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    Crabby Admin Term's Avatar

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    The Black Johnny Storm and Creative Liberties in Movie Adaptations

    So a few days ago Fox announced the cast of the Fantastic Four reboot which was bound to happen in order for them to keep a vice-grip on the license to avoid the franchise from reverting back to Marvel as The Punisher, Ghost Rider, and Blade have.

    The cast's revelation was largely "ho-hum" aside from the revelation that Michael B. Jordan, better known as Wallace from The Wire and Vince Howard on Friday Night Lights, has been cast as the new Johnny Storm. As you are likely aware, this has caused an all too familiar stir amongst comic book fans, with several complaints ranging from the fact that the character has always been white, that Sue Storm is still white so it "doesn't make sense" how they could be brother and sister, and that the studio is ignoring the source material and will ruin another Fantastic Four movie just to make a few bucks by trying to forcefully diversify the team.

    I call this an all-too familiar controversy because this isn't the first time, and likely won't be the last, that people have gotten up-in-arms over a character who was traditionally white becoming black. The biggest example of negative feedback arguably came when Marvel cast Idris Elba as the Asgardian Heimdall, who as with everyone from Asgard, is based on the Norse-God of the same name. Given the Norse heritage and the traditional depictions of the character, outrage from both the comic community and hard-lined "racial purists" condemned the movie from not only not remaining true to the source material, but also attempting to rewrite "treasured" Norse mythology.

    Now some people have reacted to the controversy of Jordan's casting by calling those who are upset racists and all manner of names for being upset over the casting. I'm not totally convinced that this is solely coming from a place of racism so much as it is the classic case of fans being upset with a studio taking creative liberties with a franchise for whatever reason. Because this certainly isn't the first time Hollywood has attempted to make an adaptation of a popular franchise "their own" and had it turn out horribly. The Super Mario Brothers movie, the multiple attempts at a Superman movie, and the forever stuck in-development-hell the Uncharted movie was in which according to early synopses had absolutely nothing to do with the games or the characters therein come to mind.

    However, unlike those movies which fundamentally changed certain aspects of the characters from their personalities to their motivations to what the movie was even about to begin with, the simple swapping of races of characters thus far hasn't really changed who certain characters are. Michael Clark Duncan as Kingpin was still a criminal mastermind who was physically imposing and sadistic. Heimdall was still stoic and had a great deal of wisdom. Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury is still a bad ass who manages to bring a team of super heroes together to fight a common enemy. Laurence Fishburne as Daily Planet editor Perry White is still a hard-nosed journalist, though his view of Superman initially has changed to fit the "creative" direction of that film, which is a minor change.

    As was mentioned by IGN's Jesse Schedeen, many of these classic comic book characters were created from the imaginations of Jewish-American writers and artists in the 30's and 40's. Diversity was never an issue in comics until the 70s when guys like Neal Adams brought up that with as many different types of people in the world that it seems wholly unrealistic that the only people who could have powers or were worthy of gifts were handsome, good-looking white people. So certain characters were created, such as Luke Cage, The Falcon, and Green Lantern John Stewart who had their backgrounds specifically placed in urban areas where they've dealt with gang-activity, racism, and so forth. For these characters, their race is fundamentally important to who they are as people.

    However, when you look at characters like Johnny Storm or say even Green Lantern, their backgrounds are far less important since they mostly are defined by certain heroic tropes or stand as symbols for a heroic quality. When describing who Johnny Storm is, his race is usually never part of the equation. It's his cockiness and brash-demeanor which more often is associated with him as a character. Green Lanterns by definition of what makes one a Green Lantern is their connection to the emotional spectrum, specifically that of willpower. The race of whomever possesses a Power Ring is completely irrelevant as to who qualifies to be a Lantern. The opposite has also held true when it's come to Bane's depiction as a "white" character in the recent Dark Knight Rises movie, with no mention of Bane's traditionally Latino heritage present. However, the fact that he'd been a hardened prisoner with a legion of followers translated well-enough that he's still viewed for the most part as a satisfactory depiction of the character.

    There's now talk that the Fantastic Four movie may also now feature a female Doctor Doom, which again, doesn't really speak to any lack of motivations for the character. Whether it's Victor Von Doom or Victoria Von Doom, at the end of the day what motivates Dr. Doom is their headstrong disposition created from being oppressed by a nobleman in Latveria and the rivalry with Reed Richards. Whether or not Doom is a man or woman really doesn't matter at all so long as those traits are still present. However, I can certainly understand the purist argument that Doom is supposed to be a physically imposing, menacing figure in the shroud of Death, something which a Hollywood actress might not be able to pull off unless they are wearing a modified metal suit that's more burly as opposed to form-fitting.

    But that all leads me to this question, do you have a problem with Hollywood taking creative liberties with race, gender, and other "physical" aspects in an adaptation of a character or series? Do you feel they should do what they please so long as they own the license or should they try to be as close to the source material as possible?

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    Senior Damian's Avatar
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    My stance is the same as the whole thing when there was talk of a black Peter Parker. I say, fuck this shit.

    "But that all leads me to this question, do you have a problem with Hollywood taking creative liberties with race, gender, and other "physical" aspects in an adaptation of a character or series?"
    Yes, because Hollywood fucks it up and pushes more people away. This doesn't feel like "creative liberties" as much as it is pandering to appease a crowd. Do whatever you want with a story but god damn stop fucking up the characters. Johnny isn't black and Dr. Doom isn't female. It especially is stupid if Johnny is black and Sue is white. Since they're siblings, at LEAST make them the same race. Unless they're going to bullshit and go "oh well, he's adopted" in which case, will change his backstory. It's also why I can't stand "Elementary". Joan Watson played by Lucy Liu? C'mon, obviously they're trying for sexual tension with a genius and a hot chick.

    "Do you feel they should do what they please so long as they own the license or should they try to be as close to the source material as possible? "
    They should stick with the source material because, as mentioned above, they'd only alienate a huge fanbase because of character inconsistencies. This isn't a matter of being "racist" or "sexist" as what people will try to paint. To me, it seems more racist and sexist to input it there when there is literally no need to just to appease a crowd.

    Anyway, fuck this movie and all these remakes. The Spider-Man remake was garbage and this one will be too.
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    Senior Rilvor's Avatar
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    I don't like pandering in my games, and I don't like it in movies either. This once again smells heavily of social justice warrior nonsense to me. You can't pull the "why should it matter what race/gender they are?" card, because then it wouldn't matter that they were white and male in the first place either. Which it obviously does, or we wouldn't be having the discussion.

    Now that being said, I can easily see how a female can look imposing and menacing all the same. Unfortunately I seriously doubt a female Doctor Doom would be a muscular female actress. Which is a shame, because that'd be amazing.

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    Premium User QT Melon's Avatar


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    Well to offer another point... do we need another cocky Black person that will probably be the comedic stand up?

    It would blow people's mind if they made Reed Richards Black instead.

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    Senior Damian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by QT Melon View Post
    Well to offer another point... do we need another cocky Black person that will probably be the comedic stand up?

    It would blow people's mind if they made Reed Richards Black instead.
    That would be hilarious only because of one scene from I can't remember which movie where one woman asked if "other parts" of him were elastic.

    That was like...my first thought.

    Yes it was bad
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    I agree that this feels a lot like pandering so that people don't assume Hollywood producers are a bunch of racist white people who only cast white people.

    Not to say I don't see the point in making sure everyone is represented in media, but it kind of depends on the context too. And I don't see what exactly we [black people] stand to gain from this other than to peeve off a bunch of fans of the comic and then point fingers claiming that comic book fans are all racist and misogynistic neckbeards. Like, a lot of them are but this isn't the reason why.

    And honestly, creative liberties only really work when you don't know all these details about the characters. So book adaptations are better for that sort of thing as opposed to comics or other visual media.

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    Premium User QT Melon's Avatar


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    Quote Originally Posted by Aleu View Post
    That would be hilarious only because of one scene from I can't remember which movie where one woman asked if "other parts" of him were elastic.

    That was like...my first thought.

    Yes it was bad

    Considering that what the shorthand form of "Richard(s)" is....

    Also comic purists forget one of the reasons they had to create the Ultimate line for Marvel was that the fans couldn't let the creative do anything because they were so caught up in comics convoluted history.

    It is funny to me as well that ppl still think Psylocke is an Asian swimsuit wearing assassin with a pink sash.
    Last edited by QT Melon; 02-25-2014 at 10:47 PM.

  8.   Click here to go to the next staff post in this thread.   #8
    Crabby Admin Term's Avatar

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    Making a general reply since a few have pretty much been on the same theme.

    We're merely going on the assumption that this is all pandering, and an attempt to try and diversify the cast to bring in a larger audience or something along those lines.

    But having seen some of Jordan's work I don't really think you can discredit that the guy is a good actor and he may have auditioned better than anyone else for the role. And what exactly is wrong if either Sue and Johnny are adopted or, God-forbid, are part of a mixed-race family because of who they cast? What exactly changes about their character traits or the crux of what makes these characters interesting?

    Now as I mentioned, not every character you can just swap out race or gender. Captain America for instance likely has to be a white Adonis because he's from 1940s Brooklyn trying to enlist in the military and eventually becomes a propaganda tool for the US Army before becoming a hero. John Stewart likely needs to be a black man because his whole creation is based on diversifying the DCU and his background of growing up in Harlem kind of pushes the issue. Wonder Woman has to be a "white" woman because she comes from the royal family that rules over Themiscara taking after the Greeks but living in an Amazon culture.

    But certain characters like Spider-Man, Captain Marvel, Scarecrow, The Question, etc. who don't necessarily have to be white guys and in some cases have been changed to be of a different race or gender, and hell, even sexual orientation. Granted some of these characters don't hold the same name as "Peter Parker" in favor or "Miles Morales" for instance, but you're still talking about someone running around calling themselves Spider-Man.

    Hell a generation of kids grew up thinking that John Stewart was the only human Green Lantern after watching the awesome Justice League cartoon, which I recall there being some backlash that Paul Dini and company decided to go with him as opposed to Hal Jordan. But it quickly became apparent that Stewart can be a much more compelling Lantern than Jordan can be, and if his recent portrayal in Justice League: War as essentially a man-child who runs around making Dane Cook-esque pop culture references is "the best portrayal of Hal Jordan ever" then I'll take Stewart any day (no offense to Kyle Rayner).

    Now the "importance" of having a black hero doesn't hold as much weight as it likely did in the 60s and 70s when Luke Cage, Stewart, Victor Stone (Cyborg), and The Falcon were created. But honestly, as far as changes go, if a character that can be reasonably swapped can be swapped and the reason given is "this is the best actor for this role" then I'm not exactly seeing the problem, aside from the die-hard argument of "THIS IS WHAT THE COMIC SAYS THEY ARE SO THE MOVIE SHOULD BE THE SAME."

    I personally have a bigger problem with say how Keanu Reeves' Constantine was an American moody bitch as opposed to how in the comics he's a smarmy , foul-mouthed dick (both in character and profession) from Liverpool who constantly deals with danger, sometimes for the rush of the whole thing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Term View Post
    I personally have a bigger problem with say how Keanu Reeves' Constantine was an American moody bitch as opposed to how in the comics he's a smarmy , foul-mouthed dick (both in character and profession) from Liverpool who constantly deals with danger, sometimes for the rush of the whole thing.
    Scouse Constantine sounds much better than a plank of wood.

    As for the human torch thing, I dont really care. No one questioned Idris Elba playing a Norse god, I doubt anyone even noticed his casting was against the norm for the role. If it worked for a character described as "the whitest of the gods" it can work for the human torch. Here's hoping he's not a shit actor, a good FF film is something I'd like to see.

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    Senior Damian's Avatar
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    Spiderman can be another race, sure, but not Peter Parker because, surprise, Peter is white. Sure you can have the same attitude but at the end of the day, it's just pandering to a crowd for the sake of it. If they want black heroes then they should get heroes that are already black
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