On racelifting

Diverse City
By SHAY STEWART-BOULEY  |  April 25, 2012

Of all the groups of people from among the wide array of demographics to choose from, I never expected the world of nerd-dom to generate my eleventh-hour inspiration for a column topic, much less one about ingrained racism in society.

Maybe it's because my husband doesn't suffer from a surplus of racial baggage in his white privilege and he's a nerd, but I guess I just didn't figure race would be a huge issue in this crowd. But apparently it is, and the new movie The Avengers seems to be a touch point for racial irritation now, all over a character named Nick Fury.

Now, please pardon any ignorance I may show about comic books; I'm leaning heavily on the grown man living with me who decorates his office with action figures to consult with me on this (I prefer my action flicks be based more or less in reality; Pulp Fiction is as close to fantasy as I get). But I guess Colonel Nick Fury, in the comic books, is a white man with an eyepatch, a full head of hair, and often a lot of stubble on his face.

In the new Avengers movie, he's a black man with an eyepatch who's bald and clean-shaven.

I guess a lot of fans have issues with the movie treatment, or so my husband tells me. This despite the fact that Samuel L. Jackson has already played Nick Fury in bit parts in every superhero movie that's led up to The Avengers. I guess it's his bigger role in the newest movie that's why people are suddenly crying foul. Or maybe they have been all along. Either way, it still supports my point that white people have a huge issue with racelifting, but only when it applies to white characters, apparently.

Racelifting, if you don't already know, is the practice of taking a character of one race or ethnicity (such as from a novel) and recasting that character as a different race or ethnicity (such as in a movie).

This got some attention apparently with The Hunger Games too. I haven't read the novel, but as I understand, certain characters who were not black in the novel were played by black actors in the movie. There was some outcry, though oddly, apparently the lead character in the novel was olive-complexioned and she's awfully damn solid Caucasian in the film, and fans didn't have an issue with that near as I can see.

And therein lies the hypocrisy.

There's a Lone Ranger movie coming out in which Johnny Depp plays Tonto. You know, the Native American sidekick. I'm not sure why this is necessary, when there are plenty of Native American actors and not many roles to play Native Americans in the movies. Yet this casting choice only seems to raise the hackles of the people of color, while most white folks seem to think, "What's the big deal?"

The big deal is the notion that with rare exceptions, movies with black leads aren't for the masses. Unless you have Will Smith in the lead, or perhaps Wesley Snipes once upon a time, people will see a movie with a black lead as a black movie. This seems to be the case in particular when it comes to action movies and comedies, as far as I can see.

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  Topics: The Editorial Page , Samuel L. Jackson, racism, race,  More more >
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