Colorblind Casting School

January 25th, 2010 by | Tags: , , , ,

There’s been this thing going around the bits of the blogosphere that talk about race and comics called “Chromatic Comics.” It started here, dipped over here, ended up on When Fangirls Attack (which is where I first saw it), and just this week showed up on Fantastic Fangirls. Essentially, established characters in various properties are recast to be a different race or gender. From the outside looking in, the choices appear to be fairly arbitrary. Kanye West as Archangel, for example, or Vanessa Williams as Emma Frost.

To put it bluntly, I didn’t get it, didn’t like it, couldn’t quite put my finger on why, and I’d decided not to say anything about it, barring some private conversations with friends. I felt like a player hater, coming from the position of “this is dumb and a waste of time and borderline offensive and I can’t quite figure out why.”

Earlier today, my buddy Cheryl Lynn proved that she’s smarter than I am when she started talking about it on Twitter. She gathered her thoughts and expanded on them in a post on her blog. It’s must-reading, frankly, and is almost exactly why I have a problem with “Chromatic Comics.” An excerpt:

This whole Chromatic Comics ish irritates me. Y’know, Marvel does have a whole boatload of POC characters. Stuff like that makes it seem like only the white ones are important and deserve focus. Y’know what would be nice? For POC characters to get the same promotion and devotion that white characters get so people don’t have to think of POC actors they’d like in the “important” (white) characters’ roles.

She has several more things to say on the subject, including a beautiful and nuanced breakdown of why Luke Cage has to be black and Frank Castle has to be white. I urge you to go read it. And pardon me if the following is just a rehash of her better piece.

Cheryl makes a good point on the subject of what race actually means in stories. She says, “And just like I’m not just a color, that white kid isn’t just a blank slate. He isn’t the default. And acting like he is the default hurts both him and me.” I’ve often seen it said, and probably said myself, that white is the default. That isn’t true- white is dominant, yes, but not the default. White doesn’t mean “average.” It, like black, is completely insufficient.

Elektra is white. Elektra is native to Greece. Emma Frost is white. Emma Frost is upper class Boston old money. Luke Cage is black, but he’s Harlem black. James Rhodes is black, but he’s South Philly black. Peter Parker is white, but he’s Forest Hills, Queens white. Night Thrasher is black, but he’s upper class New York City black. Steve Rogers isn’t just white. He’s from the LES during the depression.

I’m black, but I’m Warner Robins, Georgia black, where the black folks can be found watching NASCAR, mud bogging, rolling with blue flags out their back pockets, and working on an air force base.

My littlest brother is half-black, half-Egyptian, and has a name that’ll keep him on no-fly lists for his entire life. He’s living with my mom and her husband in New England. He’s going to be a different kind of black than I am. My younger brother, who’s about to turn twenty, is a different kind of black than I am, and we lived in the same house for twelve or so years. That’s three males, raised by the same woman, who aren’t the same kind of black. I can’t replace either of them and they can’t replace me. I’m absolutely certain that that applies to white people, and Chinese people, and whoever.

This race thing isn’t as simple as a skin tone and nappy hair. That’s kiddie pool anthropology. That just reinforces the idea of white as the default, in that it ignores the rich culture that white people hold dear. It reinforces the idea that non-white characters don’t matter, because why would anyone cast Jubilee in a movie? Why would anyone go see a movie about Misty Knight or Luke Cage? Let’s flip Jean Grey and Cyclops to being Indian and Chinese and roll with that! Progress!

But hey, here’s a counterpoint: Spider-Man and X-Men didn’t start this burst of superhero movies in Hollywood. No, Wesley Snipes as Blade did that. Black hero with a black love interest and everything. And before the movies? Blade was lame. All he had going for him before the movie was awesome Gene Colan art and we got two great movies out of him and one awful one. As far as quality of Hollywood superhero flicks go, he’s matched Batman (both 1989 and Begins franchises), Spider-Man, X-Men, and Superman. Blade beats Hulk, considering that those movies were mediocre at best.

Imagine what we could get for Aya. Or Jubilee. Or Dizzy. Or Loop. Or Misty. Or Luke. (Or Hypno Hustler.)

You mean to tell me that nobody would go see an action movie about a black chick with an afro, a robot arm, a sneer and a half-Japanese sword-wielding BFF in 2010? That they’d rather see The Dark Dark Phoenix Saga instead? Get outta here. If we can buy Matt Damon as action star, we can buy a black character as a black character, rather than a palette swap.

Chromatic Comics is tokenism, or maybe lip service. Either way, it’s not powerful. It’s not respectful. It’s not even anti-racist. It ignores what we already have in favor of continuing to worship exclusively white characters as if they were the end-all, be-all of comics. Hey- Marvel and DC already do that. We should do better than flipping a switch or using the paint bucket in Photoshop and calling it a day. We’ve got some diamonds in all this rough. Let’s act like it.

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59 comments to “Colorblind Casting School”

  1. Well-said, David. This has been something that’s bugged me for a while but I’ve never been able to put my finger on exactly why. I remember hearing the totally out-of-left-field rumor that Will Smith wanted to be Captain America (something to that extent) and before I was like “eehhhhhhhh” but after reading this, I have to ask: What about Falcon? Or Isaiah Bradley? Both are great black characters in Cap’s Mythos that deserve more focus. And it’s a shame that they may not get that because apparently the good Captain is the only guy that “matters”. And that sucks.

  2. Really interesting posts (this and the Digital Femme one) particularly the Punisher/Cage analogue.

    As a brit I was horrified by Keanu’s Constantine, his Englishness is so much a part of his character that I’d sooner watch a film where they keep the character but lose the magic. I have to say though I didn’t have a problem with the Ultimate re-do of Nick Fury (at least before they retconned him into being as old as original Fury) because He was a different character to the traditional one. I guess I’m a bit of a hipocrite.

    On a peripheral note, it does seem that Blade is never credited with starting the Comic book movie boom, when it was before Xmen and the first time in my recollection that comicbook movies were acceptably cool for over 16s in my lifetime.

    …and you’ve really made me want a Daughters of the Dragon film now too.

  3. This was a really interesting, compelling read. And it allowed me to stop questioning myself on why I couldn’t quite let go of my “but that isn’t the Kingpin” thoughts about the Daredevil movie.

    And I really hope Hollywood is reading you, because a Daughters of the Dragon movie could be so explosively good.

  4. Does this mean I shouldn’t want to see Chiwetel Ejiofor as Union Jack? Because I’d pay full ticket price to see him in that costume, punching out vampire Nazis…

  5. Maybe it’s just about reinterpretation of the author’s intent, like gay retcons?

    Comics are a visual medium, and superheroes arguably even more so, so I’m not certain what I’d make of Vanessa Williams as Emma Frost beyond she wouldn’t look like the character from the comics, videogames, cartoons and that shitty Wolverine movie – but Williams does do a great campy ice-queen bitch, there’s no denying that, and she’s arguably more of a draw than a random model chosen for her looks but making her acting debut.

  6. @LurkerWithout: Ejifor as Union Jack? The Descendent of British aristocracy one, or the Joseph Chapman ‘working class hero’ one?

    I really rate the actor, but I can’t see it. A different character in the same costume maybe? But to be honest, not many people would go around in a Union Jack one-piece in 2010. It might be a good antidote to the appropriation of the Union Jack by the right wingers though.

  7. @LurkerWithout: Wanting things is fine, but don’t confuse it with being forward-thinking.

    @claire: I can’t even lie, if they did a Daughters of the Dragon movie and Greengrass or Michael Mann or somebody just had the freedom to go in on it- I’d live in the theater for a whole weekend, watching it over and over.

    The Michael Clark Duncan as Kingpin thing, I feel kinda the same way. I appreciate that he is basically the only Hollywood dude who can make a convincing Kingpin, but his rise to power and all that would be totally different. That was probably making the best of a bad situation, considering the rest of that movie. That thing came out right when I was getting into Bendis’s Daredevil, too. Ouch.

    @Valhallahan: The Ultimate books are kind of a special situation- Black Nick Fury is actually Black Nick Fury, and is treated as such in the books. Marvel put in some leg work with his story and character, rather than just ticking a different box on a form.

  8. Great take on Cage/Punisher by Ms.Lynn

  9. Damn, what a good post. I love it when you get passionate about this sort of thing, especially when it involves race, since you’re one of the smartest writers I know on the subject. Rock on with this shit, man; don’t let th doofuses get away with their crap. If this is what black history month is going to be like, I can’t wait.

  10. Dittos on the Daughters of the Dragon, especially if they get the hair right.

    Not to undermine though… hypothetically speaking, if Peter Parker were black, what kind of black would he be? Of those mentioned above, he’s really the only one who’s self-identification isn’t strongly tied up in race or family heritage.

  11. I’m not sure a “Chromatic Casting” meme really leaves room for the casting couch to develop a backstory about why, say, a black Emma Frost could work. I think Vanessa Williams would be genius casting there, and I can completely see a backstory start to develop in my mind. But the memes don’t really call for that, they just call for, like any fancast, a brief reaction/response/gut instinct.

    I’ve had this issue with the retroactive outting of characters across various fandoms (comics and non comics alike). I think you make a great point about why you can’t just check a box and switch a character around, but I also think that this meme was more of an exercise and, as it turns out, a good discussion starter.

  12. All I want to say is that Gina Torres would make a great Wonder Woman, but I know that can’t happen.

  13. @david brothers: Haha, honestly? After Blade, Daredevil is my favourite of the Big Two comic book film adaptions. I don’t know why! But it is.

  14. @claire: Blade and Blade 2 are the two comic adaptations I could probably watch repeatedly. Not too long, visually interesting in two different ways (gritty crime for part one, Hellboy horror for part two), and good action. Spider-Man 2 and X-Men 2 are pretty good, followed by their predecessors, and then Dark Knight (which was very good but eleven thousand hours long), and then everything else.

    Daredevil… I dunno. Matt Damon ended up being the better half of Damon/Affleck. Affleck’s face, demeanor, something didn’t take. Bullseye was pretty awesome, though. Colin Ferrell killed in that role.

  15. Man, Michael Clark Duncan as Kingpin was the only thing I liked about that movie.

  16. One thing Blade had going for him before his movies was his Spider-Man cartoon appearance(s). Good stuff.

    One reason I think people forget his (Blade/Snipes) roll in things is b/c he wasn’t known as a comic character – not by most of the folks digging the flicks. Marvel’s intros have an outta site, outta mind level of effectiveness.

  17. Yeah, I have to go with West on this one. If you’re going to an X-Men or Spider-Man movie, you’re obviously making a conscious choice to go watch a movie about comic book characters. Blade, on the other hand, doesn’t have nearly that level of association, which makes it even BETTER that the movies succeeded on the strength of the story and character, in my mind. Hell, he inspired a Tekken character for chrissakes.

    Great points overall, though. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

  18. @West: You want to know something weird? I’m Spider-Man Fan #1. I’ve read a lot of truly terrible, incredibly offensively bad Spider-Man comics because I dig the guy, but as a kid? The X-Men cartoon ran things for me. Something about Spider-Man’s palette bothered me. The washed out/overbright colors were annoying, I dunno. I still remember being super excited to see the X-Men guest star, tuning in, and just being kinda… disappointed. They didn’t look like the X-Men should! They weren’t slick!

    I’d forgotten that Blade showed up in Spidey’s cartoon.

    And he’s definitely a stealth comics character, for lack of a better phrase. I had a few Nightstalkers issues that I knew him from (one had a mummy girl who had a swastika positioned directly over her boob, don’t you judge me), so it wasn’t too surprising.

    Oh, and the guy at the beginning of Blade who gets caught in the vampire bloodbath party? That’s a young Lem from The Shield.

  19. I’m Moody AFB white.

  20. For me, I see the re-castings more as a first step in “let’s stop thinking that white IS a default”. Not so much painting over the blank default as ‘what could Cyclops have been like if he was Indian instead of White?’ or ‘what Chinese actress would make the best Jubilee?’. That’s what attracted me to the idea, just what kind of changes would it make to the stories if we stop assuming a default.

    And I agree, we do need more focus on the minority characters we already have. (And I love that you mentioned Blade, that’s still one of my favourite movie series – my favourite action actor combined with two of my favourite genres.) Which reminds me, a friend linked me to the intro to the new Black Panther cartoon, I need to go look up some back issues.

  21. @Angel: *blink blink*

    Casting Jubilee with a Chinese actress isn’t a racial recasting. Jubilation Lee IS Chinese…

  22. “You mean to tell me that nobody would go see an action movie about a black chick with an afro, a robot arm, a sneer and a half-Japanese sword-wielding BFF in 2010?”

    Pretty sure audiences would go. But given some recent casting moves on the part of film studios adapting various geek!media originally starring POC, if that movie were made, I wouldn’t hold my breath on those same characters still being black or hapa (well, maybe if she were played by Kristin Kreuk..) Not because audiences wouldn’t attend otherwise, but because some producers in Hollywood seem to keep thinking they wouldn’t.

    I wasn’t really sure how to feel about the Chromatic Comics casting meme, but I’m familiar with the blogger who I /think/ might have started it, and I know she’s familiar with another race-swap practice that’s been in full swing with a recent–well, revisited?–trend in adapted films. That is, the same wonderful roles for superheroes of color that you spoke of, and the fact that they are indeed receiving attention (yay!) and being made into film (YAY!) but with the POC lead/s played by white performers (um..) e.g. the upcoming Platinum Studio’s “The Weapon”.

    Which is not to act as though performers of color are completely without opportunities; obviously Wesley Snipes in the “Blade” franchise, as you mentioned, among other current Hollywood POC greats like Denzel and Will. But it’s still very much a reality for media which starred heroes of color–with significant success, at that–to be met with caution by studio execs who’d love to put the story on the big screen, but would far prefer the leads not be those ~risky POC~. (Neil Gaiman has spoken before of the movie adaptation offers that have been made on his ANANSI BOYS novel, carrying with them the condition that the main characters be white instead of black.)

    Anyway, I’m uncertain if the Chromatic Comics meme was at least in part a response to Hollywood’s latest bout of whitewashing formerly POC roles (including “The Last Airbender” and “Prince of Persia”, to name a few more) but I think it gives the meme a rather different tenor from the simple “PROGRESS!” idea if so. Granted, that just makes it more cathartic for the poster than anything else, but it’s a possibility I thought deserved some note.

  23. Aaaaand now I see I’ve misspoken, as the blogger I was thinking of was actually the /second/ to post on the matter, rather than the first. (Not that this negates the possibility of the casting practices I spoke of factoring into the meme somehow, but I feel much less sure of it now.)

  24. Will Smith as Captain America was a strange idea to me at first. Months later it hit me though. A poor white Steve Rogers and a poor black Steve Rogers in spite of being different by experience, both believe in the best of their nation and help. Neither would be a contrived direction to go. And I posit that race isn’t what makes Captain America, Captain America. It is important but I believe it’s more important to the reader.

    Race is the undeniable experience through which everyone views life, through which people have constructed the way to understand life. Yet, there are people who don’t find their definitions through their racial experience, be it suburban NJ Boricua or ghetto Palestinian. Peter Parker’s racial experience didn’t determine his outlook on life; his love for stigmatized sciences, his social awkwardness, hard time with everyone but family, etc., these are his traits. They are informed but not defined by racial experience. Same with most of the icons in the repective big two. Batman is a white-American but I think of him as Batman. The most iconic of heroes, are defined by an idea, and thus color-swapping is trivial.

    I think there’s a better illustration. When I hear the old schpeel about Jesus was black, my first reaction isn’t, “He can’t be!”, it’s, “Who cares?” Reason I say this is because you read His words and they aren’t racially bound. Race is manmade. It’s the old-as-time tribal mentality. Not that I don’t love my tribe as much as the next man. Ultimately, Jesus could be green but He’s still talking about man, not this man or that man. Many of these icons work under the same resonance.

    Insofar the universal resonance is there, the hero works. But it is about damn time we see some more color on them screens. White Aang. Can’t wait to kick Manoj Nelliyattu’s….

  25. @Niles Day: I’m no expert on American social history, but think Poor White Steve Rogers and Poor Black Steve Rogers might have had a *slightly* different experience growing up in the 1920/30s.

  26. Hey there — I’m the second of the chromatic casting memes you linked to.

    I think what’s happened here is that (as so often happens with internet sociology) you came in at the tail end of a conversation. Many of the people who are doing this meme are very much involved in anti-racist activism, in comics and media fandom, and in critique of whiteness as the default and the emptiness of colourblindness-as-defined-by-media. The chromatic meme is simply the big splashy result of a long discussion on recasting/re-imagining iconic white characters as PoC characters, spurred by a number of different things — as vejiicakes mentioned, a reaction against the whitewashing of characters on screen lately, and also the rumour mill about Will Smith as Captain America.

    The point was not to say that the white characters are the only ones of worth in comics; far from it! The point was to disturb the idea that casting white actors as both white characters *and* chromatic characters is the only marketable and appealing avenue for movies to take. I would LOVE to see movies about Jubilee, but as I recall, the last time Jubilee had a big part in a movie she was played by a white actress. I’m not so crazy about that. Part of the idea was also to provoke ideas about what these characters’ origin stories and arcs would be like if they were written as these ethnicities from the get-go as opposed to a surface-only change.

    Also, I won’t lie — I also just like seeing all the really lovely choices that people have made in their chromatic versions. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with deriving some pleasure from daydreaming about people who look like me inhabiting these iconic characters. And, honestly, I think it’s presumptuous for you to declare that this one way in which I (and others) choose to address racism in genre shows/comics is “not respectful” and “tokenism” and “not powerful”. Had I known my post was going to be linked all over the place, I would have explicitly included what is implicit in just about *everything I write*, which is the need for true and varied representation of chromatic people with respect to differences and intersectionality.

    Anyhow. Nobody said we have to be a hive mind! I just figured it was important that you know that more thought went into these memes than might be readily apparent to an outsider who hasn’t been having the community discussions that spurred them.

  27. @bossymarmalade: For what it’s worth, Jubes was asian in the three X-Men movies, played by one asian actress (who google suggests is Canadian, but I don’t know whether Chinese/Japanese/etc) in X1 and a Chinese-Canadian actress in X2 and X3. The Generation X movie– well, it was crap. So I’m not surprised that the casting was also crap. It’s inexcusable, in more ways than one. But- movies about Jubilee as an asian girl exist. One was pretty bad, granted, but it’s there.

    I’m familiar with the anti-racism stuff on LJ. I don’t post any more, and pretty much retired my journal, but I keep track, either via deadbrowalking, WFA, or just digging through links when people send me stuff. I’ve been at con panels where the Racebending gang were in effect. I try to stay informed, and I’d actually read the Will Smith as Cap post before I saw the meme and found it interesting.

    And I get the meme. On the one hand, there’s an element of getback to it when considered as a reaction to the whitewashing. “Oh, you’re gonna whiten Aang up? Well guess what, buddy!” On the other, it’s a desire for equality. On still another, radioactive mutant third hand, it’s a fun fancasting thing. I understand why people did the thought exercise, and I won’t lie and say I didn’t daydream about basically being black Gambit as a kid. I’m not saying “Don’t do it,” I’m just saying “Recognize it for what it is.”

    I’m extremely uncomfortable with the idea that this is being considered at all progressive. Because, at the heart of it, you’re still saying “Captain America is more important than Falcon, or Black Panther. We should make him black so that we can have an icon, too.” Captain America is iconic because of the 70 years of history weighing Steve Rogers, poor kid from the LES who made good and became the embodiment of the American Dream, down. A black Captain America, particularly if set in the 1940s, would require a completely different story (such the (good one) in Truth: Red, White, and Black) and thus result in a different character.

    If we’re going to see a Captain America movie, we’re gonna want to see Cap. If I want a story about a black patriotic icon, I’ll read Martha Washington. Painting Cap black doesn’t give you Cap, it gives you a black man wearing someone else’s skin. Same for Asian Doctor Strange (why not get a Wong series?) or I dunno, Black Black Widow. Why alter established characters, characters we like because of their history, not their skin tone? Why not make new and interesting characters? It’s not like there’s a shortage of talent.

    By focusing solely on the white “iconic” characters, the emphasis is again placed on white characters over everyone else. The stories of Black Panther, Falcon, Misty Knight, Colleen Wing, Firestorm, Bishop, and whoever else are sidelined so that we can talk some more about characters who do not, and have not, ever represented us. It’s the same thinking that gets books starring non-whites or ones that aren’t tied into continuity (which, in the past few years at least, have been remarkably multiracial in cast) cancelled, because they don’t “count” like these other books do. It emphasizes this ridiculous dichotomy between “white” and “other.”

    And, honestly, I think it’s presumptuous for you to declare that this one way in which I (and others) choose to address racism in genre shows/comics is “not respectful” and “tokenism” and “not powerful”.

    That’s fine, but I stand by what I said. I disagree with the interpretation of the meme, I explained why, and I stand by that. I’m not on a high horse, looking down on all I survey and pointing fingers. I expect others to do the same for whatever I write.

  28. @ david brothers:

    Hey, that’s why I specified the last movie where Jubes “had a big part”! That movie did seriously suck. It was nice to see her Asian in the three X-Men movies, but she was in the background.

    Because, at the heart of it, you’re still saying “Captain America is more important than Falcon, or Black Panther. We should make him black so that we can have an icon, too.”

    You are of course free to interpret my words however you want, but I’m telling you that’s *not* what I’m saying at all. I’ve explained the reasoning behind the meme, which is one of *visual representation* first and foremost. Focusing on canonically chromatic characters was not the point of this particular exercise, so it seems at cross-purposes to keep insisting that we’re focusing on white characters to the exclusion of chromatic ones.

    Painting Cap black doesn’t give you Cap, it gives you a black man wearing someone else’s skin.

    Again, that’s not the idea. I’m not interested in these characters being “painted” anything. I’m interested in the concept of them being these ethnicities *all along*. To you, that might seem pointless; to me, it’s intriguing and evocative. De gustibus!

    I’m extremely uncomfortable with the idea that this is being considered at all progressive

    I’m not sure where you’re getting the idea that anybody’s touting it as progressive; I certainly didn’t say anything about that in my post, and as far as I know neither of the blogs you linked to did either. Besides, people are at different levels of anti-oppression consciousness; what pings one person as “progressive” might not for another. I’m not in the business of telling other chromatic peeps what they should and shouldn’t find powerful.

  29. I’m not interested in these characters being “painted” anything. I’m interested in the concept of them being these ethnicities *all along*.

    Honestly, it’s frustrating to see someone post a picture of Sandra Oh as Jessica Jones while Colleen Wing–a character I adore–appears in cancelled book after cancelled book due to poor support and low sales. Want a bright, Asian female detective with a smart mouth? One already exists and could use some promotion and good press. Why change Jessica’s story?

  30. @ Cheryl_Lynn: Why are you assuming that we aren’t *already* supporting and promoting characters of colour? Doing one doesn’t preclude the other. I find it rather a leap to connect people participating in this meme to low sales of books with chromatic characters.

  31. @Valhallahan:

    Your sarcasm is appreciated; but can you point out where I said otherwise? In spite of their different experiences obviously making them different men, I believe both Rogers would ultimately land at the same conclusion, being the same Captain America. I guess Ultimate Nick Fury is a proven example. They’re both indisputably Nick Fury and it isn’t a novelty color-swap.

  32. I guess it never occurred to me that someone familiar with a character as great as Colleen would even want an Asian Jessica Jones. I thought the point of changing Jessica from white to Asian would be to have an interesting, smart and sarcastic Asian female detective in the Marvel universe. But there already is an interesting, smart and sarcastic Asian female detective in the Marvel universe. One who is more fun for me to read about than an Asian Jessica Jones or the white one who currently exists.

  33. Personally, I’d be chuffed to have more than one smart and wry Asian female detective! Heaven knows there’s angsty rich white guys galore in comics, a few short hairy tough guys, lots of underwater royalty, sexbomb telepaths, and so on and so forth; there’s always room to have multiples (Jamie Madrox notwithstanding).

  34. I’m so happy that you and Cheryl Lynn posted about this, because I remember looking the chromatic casting thing and feeling uncomfortable but not really sure why. Now I think I have a better idea and it’s because of the implications about race as part of the characters’ identities.

    No one’s suggesting Charlize Theron for Storm, as an example. It’d be pretty offensive, I think, to suggest changing a non-white character to be a white character. And from a pure fan perspective: certain elements of her backstory wouldn’t work that way without a lot alteration.

    But at the same time, it IS okay to make Cyclops a black man. Why is that? His race is as important to his character-identity as Storm’s is, from where he comes from (Alaska has a relatively small black population) to his personal history (I might be cynical, but I find it very unlikely that a young black man would have, after (possibly) committing homicide during a robbery of a governmental facility, been turned over to Charles Xavier’s school rather than facing jail time or worse).

    It seems like then, the meme is saying (inadvertently) that Storm’s racial identity is more important to her character than Cyclops’s is to his. Being black is more significant than being white. In the end, it’s not moving away from the idea of white as “default”, it’s *reinforcing* it.

    It was a well-meaning thought exercise, but I don’t think it works in execution at all.

  35. @ kalinara:

    It’d be pretty offensive, I think, to suggest changing a non-white character to be a white character.

    It sure would! And yet it keeps happening. It’s happening right now with The Last Airbender, it happened with 21, with Extraordinary Measures, with Prince of Persia, with The Weapon, and so on and so forth.

    The meme is a way to pose a challenge by visually reversing that particular bit of Hollywood Business As Usual.

    And of course Scott’s backstory would be different if he were black. So would Alex’s, so would Corsair’s. That’s the point, and one that some people find fascinating — your mileage may vary, but that doesn’t change the fact that a lot of PoC feel differently.

  36. It seems like then, the meme is saying (inadvertently) that Storm’s racial identity is more important to her character than Cyclops’s is to his. Being black is more significant than being white. In the end, it’s not moving away from the idea of white as “default”, it’s *reinforcing* it.

    Here’s what I found exciting about the meme:
    1) It STARTED (capslock so very intentional) to challenge the “default white” paradigm of many, not all, North American/European SF/F/comic scene.
    2) The pretty
    3) It STARTED (again capslock so very intentional) a lot of conversation about exactly what WOULD change if Character X was Nationality Y.
    4) The novelty of seeing well-known characters portrayed with a shift, whether that’s gender or nationality/ethnicity

    Now through this post, I’m also very excited that
    5) There are lots for CoC out there that I might find interesting
    6) People are finding the idea of recasting in a different nationality/ethnicity uncomfortable and have very intelligent reasons to do so other than “but that’s not how s/he was drawn!”

    From the conversations I’ve seen in some blogs, yes, the recast is sheer novelty/pretty. Perhaps in some of those blogs, this is “simple” colour-washing or tokenism. “Look, heehee Elseworlds Black Superman!” However that novelty in itself is very telling. WHY is it novel? WHY was it exciting? The opinions to those questions can only open up even more discussion regarding PoC roles in contemporary media. Off the cuff, I’d say it’s novel because it’s just not out there (sad panda!). And it’s exciting because when presented with a visual and even the vaguest idea of the type of characters those actors portray, it’s very plausible. Michelle Rogriguez’s characters are all kick-ass, tough women; Lois Lane is a kick-ass, tough woman. The path to why she became kick-ass and tough will be different (more on that below) but the end product CAN BE the same.

    In other blogs and personal IMs, the recasting began conversations about what the difference is between “colourblind casting” and “ethnically open” casting and what would change if the character’s ethnicity/nationality changed, Of course Clark Kent, intergalactic refugee, growing up adopted by a white family in a rural and, I presume, mainly white community in Middle America would have a completely different experience from a Clark Kent that’s alien but appears Caucasian. However, we still want Clark to be Clark-ish and Superman to be Superman-ish. How would this happen? Would it even be possible?

    And this is why I all-capped “STARTED” in the beginning of this post. I never saw the Chromatic Recasting meme as an answer to the dearth of lead CoCs. It was a presentation, a conversational opening, even a question. I would’ve been extremely disappointed if the meme had gone around and people posted the pretty and that was that (well, except with Jason Mamoa and Takeshi Kaneshiro because GUH). It’s BRILLIANT that it was received enthusiastically. It’s JUST as brilliant that the OP and many of the comments disagree with the meme (see item #6) because now people like me are aware of full-formed CoCs who should be shoved into the spotlight. Now the idea of tokenism and cultural appropriation come instantly to the fore. Now people are rejecting the idea of “mutant” as a metaphor for race/gender/sexual orientation, but as only one aspect of a three-dimensional character within which race/gender/sexual orientation as JUST as important (I am looking at you, handwavey!Japanese!Psylocke).

    In conclusion, moooooooaaaaaaar comments pls.

    (and perhaps also fic)

  37. I totally get the criticism regarding the normification of characters in other parts of media – the Last Airbender thing is despicable, Prince of Persia, 21, all of that. But it’s honestly not a problem I see in comics or adaptations of comics for some reason – I’ve been wracking my brain for the past ten-fifteen minutes trying to think of a SINGLE comics character who got turned straight or white or whatevernormative in an alternate universe or movie retelling or anything, and the only examples I can come up with are Constantine turning American and Halle Berry being lighter-skinned than Storm in the comics. I can’t think of a single character, even a minor supporting cast member, who’s ever been turned white – only the other way around. I’m totally open to someone pointing out something I’m forgetting, since honestly it DOES seem odd that the record is so clean, but I really can’t think of a single character who’s lost their non-straight/white ethnic identity in any form, at least not within the last ten to twenty years. (And yes, I know the Generation X movie was pointed out, but that was terrible in almost EVERY WAY as far as I can tell.)

  38. It sure would! And yet it keeps happening. It’s happening right now with The Last Airbender, it happened with 21, with Extraordinary Measures, with Prince of Persia, with The Weapon, and so on and so forth.

    The meme is a way to pose a challenge by visually reversing that particular bit of Hollywood Business As Usual.

    What Hollywood does is irrelevant to my point. My point was that the people taking part in the meme did not, once (at least that I saw) change a non-white character to a white character. It seems like if you’ve suddenly got a team where Kanye West is Archangel, you could have Charlize Theron as Storm. But no one did. I noticed the suggestion of Chinese actresses to play Jubilee, as well. Why not suggest Kristen Bell?

    That’s where the double standard comes in. If it’s okay to change Archangel, or Cyclops, or the Punisher, then it SHOULD be okay to change Storm or Jubilee. If it’s not okay to change Storm or Jubilee, then it really shouldn’t be okay to change Cyclops or Archangel. They’re not white-by-default, they were created as specifically (if not consciously) to be white men with all the privileges and ramifications that entails as much as Jubilee was created to be a Chinese-American girl.

    I’m sure it wasn’t intentional, but the end result of the thought exercise is a meme that seems to indicate to me that white is a blank slate to which color is then added to make non-white equivalents. It’s really hard to get MORE treating-white-as-default than that.

  39. @ kalinara:

    The meme was *started specifically* to address Hollywood whitewashing, so it is far from irrelevant to the point.

    If you can’t see that there’s a profound difference between troubling the whiteness of characters who were created at a time when chromatic characters were mostly villains and stereotypes and turning the few chromatic characters who exist into white people, well … I have better things to do than Racism 101.

  40. the end result of the thought exercise is a meme that seems to indicate to me that white is a blank slate to which color is then added to make non-white equivalents. It’s really hard to get MORE treating-white-as-default than that.
    —Ooooooh, okay, I gotcha. You have an excellent good point and the fact that you and many others perceived it to be so makes this POV of extreme importance to the whole CoC conversation. I’m going to go all sly sociology instructor and reply with a slew of questions for everyone on this board

    1) Is this a double-standard and why? <– oh yeah, it' going there.
    2) Why might supporters of CoC use white-as-a-blank-slate?
    3) Why does the Chromatic Recasting and the rebuttals above navigate between white-other? eg) Storm could be Charlize Theron but why wasn't she Aishwarya Rai? (Note: There were Bollywood recastings where everyone was recast as South Asian but I can't recall if this included characters who aren't of European descent)

  41. @bossymarmalade: Sorry- we don’t do “Racism 101” here. That’s incredibly condescending, particularly in this instance, and kalinara is neither an idiot nor in the wrong. Treat her like a person, please.

    And what’s she saying is that, essentially, what’s bad for one is bad for all, and she definitely has a point. White people donning blackface has a long history of exploitation, yes. At the same time, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Colorswapping, in either direction, in modern society is not as simple as “White people did it first.” There’s a point to Paul Mooney’s proclamation about the “nigger” (“White folks made up nigger and don’t want me to say it”), but if you don’t see how colorswapping, whitewashing in the other direction, could be seen as racist, then you have a problem.

    No, it does not have the weight of Al Jolson behind it. Despite that, what makes it different? The big getback? Thought exercise or no, it leaves a lot to be desired.

    This is basic. Historical context can affect the direction or tone of a conversation (“When is it okay to say nigger,” “How to talk to black folks about their hair”), but racism is racism.

    @xenokattz: 1)Yep, for reasons as put forth in my response to bossymarmalade.

    2) In part because “white as default” has been pushed, when “white as dominant” is probably a better phrase. Default implies tabula rasa, blank, easy to replace, and, particularly nowadays, something to be changed. Dominant alters that dynamic, suggesting that white (characters/culture/whatever) is merely prevalent or on top (for a variety of reasons that I’m sure are obvious to everyone here). It’s more apt.

    3)It goes between white-nonwhite because racial politics in the US have generally employed that dichotomy, which in part serves to set up an “us vs them” scenario- “It’s whites that are miscasting us, so we can do the same to them.”

    The problem is that that does no one any favors. It’s not us vs them.

  42. bossymarmalade: I didn’t say that there isn’t a difference. Hollywood’s whitewashing is a terrible problem.

    But my point about the impression I gleaned from the meme had to do with the choices of the people taking part. And the fact that white-washing is a bigger offense doesn’t negate that some people think that the end result of the meme was still pretty offensive and created an (accidental) impression that white is a default.

    And thank you, but, should I require a Racism 101 refresher, I wouldn’t look to you.

    xenokattz: I admit, I didn’t see (or don’t remember seeing) the Bollywood variation. I’m not sure what I’d think of it, to be honest. I think it’d be less uncomfortable for me as long as all the characters are involved.

  43. Damnit, I wish I’d responded faster, David, because your response is so much better than mine. 🙂

  44. As much as you were offended by my comments, I’m sure you can understand that it’s also very frustrating to be condescendingly accused of tokenism, reverse-racism, and promoting white-as-default on the basis of a single meme post.

    Anyhow, I can see we’re coming at this from very different and possibly irreconcilable angles. Thanks for the discussion, nonetheless.

  45. I didn’t accuse you of anything. I said the MEME seemed to promote white-as-default which is an element of regular racism not “reverse-racism”. I don’t think I once implied that I thought the meme participants were doing it intentionally or with anything other than good intentions.

    I do like how it’s okay to criticize something for unintentional (or intentional) racism as long as that something isn’t yours.

  46. My apologies for the late reply. I had class and also really wanted to have a good read of as many sides of the conversation as possible because I agree with both sides. I think this may turn into several posts because one long post is scary and not very neat.

    [Posted in reply to a discussion on LJ which I have yet to ask for linking permission]
    When the issue of equality and/or reparation for inequality comes about, there’s the question of what that looks like. Take feminism as an example. The traditional (and possibly ongoing debate) of gender equality seems to be

    a) equality as encouraging women to take “traditionally” masculine jobs, be the primary bread earner, and take a role outside the mother/sister/daughter/home & hearth. This can be seen in the wearing pants, the huge shoulder pads of the 80’s, women in trades, blah blah blah

    b) equality as celebrating “traditionally” feminine roles/characteristics such as crafts, home-making, child-rearing. This can be seen in the profusion of craft-based art by women in the 70’s and the profusion of home/child support legislation (at least in Canada; unsure of the States).

    c-z) A profusion of in-betweens.

    It can’t be argued that men were/are the dominant/default group and has been for a long damn time. But because of this, the cultural codes for dominance is equal to the cultural codes for masculinity. And as far as I know, there’s still no consensus on how to make genders completely equal outside of equal pay for equal work.

    I think the effort to equalise CoC has run up the same “language” barrier, if you will. Appropriation of existing dominant/default characters is certainly one way to do it. Emphasizing pre-existing CoC is another. And I couldn’t tell you which one is “right” if there even is one. *LMAO* So, yes PoC –> white does suit the equality argument because this POV calls for complete and total equality. However, I think white AND PoC –> Bollywood suits it even more because it loses the dichotomy of white vs PoC, use vs them. OTOH, if we use feminism (and maybe some sexuality studies re: same sex marriage vs marriage as heteronormative vs civil/religous definitions) as a basis, re-appropriating dominant roles can be empowering, has been empowering in the past and has led to increased freedoms for the underpriveledged.

    [OHDEARGOD, there are more links since I commented above. I am so going to have to compile this. Oh yeah, I pulled out good ol’ McLuhan ;)]

    If ye readers have gotten this far and you still want more, I highly encourage going through the links posted in the OP, both pro- and anti-meme because I think seeing the differing reactions is informative and indicative of intention vs perception. I also humbly offer my initial response to the debate [http://xenokattz.livejournal.com/366319.html].

    Now I come from a fine arts & nursing background (Um. It’s a long story), and both lines of study emphasized the EQUAL importance of intent and perception. Case in point: I once asked a supervising RN around shift change, “Are you on the floor yet?” because, knowing we were short-staffed and the unit was crazy, I didn’t want to bother her before she was OFFICIALLY on the clock. However, within her context (she was all but forced to come in overtime, at the last minute because of the staff shortage), she interpreted that as some uppity nursing student nagging her to get her butt on the floor already and reported me to my instructor. So that there is intent and perception at complete odds with each other but both being valid.

    I think it’s important that people read the COMMENTS and responding posts that came from the Chromatic Meme because, my LORDY, the creativity and insight that came into the discussions are so exciting. [I pimp my post again because we talk a lot about Jubilee and handwavey!Japanese!Psylocke as well as the importance of Matt Murdock’s ethnicity vs his religion: http://xenokattz.livejournal.com/366319.html%5D. I also want people to read the arguments against the meme because, well, because. A negative response being equally valid as a positive response means there’s a disconnect in the communication when we’re all on the same side of the CoC fan club.


    In conclusion, teal deer aside, I’m looking at the Chromatic Meme, my ideas of equality vs fairness vs justice (because we all know they aren’t synonyms), and its possible solutions. Which is not to say that I’ve changed my mind completely, it’s just giving me a lot more to chew on. And I’d like to invite more comment for the heck of it.

  49. Really enjoying reading this discussion. Very interesting stuff.

    @Niles Day: Point taken.

  50. Oh, thank you.

    I have been following this discussion and rolling my eyes – especially at the way it began. Recently a suggestion was made that we should change Steve Rogers’ story and make him fight Communists instead of Nazis so that he could be made black, because otherwise THE ENTIRE CAPTAIN AMERICA EXPERIENCE IS A WHITE ONE.

    And I rolled my eyes. Yes, lets’ destroy the entire backstory of a character AND let’s ignore Sam Wilson, with one short-sighted stone.

  51. @xenokattz: xenokattz, I was interested when you seemed to be trying to promote discussion, but your three comments in a row are 1) clearly from another conversation, 2) trying to ringlead the discussion, and 3) barely even related to what we’re talking to here. No more of that, please.

  52. Kate — They seriously suggested a black Captain America couldn’t fight Nazis? That’s.. That’s beyond not knowing comics continuity. That’s being too unimaginative and close-minded to even CONCEIVE of a character like Isaiah Bradley.

  53. Kate:

    Why on Earth would people need to change the war Cap fought in to make a black Captain America? What about Isaiah Bradley?

    I could appreciate doing a what-if type story where the serum/process wasn’t flawed. OR a story focusing on Isaiah Bradley prior to the serum starting to malfunction. OR a story about Eli Bradley as a future Captain America. Or you know, stop ignoring the fact that Cap has a flipping partner.

    How incredibly stupid and short-sighted is it to assume that we have to change Steve Rogers to have a black Captain America?

  54. @david
    I’m very sorry for highjacking the comments. I hadn’t realised I’d done that when I posted but when I look back, that’s exactly what I did. I also realise that Part B is indeed only slightly related to the topic; it’s more about what was going on with the different sides of the discussion. That was very rude of me and again, I apologize. Please feel free to delete the comments if you want.

    However, I do think Part A is relevant to one part of the discussion considering the following statements:
    Chromatic Comics is […] not powerful. It’s not respectful. It’s not even anti-racist. It ignores what we already have in favor of continuing to worship exclusively white characters as if they were the end-all, be-all of comics.
    – the end result of the thought exercise is a meme that seems to indicate to me that white is a blank slate to which color is then added to make non-white equivalents. It’s really hard to get MORE treating-white-as-default than that.
    – “white as default” has been pushed, when “white as dominant” is probably a better phrase. Default implies tabula rasa, blank, easy to replace, and, particularly nowadays, something to be changed. Dominant alters that dynamic, suggesting that white (characters/culture/whatever) is merely prevalent or on top.

    I was trying to explain in the last paragraph of Part A, perhaps not very well, a reason why the meme might’ve been so exciting even on a superficial level. Not that I disagree about how already existing CoC should be supported more; they definitely should. And I totally and completely agree that mere colour-swapping without taking into account changed histories is pretty useless and insulting to the character and the audience. But Superman is a big effing deal with a LOT of power behind him, physically, symbolically, financially, historically and all the rest of that. So, I can completely understand why it would be exciting, and yes, empowering, to even just SEE– people being visual– a black/brown/East Asian Superman.

    Thanks ever so!

  55. So, I can completely understand why it would be exciting, and yes, empowering, to even just SEE– people being visual– a black/brown/East Asian Superman.

    I agree. I’ve always thought it would be awesome to have a movie about John Henry Irons.

    Which is why I think chromatic casting is sad in the end. Because it’s not really doing anything. It COULD have been a mechanism for highlighting characters that not everyone knows exist. Kind of like:

    Everyone likes Superman, but the last Superman movie didn’t do that well. So why, instead of rebooting the franchise again, don’t they make a Steel movie. This could be our actor! This is how he’s similar to/tied to/evokes similar feelings as Superman: … This is what makes him unique and different: … This is why he’s cool: … This is how a movie could work: …

    It would mean more, I think, if instead of highlighting Superman, Batman, Iron Man, Cap, the X-Men and changing them, the meme started highlighting and casting for: Steel, Black Panther, War Machine, Patriot, Static Shock, and so on.

    I guess also, I think that the chromatic casting idea is fairly pointless. Say Hollywood is inspired. They DO make a non-white Superman movie. It’d be pretty fantastic, I don’t disagree. But then the kids want to read more about this fellow. They open the comic and …he’s white.

    But look at the Justice League cartoon. They COULD have chosen to add diversity by making Hal Jordan black. But they didn’t. And now to a fairly huge subset of the kids who grew up watching the show, John Stewart is THEIR Green Lantern. Granted, DC doesn’t always highlight the character as they should, but that’s what letter campaigns and the like are for. If more people SAY “I want a John Stewart comic” then there’s a better chance DC will make one. But people can’t say that if all they see is Hal Jordan.

  56. Oh god, David, I’m sorry for ranting/speechifying. It didn’t look that long when I typed it. 🙁

  57. Er…Kalinara, I hate to tell you this. But there WAS a Steel movie. Starring Shaq. Judd Nelson plays the bad guy. Its about as terrible as you might imagine…

  58. Heh. Okay, point to you. But really, if Captain America can get a new movie after that horrible horrible Italian-Red-Skull crap, Steel should get one too. It’s not HIS fault they cast Shaq.

  59. Your post has been included in a Linkspam roundup