By Arturo R. García
Let me say up-front that this, ultimately, is an exercise in casting for fun. It is not intended to suggest that casts comprised entirely of people of color are “THE ANSWER.” To suggest that one must choose between calling for more POCs to be cast in race-neutral roles, or calling for the creation and development of more standout characters of color – be they heroic, villainous or otherwise – is to enable a false dichotomy. There’s good reasons why Luke Cage is best played by a Black actor and why Bruce Wayne could be played by, say, an Asian-American actor. (He’s not in this particular version, but I’m not saying an Asian-American actor or actress couldn’t pull it off, and if you’ve got any choices of your own, please feel free to chime in in the comments.)
If anything, the Chromatic meme puts the lie to the premise that “there’s not enough [x] actors to make it work” or “people wouldn’t go see an [x] actor in a general-market lead role.” Showing that there are actors of color out there, each of them with established fan bases, who could step into these “iconic” roles only supports the call for a greater variety of roles for them, and for the next wave of POC actors, because it shows that there are “enough” of them out there for both consumers and business interests to take a chance on.
With that established, here we go. A ton of pics, and some spoilers for Nolan’s Batman series are under the cut.
Batman: The Dark Knight Rises
Batman/Bruce Wayne: Nestor Carbonell
Yeah, it’s sort of a cheat right off the bat, since Carbonell has already played Gotham City’s mayor in the Nolanverse. But, he’s come close enough to playing BW on Psych, where he livened up this past season as charming “filthy rich” do-gooder detective Declan Rand. Between playing Rand and his stint as Batmanuel in the dearly-departed live-action version of The Tick, Carbonell has done just about everything one can do except don the actual cape and cowl.
Commissioner James Gordon: Courtney B. Vance
Another case of the actor basically playing this role in another arena: even as FlashForward couldn’t stop tripping over its’ own creative intentions, Vance got to define Stan Wedeck as the heart – and more often than not, the common sense – of his charmingly misguided FBI team.
Alfred Pennyworth: Ben Kingsley
Alfred’s a tougher character than you might imagine; as Superman once remarked in the comic-book world (Superman/Batman #2, to be exact), he and Bruce aren’t quite friends, and their surrogate father/son is complicated by the fact that Alfred works for Bruce. But Sir Ben, I think, could walk that tightrope with aplomb, and bring the same kind of levity to the role Michael Caine and Michael Gough have.
Bane: Danny Trejo
This isn’t a “there’s no other Latinos” pick; for goodness’ sakes, have you read Trejo’s bio? He practically was Bane: in and out of jail as a young man, kicked his bad habits, went on to become perhaps Hollywood’s best-known tough-guy-for-hire. It’s no secret that I didn’t dig Machete – but that’s on Robert Rodríguez, not on Trejo. Bane is as smart as he is physically imposing, and it’s not a stretch to say Trejo can play both. It also plays to the visual contrast between Wayne, the graceful product of privilege, and Bane, the man who rose from nothing.
Lucius Fox: Colin Salmon
Fox, who serves as Wayne’s right hand and DL tech support at Wayne Enterprises, is typically played as older, as we’ve seen in both Batman: The Animated Series, and in Morgan Freeman’s take on the role. But seeing a slightly younger, more active Lucius would make for an interesting change of pace.
Catwoman: Halle Berry
I believe in second chances. And in giving Halle a full bodysuit to wear. And a script that isn’t horrible. And in keeping her away from Sharon Stone.
The next choice is based on rumors that had been circling Rises last year:
The Riddler/Edward Nygma: Daniel Dae Kim
There’s two really good ways to render Riddler as a character: as a brilliant, sh-t-disturbing criminal, or a brilliant, sh-t-disturbing detective who may or may not still be a criminal. Personally, I’m a fan of the latter, and, even if you weren’t big on Lost or Hawaii Five-O, anybody who saw Kim smarm it up on Angel back in the day knows he can play a sh-t-disturber. Unfortunately, the inclusion of Bane in the film seems to indicate we won’t get a new Nygma at the movies any time soon.
For the heck of it, let’s broaden our search a little, and go into the first two Nolanverse films:
Batman Begins/The Dark Knight
Rachel Dawes: Zoe Saldana
One of the problems with this character is that Rachel was written more often to tell us she was strong, rather than shown actually being strong; she was always reacting to the men in her life, rather than having a path of her own. I’d call in the Star Trek reboot team for a hand on writing her with more of a foundation, and let Saldana take it from there.
Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow: Sendhil Ramamurthy
Ethically-challenged scientist hiding behind a veneer of good looks and sharp glasses? Not like we’ve been here before or anything … but seriously, Berry’s redemption clause also applies here. Ramamurthy was seemingly on his way to creating a solid character on Heroes before that went to pot. Let’s give him another shot here.
The Joker: Gael García Bernal
Cesar Romero’s Joker was goofy; Jack Nicholson’s was coarse; Heath Ledger’s was terrifying. And I think a fully-engaged GGB can be all of those things, perhaps even in the space of a few sentences. And he does wear purple well, no? But, hey, as long as we’re talking about Mr. J …
Harley Quinn: Anita Mui
UPDATE: That said, going from the current pool of actresses, we got a doozy of a suggestion from prvlgd cdn in the comments:
Harley Quinn: Mindy Kaling
Harvey Dent/Two-Face: Idris Elba
Loving, and over-ambitious. Brilliant, and angry. Fair, and relentless. Is talking about Harvey Dent really that different than talking about John Luther?
Ducard: Alexander Siddig
This reveal was one of the best plot-points in Batman Begins for me, and I think Siddig can bring the same kind of calm, plausible moral ambiguity that Liam Neeson did in his take on the character. The casting here is, admittedly, potentially problematic. But, this Ducard would remind you, the League of Shadows does not see itself as a group of terrorists, or even as freedom fighters – the League, in its’ own eyes, is the ultimate check on humanity. It doesn’t “hate” Gotham any more than it did any other city it “purged” across the ages.
Ra’s Al Ghul: Faran Tahir
Of course, to set that up, you need someone who an unknowing Bruce Wayne would believe “fits the mold” a little better. Unfortunately for Ken Watanabe, he didn’t get to do much more than glower in his take on the role. But, the idea was sound: establish Ra’s with his own enigmatic qualities, substituting Ducard’s finesse with the bravado of a believer cast as a conqueror.
So, those are my picks. What are yours?