There have been a few instances lately of people of color being cast in movie roles for characters that historically have been portrayed as white. My stance is that, unless there's some aspect of the character that is firmly root in his/her race, it doesn't matter what race the person who portrays them is. Nothing in Batman's history says he has to be white, other than historical precedent. Nothing in Charlie Brown's history says he has to be white, other than historical precedent.
Jessica Alba is half-Mexican and did a fine job playing the Invisible Woman. Michael Clarke Duncan is Black and did an extraordinary job playing the Kingpin. Eartha Kitt is famously remembered for her role as Catwoman, after replacing a white actress who played the same character in the very same TV series. People of color portraying characters that were historically white. The movies weren't all that great, but that wasn't the fault of the actors; they worked with what they were given. I don't doubt Quvenzhané Wallis and Michael B. Jordan will similarly do excellent jobs in their forthcoming roles as Little Orphan Annie and the Human Torch.
The problem with that, however, is that the institutional racism that's already generated a white Superman has nearly a century's head-start. Marketing a known character like that is fairly simple in the first place (how many of posters/billboards/ads for the last Superman movie actually showed actor Henry Cavill at all -- as often as not, it was just the S-shield) and has the backing of a phenomenally huge marketing department in the second. A new character, however well-conceived, doesn't have the immediate brand recognition, so would require more marketing, but likely does not have the budget behind them like a Superman does. That puts any of these potential new characters at an immediate, and not insignificant, disadvantage. Which, in turn, doesn't help all that much because it allows a continued appearance of white predominance, well out of proportion to actual demographics.
But what struck me was that I was explaining this to an intenlligent Black woman. Even though she recognized the need for more people of color in heroic roles that could serve as role models and ideals for Black youth, the notion that existing white characters HAD to continue to remain white was an idea that also been impressed into her. Batman is white because he's always been white. That we have a culture (perpetuated and controlled primarily by old white guys) that's drummed that into so many people's heads for so long is a bigger problem than the individuals who raise holy hell on the internet because the actress playing Annie doesn't have red hair.
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