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Race-and-Gender Bending Pop Culture Icons: Nightmare Fuel for Hate-filled Nerds

By Rob Payne | Lists | September 10, 2013 |

By Rob Payne | Lists | September 10, 2013 |

Sometimes it feels like 2013 has been the Year of Racist, Sexist Nerd Culture. Certain people flipped out over the rumored possible casting of Michael B. Jordan, a young African American actor, playing the role of Johnny Storm, a.k.a. the Human Torch of the Fantastic Four, who is traditionally drawn in comic books as an Aryan super-man. Then we have the complete and utter dearth of women-led films, much less blockbusters, despite the fact it’s a perpetual “surprise” how successful women-led movies can be if given the same chances as the menfolk. True, there was also Lawrence Fishburne playing the usually aptly named Perry White in Man of Steel and Chloe Grace Moretz reprising her role as the fan-favorite Hit Girl in Kick-Ass 2, but those are exceptions and haters were annoyed by the movies themselves than they were any casting notices. Plus, Johnny Depp as Tonto kind of trumps all other arguments.

And then I remember that before now we also found out that white supremacists really love the non-Norse-deity-totally-outer-space-alien version of Thor so much that the incredibly talented Idris Elba couldn’t even be cast in a minor role of the movie adaptation without angering the online hordes. There was also the continuing controversy over portrayals of female super heroes in pop culture, specifically in regards to the official DC canonical universe after a reboot of all their series caused the women to get boobier, hippier, and much less clothed — as well as less interesting, save for a few stand-outs. The white washing — turning non-white characters Anglo-Saxony by casting white actors — has been a happy Hollywood tradition forever, as long as everyone stays the same gender: Mickey Rooney in “yellowface” for Breakfast at Tiffany’s; Tommy Lee Jones replacing Billy Dee Williams in Batman Forever; D.B. Sweeney playing the previously black Terry Fitzgerald in Spawn; and almost the entire cast of The Last Airbender, save, of course, for the racially darker-toned villains. Thankfully the proposed Americanized adaptation of the classic anime Akira — with a proposed slew of white actors playing characters who retain names like Kaneda and, ahem, Akira — has failed to ever materialize beyond disappointed trade news posts. So, really, every year is apparently the Year of Racist, Sexist Nerd Culture.

So, with the extremely limited power at my disposal, I’d like to offer a philosophical corrective to all this non-equality bullshit and play another round of dream casting. Rather than take one property and totally make it over, or toss around several properties with varying color and anatomical changes, let’s take one prominent figure from a plethora of source material and change them fundamentally. Some of these changes might actually get at something truer about the character, or the change could visually illustrate the overall universality of that character. At least one of these changes is just because I think it would be hilarious. But the point is, as my awesome prognisticating skills have shown, these choices could work. After all, it’s supposed to be about the right actor for the part, isn’t it?

If you’re one of those hateful crumbums who, say, lamented how not-depressing Rue’s fate in The Hunger Games was because her skin color didn’t match your imagination’s poor reading comprehension skills, please accept my offer to suck on these Everything-Bended Dream Casts. For everyone else, enjoy!

Donald Glover as Peter Parker Spider-Man
Might as well start with the obvious. When Glover good-naturedly started spreading some of his fans’ desires to see him play the legendary wall-crawler in the rebooted Amazing Spider-Man, he was one of the first of the current crop of black performers who heard from the Internet’s most loveable scamps, the racists with anger management issues. But just because he’s old mask at this point doesn’t mean Glover wouldn’t be any less a fantastic Spider-Man, as well as a solid Peter Parker. With every passing sequal starring Andrew Garfield, the chances of this happening go from incredibly unlikely to as impossible for anyone currently alive to see as the inevitable heat-death of the universe. But Glover will always be my friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

Adam Beach as Steve Rogers Captain America
I have absolutely nothing against Chris Evans’ portrayal of the All-American (which is, strangely, also very Aryan) Steve Rogers. He fits exactly the mold as drawn in the comics and really plays the man-out-of-his-time naivete with an unexpected, delightful charm. That said, there’s absolutely no reason Steve Rogers, much less Captain America, has to be as white and as blond as Evans is. One could go the route of The Truth, the graphic novel that presupposed a black Cap before the white Cap, but that comic’s ideas are far better than it’s execution. No, let’s actually get at what it means to have and accept an American identity in the United States, something that my fellow white people know is all too easily accepted as a simple, well, truth. Adam Beach has shown he has quite the talent for playing men both with naivete and an U.S. armed forces uniform, and casting a Native American in the role of the country’s most patriotic defender offers more dramatic tension than just another white guy, and it isn’t even historically far-fetched. The Marvel Studio gears are churning as fast as they can, but this is the first Avenger I’d like to see rebooted sooner rather than later.

Michael K. Williams as Lex Luthor
Despite rumors to the contrary, Bryan Cranston is not, nor will he ever be, Zack Snyder’s Lex Luthor in the upcoming Batman vs. Superman. Or, he could be, but it won’t be in that movie. Nevertheless, the role remains as-yet un-cast and, if written correctly, could be the juicest role in the new film just like he was when played by Gene Hackman (or Kevin Spacey, or Michael Rosenbaum, or Clancy Brown). But just like there’s no reason Peter Parker needs to be a white a kid just because he grew up poor and in Brooklyn, Lex Luthor does not need to be a bald ginger just because he’s rich and from Kansas. Initially, Lance Reddick came to mind as a possible Luthor, but that could be considering typecasting just because the man’s chromedome glimmers just so. Almost immediately, though, Reddick’s “The Wire” castmate came barreling into my brain, as is his wont. Michael K. Williams can play suave and dangerous with the ease of a man who is just waking up from a nap, but don’t go to sleep on him. He’d bring a whole new demeanor to the character, while providing the most likely candidate for a Presidential run storyline we’ve yet seen in a Metropolis-set tale. If Batman and Superman come at his Lex, they best not miss.

John Barrowman as James Bond
This is another character where it makes sense to initially go with a black actor, as if those rumors of Idris Elba stepping in after Daniel Craig inevitably hangs up his Walther PPK have escaped any of us. And it’s true, Elba would make a fantastic Bond. But other than tackling the squirmy issue of racial-sexual politics (I can just see those fans who bemoaned Craig’s “James Blonde” absolutely losing their minds here), as long as the character still beds women, nothing is really any different. On the other hand, if James Bond were a gay man, he would be viewed completely differently, without changing his core dynamic of being a British espionage agent who really, really loves to shag. Instead of being just a misogynist womanizer/ladies’ man, he simply has an insatiable appetite for the Queen’s justice and for the beast with two backs. Depending on how you square the spy’s mid-30s to mid-40s existence over 60 years, this isn’t even that drastic of a make-over. As for John Barrowman, he could easily play James Bond as a straight incarnation. But as the guy who played Captain Jack and stole the heart of every man and woman who watched “Torchwood,” he is absolutely the only choice to play the gay James Bond. You can’t even say a word about his hair.

Naveen Andrews as Jack Bauer (or, his replacement)
Before you flip out too much, bear in mind that actually replacing Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer isn’t going to happen anytime soon and probably never should. At least, not while he’s still alive and planning a return for the “24” character on TV sometime in the near future. But after eight seasons and one pseudo-movie, do we really need Jack Bauer defending us from terrorist threats anymore? Wouldn’t it be far more interesting to see a new actor take on a similarly harried and impressive character, and wouldn’t that character be far more interesting in today’s world if he didn’t look exactly like an un-masked Captain America? To that end, after “LOST,” Naveen Andrews, who played wannabe repentant torturer Sayid, really needs the work. It seems bizarre that he wasn’t cast as Khan Noonien-Singh in Star Trek Into Darkness, considering the director and screenwriters of that disappointing debacle, as he was one of the most beloved performers his TV show’s huge cast. It would be a fantastic twist of his career if his next role was as a capturer of terrorists on American TV’s most popular terrorist-catching program. Let Sutherland show him the ropes for a half-season, then past that weapon-grades baton to Andrews and never look back.

Jane Levy as Marty McFly
Names like Zac Efron and Justin Bieber have been bandied about in the past as possible replacements for Michael J. Fox as the new Marty McFly for the taste of this new tween generation. Other than being choices with the sole intent of illiciting squeels from a certain type of audience member, either Efron or Bieber would be incredibly boring. Still, the premise behind Back to the Future is strong enough that it could be updated interestingly if we hurry up and get it done by 2015 (the year Marty and Doc Brown go to the future in Part II), sending the next McFly to 1985 instead of 1955. But why does Marty have to be a teenage dude? Why can’t the time traveler be a girl who gets skeeved out by her flirty future-father (Chris Pratt?) and has to get her mortified mother (Gillian Jacobs?) to come out of her shell before they never meet, which would cause her and her siblings to fade out of existence? Jane Levy proved she could follow in Bruce Campbell’s footsteps in Evil Dead, without actually playing Ash, so walking along the flaming tire tracks left by Fox’s McFly shouldn’t prove any more difficult. If it has to happen, Levy as Marty (Marti?) could make a BttF remake a lot like Hot Tub Time Machine, but actually fun.

Jamie Foxx as Jesus Christ
Honestly, as an agnostic, I don’t care enough about Jesus to have a dog in the fight between theologians and scholars who argue that he must have been Jewish, or Arab, or African, instead of the lily-white version that became canon during the Middle Ages. Like Spider-Man, it really doesn’t matter what color Jesus was, it only matters what his message was (and, realistically, how people interpret that). I just want to see Jamie Foxx play Jesus Christ. In a movie by Quentin Tarantino that is essentially a spiritual prequel to Django Unchained, with a huge portion of the same cast — Christoph Waltz as Pontius Pilate, Kerry Washington as Mary Magdalene, Leonard DiCaprio as the Devil, and Sam Jackson as God. Foxx is one of the most charismatic actors working today, able to play low-key and bluster with equal grace, so he’s a natural fit for the most charismatic historical figure that ever lived. He would at least make more sense than Willem Dafoe or Harvey Keitel as denizens of the ancient world in The Last Temptation of Christ. We can call it Jesus Uncrossed.

Samm Levine as The Wolverine
Hugh Jackman will likely play Logan, the indestructible mutant with more rage than hair (and he’s got a lot of hair), until the day he retires from acting or dies from an on-set claw malfunction. But assuming he hangs up his pleather jumpsuit after X-Men: Days of Future Past, I can think of only one person who could capture the rage and the hair of Wolverine. Samm Levine, of “Freaks and Geeks” fame. As a regular on comedian Doug Benson’s podcast, Doug Loves Movies, Levine already evinces his short fuse during poorly run or poorly played versions of the Leonard Maltin Game. His nickname on that show is already “L’il Wolverine,” and it’s more than just the physical resemblance. Like Logan, Levine is the best there is at what he does, whether it’s slicing up a ninja or winning the Maltin Game in negative two names. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that the comic Wolverine is actually about as short in stature as Levine himself is in real life. So, actually, this is the one instance where I’m siding with the unimaginative pedants.

Rob Payne also writes the web comic The Unstoppable Force, tweets on the Twitter, tumbls on the Tumblr, and his wares can be purchased here. He enjoys that the only accepted intolerance is reserved for the intolerant.

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