For almost all of Hollywood’s history, the film industry has been guilty of whitewashing — the practice of casting white actors as people of color. But lately a new trend has emerged, exemplified by the possibility of Idris Elba taking over as James Bond. Hollywood has tried to improve its record on diversity by casting characters who have historically been white as black.
We talk about it on the latest “Low Key” podcast, where Keith Dennie, Aaron Lanton and I focus on low-key things some people might miss — and discuss their deeper meanings. You can listen on Apple or right here:
Elba fueled the hopes of fans that he’ll be the next Bond when he tweeted over the weekend, tweeting, “My name’s Elba, Idris Elba.” But later he also posted a photo of Public Enemy and their famous lyrics, “Don’t believe the hype.”
If Elba is cast as Bond — and nothing, of course, is certain — he’ll follow in the footsteps of other actors who have replaced characters who were initially white. Samuel L. Jackson took on the role of Nick Fury in the Marvel films, and Michael B. Jordan played Johnny Storm, aka “The Human Torch,” in Fox’s 2015 Marvel reboot of “The Fantastic Four.”
Jordan wrote an essay for Entertainment Weekly noting that some fans weren’t happy about his casting.
“Some people may look at my casting as political correctness or an attempt to meet a racial quota, or as part of the year of ‘Black Film,'” he wrote, adding:
People are always going to see each other in terms of race, but maybe in the future we won’t talk about it as much. Maybe, if I set an example, Hollywood will start considering more people of color in other prominent roles, and maybe we can reach the people who are stuck in the mindset that “it has to be true to the comic book.” Or maybe we have to reach past them.
This summer, Hannah John-Kamen appeared in “Ant-Man and The Wasp” as Ghost, a character who is a blue-eyed man in the comics; I can’t find any explicit reference to his ethnicity. But the casting of a female Ghost shows that the films, at least, are past the idea that a character “has to be true to the comic book,” to quote Jordan.
One of our co-hosts, Keith Dennie, wonders if the racial recasting is a hollow gesture. But we also explore whether more casting should cross color lines. We hope you like the podcast.