This is a success story. Twentieth Century Fox respected Michael B. Jordan’s body of work enough to cast him as Johnny Storm in the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot. Jordan’s a talented young actor, and his casting here should encourage cautious optimism toward yet another superhero franchise rehash. But like all superhero movie casting news, this latest official tidbit on Johnny Storm reenergized the usual conversation on cross-racial casting in superhero movies that has now metastasized into the expected pre-production publicity that whets core comic fan appetites for the next IMAX comic property treatment, through controversy.
Comic fans kvetch and moan about every actor movie studios tap to portray their misspent youth’s caped crusaders and sociopathic nemeses, from Heath Ledger as the Joker to Ben Affleck as Batman, from Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle to Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, from Jessica Alba as Sue Storm to Idris Elba as Heimdall. Actors are considered too genial, too talentless, too young, too skinny, too Latina, and too African by core superhero comic fans to portray iconic comic properties defined by their decades-long presence in the American imagination, and by their irrepressible Whiteness. Add Twitter’s omnipresent overshare, and watch cross-racial casting opponents roar politically incorrect snark while progressive apologists cry Racism! at every abbreviated epithet.
The question is not, “should Michael B. Jordan (amazing African American actor) play Johnny Storm (historically White comic book character and science experiment victim) in the Fantastic Four reboot?” There’s only one logical answer to that question (Who cares? He’s an actor, it’s a role, glad to see he’s still working!) and it does nothing for the issues people glean from this faux entertainment controversy. The question is “how does casting a Black actor as a historically White comic book character advance racial diversity in comic character portrayals, both in print and on IMAX screens?” As always in a country defined by racial identification and resource scarcity, who benefits?