In case you missed it, and I don’t know how, Fox’s cast for the rebooted Fantastic Four was revealed and circulated rumors finally were confirmed as Michael B. Jordan was cast as Johnny Storm. Now I have been sitting on my opinion on this for a while because I did not want to post a kneejerk reaction. Now that I have had some distance to ponder I thought now would be best to comment.
First let me say that Michael B. Jordan is an incredible actor and one of the reasons, among many other, that I enjoyed Chronicle. However, as a black man and comic book fan and a movie fan I have to say this casting choice does not sit well with me. It is not even the fact that they race swapped Johnny and did not do the same to Sue (that’s another issue and argument entirely). What doesn’t sit well with me is that this isn’t progressive nor even change for the sake of change. Matter of fact, not only does it seem hamfisted it’s also just the same old lazy nearsightedness of Hollywood.
If this casting choice was really about diversity I wish they had gone a different route instead of casting a black actor to play the brash, smooth talking, jokester. We have seen that literally hundreds of times in just about every movie ever. If they really wanted diversity and to show some progressive thinking or even something meaningful they should have cast Michael B. Jordan as Ben Grimm or Reed Richards.
Historically Ben Grimm’s story is about a guy who pulls himself out poverty in Yancy Street on his own merit to become an astronaut. So changing the Thing’s race to black not only would be modern, but would also let the character serve as a role model. Combine that with the fact most of the Thing’s story also deals with feeling isolated and ostracized from society that could be juxtaposed with the experiences of a black man in America and you could have had the chance for some layered storytelling and character depth.
With that choice I can hear objections going, “So cast the black guy but he turns into an orange rock monster?” Well how is that any better than casting a black guy who bursts into flames? He’s brunt so is that why his skin is black? At least as the Thing the opportunity for seeing a black actor play a superhero in a more nuanced role would have presented itself instead of just casting the black guy as the funny handsome hotshot.
Alternatively, I would have preferred to see Jordan cast as Reed Richards. Could you image how immensely awesome that would have been? To have in a superhero movie a black man as the leader of a team AND as one of smartest most talented men on the planet? That would have shown some real outside the box thinking and delivered something that has been sorely missing in these big budget comic book movies.
Jordan as the Human Torch was really some safe casting. He’s a great actor and I feel I’ve already seen him play the Torch in other movies. I know he can deliver an outstanding performance so that’s especially why this typical Hollywood casting decision bothers me. I’m still excited for and will be first in line to see this movie, so I can’t lament on what will never be. At this stage I just hope the movie will be good.