered people are out there?

          As far as a GL movie with John Stewart I’m in. I’m also in for Black Lightning, but not so much in for static. They can make it if they want, but never liked the comic or the character. It’s more for children though and might be a fun movie for kids.

          Rosario in anything is typically a no for me. I’m not a fan. I don’t like her acting and don’t find her attractive so she offers little for me. Her personality bugs me I’m not in to tom boys and she acts like a major one.

          There is a pretty cool black hero in the batman comics named Orpheus he has a really interesting story and I like him. He was killed off eventually and it was kind of a waste, but it was good moment in the story that helped revel some more about Batman. I wouldn’t mind a low budget movie about him. He doesn’t really have powers and his sort of like a black Batman from a rough neighbor hood.

          I wish more of the minority characters took off in the comics maybe then they wouldn’t feel a need to change all the characters I’ve grown to love. I think a major problem is they made these characters in someone elses comic and just never gave them a shot on their own. They are all part of the JLA or something and never get their own comic to get their own chance to shine. Neither company over the last two decades has been to good at creating new characters they have been poorly handled and alot of the characters were just shoveled away and hidden.

          We could see maybe a Super Steel movie, but a decent one that isn’t so terrible like the Shaq film.

          Honestly my fave minority characters outside of John Stewart are Black Lightning and Mister Terrific. They have had some interesting back stories and character arcs through out the comics. Especially during Infinite and final crisis. Mister Terrific could be in a great movie if only he had a better name.

          • Well Daniel F, I do agree with alot of what you said. And I have even spoke out before on how I would like to see a well made Steel movie. But we do differ on Rosario and that’s cool, everyone taste is different. I think she is very attractive and her toughness (tom boy) would work well with Hawkgirl, but thats just me. And two of my fave characters not minority characters but fave characters is John Stewart and Black Lighting too

            • John Stewart is in my top five heroes. Well technically Green Lantern is in my top 5 heroes, but John Stewart is my fave Green lantern so you do the math lol.

              Sorry I had to make the minority distinction for those fave because while I enjoy Black Lightning and Mister Terrific the comics have them at C level characters at best and I just don’t have room for them in my top 10. If I was making a list of best under used low level heroes both would be in my top 5 right next to Booster Gold lol.

              • LOL, and I didn’t take anything you wrote the wrong way :)

              • Oh about Hawkman, like GL there are many different versions of the character. Hawkman first appeared in Flash Comics #1 (1940),he was Carter Hall, a reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian prince, Khufu. He was also museum curator, an alien policeman from the planet Thanagar and the leader of the Thanagarian forces to name a few. So the the character has not always been white, he’s been many races from an Egyptian to an alien and with reincarnation he could be anyone Egyptian, Latino, Black, White anyone and still be true to the comic.

  23. I think they should make Spider-Man a gay teenager who is bullied so badly that he turns to smoking weed all the time. His love for “Mary Jane” then leads him to stumble into some radio active mutant spider testing lab looking for more pot. I think he should be in love with Harry Osborn but tragicly they will end up enemies. Who is with me???? oh um and Aunt May is a black woman. No wait if Aunt May were black everyone would say shes too Aunt Jamima like and it would be called racist. its funny how just changing someone color can make such a huge impact on thier character. Think about it. A black Aunt May would be racist!

    • haha smoking mary jane lol

  24. Personally I have, and always will be, a traditionalist. Don’t screw with the original origins. That’s how they were written so to change them just to appeal to a certain demographic is hollow reasoning at best and even a bit offensive considering the reason behind it.

    This sadly just gets worse when it comes to movies. Its even somewhat condescending to think that black people will be less likely to go see a movie if there are no black people in it. Just like I doubt women would be less likely to see a movie unless there was a token girl as part of a cast. It demeans us all when Hollywood believes the general public actually thinks this way.

    I think others have done an excellent job of covering the rest of the generalities.

    As to specific characters……

    Heimdall – He was created by the Norse as a white guy because he was a reflection of the people who created the mythos. Marvel decided to KEEP that and made their Norse pantheon very closely match the original Norse myths. So why they felt they HAD to change his ethnicity for the movie made no sense. Now I’m not saying that Elba did a bad job but it just didn’t match, aliens angle or not.

    If they were indeed aliens though, WHY would they even follow the same ethnically diverse path that we on Earth took? There is a specific reason why the diverse races here on Earth evolved the way they did so believing that a completely alien race would follow that exact same evolutionary path borders on stupidity. Why not instead just make ‘em all blue and green instead? It makes about as much sense.

    Captain America – Others have commented on this but just to reiterate …..no. He is a product of the 1940′s when segregation and bigotry was still a reality. Cap. though endured his OWN form of bigotry so there is no need to go any further because he DOES understand and can relate to the concept of inequality. In fact you could say he is uniquely qualified.

    Superman – Again no, just no. To Make him a black guy would mean completely changing his origin just to be politically correct.

    Spiderman – Sorry but again no. Parker is supposed to be a scrawny, geeky, science nerd. Now I’m not saying that there aren’t a few non-white guys who can fit the profile, just that us white guys seem to have that market cornered, sad as it is :) The character already has a lot to overcome just from that standpoint so changing his skin color is going just a bit too far. Plus, like Superman, he wouldn’t be the same person being raised as another ethnicity.

    • I also for got to mention that this PoV is for the main characters. Supporting cast, in general, is not nearly as important for me (with notable exceptions)

    • your Spider-Man comment is silly a black person can be like Peter Parker. geez Peter Parker story and life works for any ethnic person thats a fact. kid raised in New York City with his Uncle and Aunt thats universal.

      Heimdall is a supporting character his no a main characters so i feel it does not matter.

      if race is a issue how come no and i mean no never sad one thing about the casting of Angelina Jolie as Fox in Wanted. Fox in the Wanted comic is actually a black woman not a white women.

      • i find it funny nobody ever mentions an Asian played one of the Warriors 3.

        • Hogun is Asian in the comics his character design is actually based on Mongolian warrior. plus Hogun homeland is never explained in the comics. so you trying to be smart but you fail my friend.

  25. Perhaps Marvel and DC should also consider creating new superheros with diverse ethnic background instead of changing them. This way we wouldn’t be arguing about who should be what. It doesn’t always have to be controversial.

  26. When Todd McFarlane (creator of Spawn) was writing Spider-Man in the ’90′s he said in multiple interviews he wanted to bring up the question of race. i.e Spidey saving a white couple from some black thugs and the White male saying something along the lines of “Thanks Spider-Man us whites have to stick together,” to which Spidey would reply. “What colour do you think I am under this mask?”

    The idea that a costumed hero can be defined by the colour of their skin is ridiculous, You woud think by now that people in general would realize that your skin colour has little to do with your character, both in reality and in comics.

  27. @Kofi

    I totally disagree with the Black Captain America. Are you telling me there cant be a Young Black man in the 1940′s, that has the same core values and beliefs in freedom that Steve Rodgers has/had?

    Brooklyn in the 40s was widely diverse with middle class all the way down to the slums. To have a young black man told he wont amount to anything just because he is black (scrawny) but desires to represent his country to the best of his ability is kind of far fetched………..

    That cant lead a group dare I say a nation from the grips of possible tyranny?

    You go on to say Cap has an untarnished view of his country…. If he was in Brooklyn in the 40s Im sure he saw some tarnishing. Which (IMO) tends to lend more to the REASON he is Captain America and not Captain Nazi.

    There is very little (Nationality basis aside) reason you CANT change a characters race, sex, etc. IMO.

    • I would also like to point out that there was and still is a few “black Captain Americas” – it is my understanding, that for a short period of time, when Steve Rodger was “Nomad” a black man donned the Cap outfit (in the 1960′s I think), and in the present comics, Patriot (leader of the Young Avengers) is also black.

      I have no problem with the above mentioned “Caps” (in fact – Patriot is one of my favorite young-superheroes), but if Marvel decided to make Steve Rodgers black, I would be very upset indeed (I don’t mean that in a racist way, though).

      • I think the characters like Batman, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Green Lantern, and Captain America can be portrayed by any race as long as the core values are the same as the characters who portrayed them before. However, the characters portraying the characters need to be different. I.e. Bruce Wayne is white. He’s written that way and characterized by his race. Batman can be played by anyone who is not Bruce Wayne because Batman is an idea not an actual character. Batman needs someone in the costume to be Batman and that person doesn’t have to be Bruce Wayne. Some thing can be said of Captain America. Steve Rogers cannot be black because he is white but Captain America can be black or hispanic because he is an idea that needs someone to make the idea come to life.

      • The book is called Captian America “TRUTH”.

    • Actually Aknot making a 1940′s Cap black would of been a horrible idea. Racism and segregation was so horrible back then that it just wouldn’t work. He would of never have been selected for the project and no one on the field would of given him the respect he deserved had he even made it that far. There were a lot of black men in the military that put their lives on the line in defense of the country back then and still got treated horribly when they got back. In the 1940′s if he were black at best who would of been Sargent America that’s optimism.

      • While the creation of him back then would have had the possible repercussions you state to show it now would not.

        He would have been selected for the project just like Steve was except maybe moreso considering there was a risk involved… (think Luke Cage)

        No one in the field would have given him a second look until he proved himself. There is a different type of honor and code when you are in a trench.

        As for coming home… War is not about coming home. Cap fights in the war until it is almost over then is lost at sea.

        Again we are not speaking of being in the 40s and having a 40s mindset. We are talking about a fictitional character that can break all types of bonds. If we can believe an alien from another planet can fight for truth justice and the American way why cant we believe there is a black Captain America devised in the 40s revealed in the 21st century?

        Sorry it is not THAT far fetched to have other ‘Super Soldiers’ that were not as successful or they thought he would not be that successful because of the color of his skin. Have him on ice or with some type of mind block working the lower eschelons of SHIELD.

        Its a comic it can work. Oh wait it did in Ultimates and is the basis of the Nick Fury you see Samuel Jackson playing.

        • Aknot using the alien card is so over done. You pull that card we might as well say that they should just pretend gravity doesn’t exist in DC I mean there are aliens right why can’t they just act like there is no such thing as gravity. Lets pretend that there has never been a sun from now on why not there are aliens in the comic right? There is no night or day just an in between area called Nay after all…. Aliens.

          • I dont understand the Alien reference….

            • Funny since your the one who made it

              • hahah I thought there was a reference that the black cap could be an alien… :D

                It is a Superman reference. Replace that with…

                If we can believe a 125 pound man can turn green and gain a ton of muscel mass…

                Or if a police officer can be hit by a lightning bolt and aquire super speed that allows him to move between universes…

                Or if a radioacitve spider can bite a teen giving him spider like powers…

                Meaning whats so hard to believe about a black person being expiermented on in the 40s? Gaining super human powers but not being revealed or allowing him to reveal himself until now….

                The reference was the suspension of belief. Which we have to do each time we pick up a comic book.

      • In the book “Truth” a group of blacks were picked for the project to make sure it was safe for a white man to use. A very interesting view on the super soldier serium project.

    • Read Captian America “TRUTH”, where there was a black Captian America.

  28. I don’t like changing the race of a character just for the sake of shaking things up, or adding a dimension to the character’s background. It’s an insult. I don’t care if Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, some Norse god, or Kingpin aren’t Filipino. If I like a fictional character, it doesn’t matter what color he is, because I liked how he was originally presented to me. I was a big fan of the Black Panther for years, simply because he was cool looking. Another thing that bothers me with race switching is that it only swings one way. People always talk about wanting equality, but for right now, it’s always a white character who gets turned black. There is a double-standard and a social guilt out there that’s out of control, and it needs to be stopped. Speaking as a minority, if I want to see more diversity, then simply make more minority characters and keep the old ones the way they are.

  29. Wow! Outstanding article. I think diversity within the superhero universes are great but as you said and as a black man – I’m not interested in the changes JUST to make a political statement. So long as it’s somewhat logical and doesn’t alter the “essence” of the character I’m all for it.