Why It Matters That Perry White Is Black

EW’s Darren Franich has a post up about the reaction to some of the big reverse racebending reveals this week that ends with a really lovely observation about the full implications of Zack Snyder’s decision to cast Laurence Fishburne as the editor of the Daily Planet — and why it’s unfortunate that the movie likely won’t use the full potential of that decision:

Laurence Fishburne was born in 1961, which means that the version of Perry White who appears in Man of Steel grew up during the era of the Civil Rights Movement.

If we assume that he has been working in the media for most of his adult life, that means that Perry White has been a journalist during landmark moments in the history of American race relations. Journalists are opinionated loudmouths. White probably has an opinion about the Rodney King beating, and about the election of Barack Obama, and about the horrible statistics about African American men in prison. But none of this will come up in Man of Steel, because it is a movie about an illegal alien who wins over the American public by virtue of looking handsome a superhero. The well-intentioned M.O. of Hollywood entertainments is to essentially pretend that racial differences don’t exist.

It’s just another iteration of Ta-Nehisi’s “Do not read books by women to murder your inner sexist pig” maxim. We shouldn’t have character diversity because it’s a nice thing to do for minority groups, or because it’ll stop people from asking you one kind of tough questions at cons, or because you think it’ll let you appeal to another demographic and make more money, though it’s true, and those are all things I’m happy to use to convince people to incorporate broader worlds in their storytelling. Instead, diversity of characters means diversity of life experiences, and of decision-making processes, and of storylines. A Perry White who covered seismic changes in race relations in America might not just win his first Pulitzer for revealing that Superman’s an alien — he might let the illegal immigrant in his employ tell his own story on the pages of the Daily Planet, unlike some other editors at some other newspapers I could name.