It was easy to approach Marvel Entertainment’s Phase 3 announcement Tuesday morning somewhat skeptically. After all, the 24 hours leading into it were consumed by the rumor that Benedict Cumberbatch had been cast as Doctor Strange.
Then came the news:
BREAKING: CHADWICK BOSEMAN CAST AS BLACK PANTHER #MarvelEvent
Coupled with the news that Marvel was finally moving forward with a Captain Marvel film, the day ended with not only widespread anticipation, but the question: where do we — fans of diversity in the superhero movie realm — go from here?
Yes, I am proposing that a major comic book institution change the race of one of its popular characters as it transitions to a new form of media. In this case, I want Marvel Studios to cast an Asian American actor to play the lead in the upcoming Iron Fist show it is developing for Netflix. It seems logical enough to me, though as always, there are fans who are urging Marvel to resist changing his race.
Years ago, an actor/writer working on a pilot episode for Fox told me she suspected a 2010 session just led producers to transform tertiary white characters into ethnic minorities, with no change in the scripts to acknowledge the shift in race or culture.
But then came this fall’s sleeper hit, “Sleepy Hollow,” Fox’s tale about the modern-day adventures of Ichabod Crane. Ichabod somehow awakens in modern times after a 250-year sleep. The story unfolds like “The X-Files” meets “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” (except the Yankee moves forward in time rather than back). Crane teams with a young cop to tackle supernatural weirdness related to the return of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
And the young cop, Abbie Mills, is played by Nicole Beharie, an up-and-coming African-American actor who made a splash as Jackie Robinson’s wife this spring in the film “42.” Suddenly, the show was anchored by a strong black woman who gets to kick down doors, tote a trusty sidearm and play skeptical Dana Scully to Ichabod Crane’s witchcraft-wise Fox Mulder (for the uninitiated, that’s an X-Files shout-out).
When the show featured a storyline centered on Mills’ sister, we got to see two black women in an action/adventure setting, fighting the bad guys instead of waiting to be rescued or seduced. It was exactly the kind of diverse casting I had been waiting for since 1999, when the issue hit a crisis point as the broadcast networks offered a fall slate of new TV shows without a single character of color.
We have been here before. Our history becomes our present so often it becomes difficult to distinguish the two. Politicians and cable news hosts and the naïvely colorblind ask us to forget, most of the country obliges, and black people, again, are left to piece together the fragments of history, suffering, rage, and pain so that we may have hope for something better.
Again we advocate for justice. Again we question what justice would even look like. Again we demand that black life be valued. Again we wonder why it never was in the first place. Again we weep, we pray, we march, we raise our voices. Again we prepare ourselves to be let down. And again we ask when will the moment come where we won’t have to go through this again.
We don’t know much, aside from it having been described as a “high-concept cop show,” that presumably takes place in the SHIELD of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (shown, so far, in Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, and Whedon’s Avengers). Unfortunately, the following character descriptions released this week seem to harken back to tropes and characters he’s already written. And written again.
Skye: This late-20s woman sounds like a dream: fun, smart, caring and confident–with an ability to get the upper hand by using her wit and charm.
Agent Grant Ward: Quite the physical specimen and “cool under fire,” he sometimes botches interpersonal relations. He’s a quiet one with a bit of a temper, but he’s the kind of guy that grows on you.
Agent Althea Rice: Also known as “The Calvary,” this hardcore soldier has crazy skills when it comes to weapons and being a pilot. But her experiences have left her very quiet and a little damaged.
Agent Leo Fitz and Agent Jemma Simmons: These two came through training together and still choose to spend most of their time in each other’s company. Their sibling-like relationship is reinforced by their shared nerd tendencies–she deals with biology and chemistry, he’s a whiz at the technical side of weaponry.
Maybe I’m too familiar with Whedon’s work, but this reads as a potential recasting of Firefly. And while the roles are all listed as open ethnicity and nationality, I’m willing to bet the “fun, smart, caring, and confident” Skye is cast as white while the “damaged, hardcore soldier” goes to a woman of color.
Good news from Racebending yesterday: Marvel Studios responded to questions over the casting of Nico Minoru in the best possible way.
As you’ll recall, the character is one of the core characters of Marvel’s Runaways comic-book series. But the original open call, while specifically asking for African-American actors to audition for Alex Wilder, left Nico’s description open, aside from the problematic description of “uniquely beautiful.”
But as posted on Racebending Thursday, the company sent them this statement:
Thank you for reaching out regarding your concerns over Marvel’s recent casting notice for THE RUNAWAYS. We appreciate your interest in our production and with Marvel Entertainment.
To address your concern over casting for the role of Nico, as we do with all of our films, we intend to stay true to the legacy and story of the comic when casting these parts. Thus, our goal is to cast an Asian American actress as depicted in the comic series and the casting notice will be adjusted accordingly.
We thank you again for your correspondence and the opportunity to clarify our process.
And it’s true: the film’s casting call website now specifies that the “Girl 1” character is not only “uniquely beautiful” (whatever that means), but Asian-American. Also, the audition deadline has been pushed back to Sept. 15 to give applicants more prep time. So why does this matter? As we did in the case of The Last Airbender, we’ll let Racebending break it down: