Christian Bale is Batman. Andrew Garfield is the new Spider-Man. Now it has been announced that Henry Cavill is the new Superman. What do these three men have in common?
They’re all British and they’re all white.
Regulars here are familiar with my take on casting for superheroes. Do away with the non-essentials and get to the core of the role. It does not matter what the race of the individual is so long as the core of the character can be matched. The visage of the character need not be a concern because even in the comics a character rarely looks the same from one artist to the next. Why should an actor be picked for being even remotely similar?
In the instance of Spider-Man, the character wears a body sock. For roughly one-third to half of any Spidey film, the character is completely covered. Why should only white actors be considered for the role? Worse yet, why can’t a black/Asian/Latino/Arab actor even audition for the part?
Instead, the three actors mentioned above are all white because the original authors wrote the characters to be accepted by an overall white audience. But this creates a new pseudo-problem. If you think about it, Spider-Man, Batman, and Superman are three most popular comic book characters in the United States; and they are basically American cultural icons. But the current actors portraying them on the world’s most popular stage are all British.
We are outsourcing our icons to the British.
This is not blind patriotism. This is a mere observation. For some reason it is much more important to keep in line with broad aesthetics than to keep the cultural factors of the character. The characters struck chords with the American culture not because of how they looked but because of the roles they fulfilled in our collective American dreams. Peter Parker/Spider-Man is the poor on money and luck kid who found a special role in this world and continually gives back to the world – even though it is often detrimental to himself. (Not to mention the eternal lesson of great power’s being tagged with great responsibility.) Bruce Wayne/Batman is the rich and entitled little boy who lost it all at a young age but had the mental fortitude to devote his time and fortune to saving everyone from unfortunate circumstances. Clark Kent/Superman has always been hard for me to put my finger on, but he was the unnatural citizen who made America his home and fought for the protection and betterment of the country – later the world. He was faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Man-made objects are majestic, but Superman always said that living things are superior and more important.
Shifting these cultural icons to British portrayals is not a horrible action. However, after last year’s racial closeout on Spider-Man, it is a bit of a slap in the face. It just continues to speak clearly of an American cultural message that we try to ignore despite its being clearly tacit knowledge: Race matters. We may have a black President, finally proving that anyone can be President someday, but he’s the 44th President ever and still only half black. Nick Fury was made black for the Ultimate Comics version of his character and the current Marvel Comics movies, but he has always been a minor character to fans – and some people were not happy about it. Even a very minor character in the upcoming Thor film has already caused protests because black people cannot be Norse gods. Race matters. It always matters.
I guess what I am clearly getting at here is this: Why do all of the superheroes have to be white?