It’s far from confirmed, but some early reports are coming out that Friday Night Lights, Chronicle, and Fruitvale Station star Michael B. Jordan is under consideration to play Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four reboot—and that his sister would be played by Allison Williams, making the formerly white siblings interracial:
According to The Wrap, Michael B. Jordan of Chronicle fame could take the role of Johnny Storm aka the Human Torch in the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot.
We recently reported that Girls star Allison Williams was up for what we assumed was the role of Johnny’s sister Susan the Invisible Woman. Jordan is black and Williams is white, which raises questions regarding Johnny and Susan’s parentage in the film, considering they are brother and sister in the comics, but certainly adoption or making them step-siblings are among the options if both of these casting choices are finalized.
Jordan is a phenomenal actor, and the prospect of him leveling up to blockbusters should make people who like excellent performances very happy. Unfortunately, this news seems likely to prompt the same sorts of hysteria that came to the fore when Idris Elba, the black British actor, was cast as Heimdall, the guardian of the rainbow bridge in the film adaptation of Thor, and when Nonso Anozie was cast as fabulously wealthy merchant in Game of Thrones. For some reason, there are certain fans of established particularly poorly when adaptations of their favorite material either change the race of a character in the transition from page to screen, or cast an actor of a race that the fans didn’t have the imagination to expect.
What’s striking about a lot of these characters is that, whether they’re written as white or not, their race doesn’t tend to be particularly important to their characterization. Johnny Storm is a playboy. Xaro is rich. Heimdall is impassive. These are the characteristics about them that are foregrounded in the texts where they originate. Of course, there are ways in which either illustrating those characters or assuming that they’re white inflect those characteristics. Johnny can probably get away with things that, were he black, might get him branded irresponsible or profligate. As Ta-Nehisi Coates has been writing recently, the black-white wealth gap is a matter of public policy, and that produces different assumptions about how black and white characters, even in fiction, obtained their wealth. And big white men and big black men face obvious and different assumptions about their strength and what they might use it for. But even though these characters are assumed to be white—or there’s an assumption that they should continue to be portrayed by white actors—by fans, there isn’t any compelling reason for them to stay that way. If these characters aren’t used to explore whiteness, then there’s no reason for them to stay that way other than that fans prefer to see white people in those roles. And in the absence of specific white people competing for them, the objections don’t even become about specific things certain actors might bring to the role. It’s just about whiteness.
Sometimes, casting a black actor in a role previously assumed to be white won’t make that role about blackness either, nor should it. One would hope that Asgard and Westeros (or Essos) haven’t somehow managed to replicate America’s racial politics, or that in worlds with gods and dragons, people of color aren’t the things that are implausible, or that stand out most. But if people want to defend keeping characters white, and if reverse racebending is going to work right and put more non-white actors in roles where race doesn’t matter to the characters, I hope these conversations don’t stop there. It would be terrific to see more thought put into what living as both a white person and a person of color bring to certain characters. Not all stories are explicitly about race, and not every experience characters have is defined solely about their racial or ethnic experience. But considering race among many other factors, including class, gender, and sexual orientation is a way to build out a character, and a whole world.