Race + Comics: How Open is Marvel’s Runaways Casting Call?

By Arturo R. García

Thanks to the folks at Racebending for the heads-up on this one: Yesterday a casting call went out for a film adaptation of the Runaways comic-book series, and there’s a red flag as regards the casting Nico Minoru.

The series follows Nico, a Japanese-American – that’s her in the black coat and pink shirt – and a group of teenagers who run away from home after discovering their parents are supervillains, and inherit their powers. Later in the series, Nico, a sorceress, assumes leadership over the group. But here’s the open call breakdown for “Girl 1,” who is presumably based on her character:

Uniquely beautiful, nurturing but guarded
Female, must play 16-18
Must be at least 16 by January 2011

The phrase “uniquely beautiful” is certainly questionable, especially when held up next to the race-specific breakdown for Alex Wilder, aka “Boy 1” (“Very smart, natural leader, in need of a father figure Male, African American”) and the description of “Girl 3,” the blond-haired Karolina Dean, as “conventionally beautiful, with an unchecked ego.” And if the description of Nico’s character is problematic this early on, it opens up questions over how a movie adaptation will handle other aspects of the series, like:

  • The depiction of Gertrude Yorkes (“Girl 2” on the call sheet) – what will “chubby oddball” mean to the people deciding who plays her character?
  • Karolina coming out as a lesbian, and starting a relationship with extraterrestrial shape-shifter Xavin
  • The multiple romantic entanglements within the group
  • The arrival of Victor Mancha, the cyborg “son” of a Mexican mother and murderous robot Ultron

A call to Marvel Studios’ media relations office Thursday was referred to the agency handling the casting call. When asked about the language behind these character descriptions, the agency refused to comment.

In its’ own story yesterday, Racebending posted that it would contact Marvel regarding the issue, while saying:

A Hollywood agent trawling casting breakdowns for an Asian American client would not likely stumble upon this role that is tailor-made for an Asian American breakout star. It certainly doesn’t sound like Marvel is prioritizing actresses of color in this search. And readers of racebending.com know that just recently, unclear and biased casting calls for The Last Airbender led to the erasure of characters’ ethnicities and reinforced Hollywood’s glass ceilings for lead roles.