White superheroes, white privilege and Hollywood whitewashing

Read an excellent article at The Root by Kirsten West Savali titled Why Do All the Superheroes Have To Be White and All The Thugs Black? She talks about the casting of actor Michael B. Jordan who was cast as Johnny Storm (The Human Torch) in the upcoming Marvel film Fantastic Four. Michael B. Jordan starred in the critically acclaimed film Fruitvale Station based on the real life story of Oscar Grant who was fatally shot by a BART police officer. I first laid eyes on him in HBO’s The Wire.

Michael’s casting as Johnny Storm has caused controversy amongst Marvel fans because Johnny Storm is white. Some white folks don’t take too kindly to their white superhero characters being portrayed by black actors.

It seems as if some white people have had a deep investment in the “white superhero” since the creation of blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesus, and now that noxious narcissism has spilled over into pushback against Marvel’s Fantastic Four.

Michael B. Jordan, who rose to fame portraying 22-year-old Oscar Grant in 2013’s Fruitvale Station, has been tapped to play Johnny Storm (“the Human Torch”) in the popular film franchise. Since the news broke, racist trolls, mostly white men, have come out of the woodwork in comment sections and on social media, decrying the lack of “authenticity” of a black Storm. He must remain blond-haired and blue-eyed, or else. Because, clearly, no little white boy feverishly reading his comic books under the covers with a flashlight dreams of one day being a powerful black man, right?

Ms. Savali also goes on to discuss how the media has portrayed blacks in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore. But what really caught my eye was when she mentioned how CNN actually had an article about the one of the 2 black bikers in the Waco Shootout.


This dogged determination to negatively stereotype black people—first in Ferguson, Mo., then in Baltimore—has become craftier in recent weeks. In the Waco, Texas, “Wild West” shootout between rival biker gangs, esteemed outlets such as CNN went out of their way to profile one African-American biker out of 170 men arrested, the vast majority of them white.

You mean to tell me that out of all the bikers who were arrested at the Waco Shootout CNN could only talk about one of the 2 black bikers?  Really?  They might as well have written an article about the other black biker.

An ex-vice detective who embraced the culture of a reputed outlaw biker gang.

A 62-year-old who posts images of his ailing mother with her pooch in one Facebook post and raunchy sex jokes in the next.

A man who poses alongside his son, middle finger to the air, then lauds his work with special needs children and extols the blessing of healthy grandchildren.

Much like the black-and-white goatee he has been rocking since at least 2013, Marty Lewis represents a dichotomy.

Lewis is one of the 170 bikers arrested and charged with engaging in organized criminal activity after a brawl and shootout at a Waco, Texas, restaurant left nine bikers dead. He remained in the McLennan County Jail on Wednesday with many of his biker brethren, unable to post the $1 million bail set by a judge.

Yes he was an ex vice cop. So what. Why did CNN focus only on Mr. Lewis? What about the other bikers/thugs who were arrested?  Not one white biker was interesting enough for CNN do write about?

Biker gang arrests in connection with multiple fatality melee

Ms. Savali coninues in her column about how Hollywood is steadfast in making every character in Hollywood white even when the movie is based on a person of color.

Typically, Hollywood executives will find a way to make a character white—accuracy be damned. We’ve seen it with Angelina Jolie as Mariane Pearl in A Mighty Heart, Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra and the whitewashing of the Exodus cast, because who cares about geography when there is a prime opportunity to paint black characters as the thugs of Mesopotamia.

I blogged about the whitewashing of the movie 21 in 2008. The main characters in that real life story were Asian Americans yet Hollywood as usual cast white actors in the lead role. Of course the reasoning was to bring in more folks to the movie theaters cause who wants to see Asian Americans in leading roles?  Do people who complain about their favorite white superheroes being portrayed by black actors ever complain about Hollywood whitewashing?  I doubt it.  You will see plenty of comments about how Hollywood is all about making money.  As Ms. Savali says “accuracy be damned.”

You can read more about Hollywood whitewashing at the Huffington Post.  And you can read Ms. Savali’s entire column at The Root.

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