Superman and the Question of Diversity

As many of you probably remember from news reports last week, Henry Cavill was supposedly out as Superman — i.e., would not be playing ‘The Big Blue Boy Scout’ in the DCEU anymore. This stemmed from an initial report from The Hollywood Reporter, and several other publications took their cue from THR. The reasons given for the decision ranged from Warner Brothers wanting to focus on the new, big-screen Supergirl… to possible conflicts with Cavill’s leading role in Netflix’s “The Witcher”… to contract disputes and power plays, etc. Thus, the original focus of this week’s post was going to be my thoughts on what a big mistake this was, how they could still improve the franchise, etc.

However, it appears that THR jumped the gun on this report, though perhaps they could be forgiven, since it may be that either WB or Cavill’s reps “leaked” the rumor as a negotiation ploy. (For what it’s worth, TMZ called it “an invented conflict.”) Regardless, it wasn’t long before Dany Garcia — Cavill’s manager and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s business partner and ex-wife — tweeted that “the cape is still in his closet.” Warner Bros. followed with their own statement:

“While no decisions have been made regarding any upcoming Superman films, we’ve always had great respect for and a great relationship with Henry Cavill, and that remains unchanged.”

So,… no guarantees re future Superman films (or other appearances) at this time, but Cavill’s not out, yet. I haven’t seen any updates to this so far, which tells me that negotiations are still ongoing. We shall see….

When all this was still up in the air and we thought Cavill had most likely been given the boot already, there were rumors and speculations about who might be on deck to take his place. There were some rather unusual suggestions, I have to say. Remember how some people were pushing for an Asian actor to star in Netflix’s “Iron Fist”, or how many are calling for Idris Elba to be the next James Bond? Well, now there are suggestions of Black (Michael B. Jordan, Idris Elba), Asian (Henry Golding), and Latino (Oscar Isaac) replacements for Superman, among others. Sigh! All fine actors, but c’mon! Should we have a Black Tarzan next? (No, that wouldn’t work, ‘cuz his being white was part of what made the character an outsider in Africa. Besides, that whole “Ape Man” thing would be seen as racist….) Or, how about an Asian Sherlock Holmes? Would that make sense, especially given the era and locales in which the character operated? (Less of an issue for a modern-day take, I suppose. Still…)

Maybe it just doesn’t matter when the icon in question is White. But, remember the accusations of “whitewashing” when Scarlett Johansson was cast as the lead in the live adaptation of Japanese anime Ghost in the Shell? (Of course, the original comic was ambiguous re her ethnicity and showed the ‘ghost’ in various shells. But, it was generally assumed that she was Japanese, and the live film confirmed this, despite her being played by a Caucasian woman.) Or, what about the similar outcry when the upcoming Hellboy reboot originally cast Ed Skrein as the Daimio character, who is clearly Asian in the comic? (Note: Skrein bowed out, and Daniel Dae Kim was given the role.) Now, these aren’t exactly “iconic” characters, but the point is that fans generally prefer that a character’s race/ethnicity be retained when the source material is adapted.

If someone does a remake of Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon but casts a White or Latino in the lead, do you think there would be outrage? You betcha! Or, what about a Native American actor as the central character for a Shaft reboot? (I mean, you could even have a lame bow-and-arrow joke about the name “Shaft”.) Yeah, I don’t think that would go over so well in the ‘hood or, you know, with anyone who understands anything about the character. Can you imagine if Marvel had cast a non-Black actor to star as Black Panther?!

My response to this “out-of-the-box creative thinking” to make Superman anything other than a White, heterosexual male? Seriously, just stop it. This forced “diversity” — because Whites have too many cool heroes, or non-Whites can’t relate, or something — is incredibly annoying and just stupid. And don’t cry “racist!” if anyone dares to object, ‘cuz that just won’t fly. This isn’t about race so much as it is staying true to the characters as written, especially when there are many years of canon behind them and most especially when there are specific things about them being a certain race or ethnicity that are integral to the character.

Now, I’m all for heroes (and villains) of various races/ethnicities, as long as they are created as such, well-conceived, and beyond silly stereotypes. Also, as far as Superman goes, I actually like the idea of non-White versions in alternate universes / parallel dimensions. In fact, we’ve seen them in the comics. I would love to see a well-written film plot wherein “our” Superman meets up with a non-White doppelganger, perhaps joining forces to battle a threat to both realities. But, the “primary” Superman should remain Caucasian in appearance. I see no good reason to change the race of a decades-old icon just because… “diversity”.

When Cavill does get replaced as Superman, I truly hope that non-PC, common sense prevails and they are able to re-cast with someone of similar … yes, “iconic” … appearance.

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