In 2002, Marvel published the first issue of The Ultimates, their alternative “Ultimate” universe run of the Avengers comics. Although this comic didn’t offer the first appearance of the new version of Nick Fury, it did offer the fully developed revision of the character. In it, he was changed from the traditional white, military-officer-esque character to a New York-tough black man.
The new Nick Fury was intentionally modeled after Samuel L. Jackson, both in appearance and personality. Six years before the debut of the first Iron Man movie in which Jackson appeared in the post-credits scene, it was a foregone conclusion that he would be cast in the role of Nick Fury in future movies.
As a result, a traditionally white character was changed to a black character.
Both comic book and movie fans, by and large, loved this. It wasn’t because we felt this deep desire to see more diversity among our beloved characters. Frankly, the vast majority of us are entirely indifferent on the matter. But the general consensus was that Sam Jackson is absolutely perfect for the role of Nick Fury (and after the near-decade run of Marvel Studios, it’s difficult to deny this).
Although he may have been the most significant example, Jackson wasn’t the only traditionally white comic book character who was portrayed by a black actor. The original Daredevil movie featured Michael Clarke Duncan in the role of Wilson Fisk. This movie may have been terrible, but the animosity was based on just about every element except this casting, which was seen as the perfect casting of the character by many comic book fans.
Although Fisk has been more recently portrayed by a white actor in the Netflix series, another traditionally white character, Ben Urich, was portrayed by the black actor Vondie Curtis Hall. Although this character, not being a hero or villain, received notably less attention, it has still been acknowledged by Daredevil comic book fans (such as myself), that his representation of the classic character was more accurate than Joe Pantoliano’s portrayal in the 2003 film.
In all of these cases, the race change of the character has been an entirely unimportant detail. It has neither been viewed by fans as a boon for diversity nor a violation of comic book tradition. These castings have predominantly been seen as, simply, good castings.
Compare this to the race change for Johnny Storm (portrayed by Michael B. Jordan) in the recent Fantastic Four produced by Fox studios. In this instance, although it is almost a taboo to state it explicitly, it is nearly certain that the race change was for “politically correct” diversity-seeking motives. In short, it was a studio decision to try to appeal to a market (black audiences? whiney progressives?).
And there was naturally an uproar about this race change, which was predictably responded to by accusations and implication of racism. The problem is, if racism was the sole motivation (because I’m sure the Huffington Post is entirely capable of finding the here-and-there genuine racists with all the time they spend on the internet looking for them), then why was the uproar so…well…non-existent for the change of Nick Fury?
The easy answer that most people point to is that race isn’t the only continuity change that a black Johnny Storm implies. Now his white sister is adopted, so that his genius father’s genius child (Sue Storm) is the one not inheriting the hereditary abilities. It is perfectly valid to raise continuity concerns over the issues that breakdown the logic of the character dynamics.
But I don’t think that’s even the real issue, and here we can identify the true problem that this article is hoping to address. The fact is, the casting of a black actor in the role of Johnny Storm was done for no reason other than that the studio wanted a black actor. In other words, they were not concerned with story, and they were not concerned with casting the best person for the role (though for the record, I think Michael B. Jordan is a wonderful actor and he gave a classy response when the racial issue was raised). The studio was concerned with producing something that they believed to be marketable to certain demographics, with the general quality of the movie taking a backseat on their list of priorities.
And the result was that it was a terrible movie. This wasn’t because the studio cast a black actor as Johnny Storm; it was because they placed politically correct priorities such as “racial diversity” above the building of a quality film. If creating a high-caliber movie is of low concern, how can you expect anything other than garbage to be produced?
And this has a counter-productive effect on the agendas of the whiney progressives who are demanding diversity as a higher priority than quality. Unlike the movies that changed the race of a traditional character because they believed the black actor to be the perfect fit for the role, the new Fantastic Four bombed at the box office. So long, black Johnny Storm. If nobody wants to watch the movie with diversity, then what was accomplished?
The reality is that people want to watch good movies. They want to watch good TV shows. They want to read good books and listen to good music (is anybody going to assume that young black people are listing to Eminem because he offers diversity within the genre?).
The most recent example of this ploy for diversity-over-quality nonsense is the trending social media campaign #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend. There is now an outcry to make Captain America and Bucky homosexual lovers.
Why? Other than the “diversity” argument that can be reduced to “just ‘cause” argumentation, what is the purpose of making the character gay? Unlike Fox, Marvel Studios has been focusing on producing quality films as the top priority, and what we’ve seen is diversity as happenstance, and the results have been wildly successful movies. The only Fox superhero movie that can even compete with Marvel’s success is the recent Deadpool film, which was clearly driven with a priority for quality over diversity, but happened to also feature a traditionally pansexual character. The results were the breaking of box office records for profit, rather than breaking records for poor performance like we saw with the diversity-driven Fantastic Four.
And as for diversity in movies and television shows, the people who are still claiming that bigotry is the driving force behind the backlash and failures of these politically motivated casting decisions are clearly deliberately ignoring the massively successful examples of diversity in movies and TV shows in which the diversity is a matter of the story, rather than something that simply makes Social Justice Warriors feel happy butterflies in their tummies. The syndicated sit-com Modern Family features a married gay couple as lead characters. The Hunger Games trilogy stars a female heroine (and, incidentally, is incredibly popular with both sexes). And heaven forbid any of these progressives praise Ayn Rand for Atlas Shrugged’s depiction of a female railroad executive as the novel’s hero (and this was back in the 1950s when female executives were actually unheard of).
Entertainment is no different than the rest of the market. Attempting to force diversity for its own sake is counterproductive. It demonstrates that something as arbitrary as, say, how much light a person’s skin reflects is of higher priority than the quality of the production (can someone tell me again how these Social Justice Warriors are not the racists?). However, when the focus remains on quality and the motivation is not politically driven, diversity occurs naturally because there actually are non-white actors who fit the role of white characters, there are good stories to be told with female heroes and gay characters, and quality-driven projects are not going to pass up these options when they are clearly going to enhance the story being told.
So I’m glad Marvel hasn’t been focusing on trying to #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend, and instead has been worried about giving him an amazing, quality-driven film franchise. At the end of the day, that’s what the market is always going to prefer, regardless of diversity.