Is it Racist to Notice that the Human Torch is Now Black?
Once upon a time, back before children, marriage, and 9/11, I was actually interested in entertainment-related news. I'm not proud of that fact, and I wish it hadn't been the case, but I've evolved beyond it. At least, that's what I always think until I log out of my email account and MSN throws me an entertainment headline so provocative that I can't help but click on it.
Today's morsel was from USA Today, with the headline reading, "'Fantastic Four' cast bears racist, sexist interview."
An interview both racist and sexist? Now there's something you don't hear often (unless, of course, you watch MSNBC where the hosts label pretty much every interview conducted on Fox News this way).
I figured the story was worth a click, and as I suspected, the piece ended up serving as yet another example of how today's media has completely trivialized the meaning of the world "racism" in this country.
In the article, writer Kelly Lawler details a recent morning-radio interview with cast members from the Marvel Comics movie reboot of the Fantastic Four. In the interview, the deejays (who were acting about as silly as most morning deejays) brought up an observation that was most certainly shared by all comic book fans (current and former) the moment they first saw the film's trailer: Johnny Storm, aka The Human Torch, is being portrayed by an African American actor (his name is Michael B. Jordan).
In the comic book, Storm's character is white (as is the case with the overwhelming majority of classic Marvel super-heroes, due to the era in American history from which they were created).
This is by no means the first time a white comic book character has been portrayed on film by a black actor or actress. Halle Berry as Catwoman and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury are just two of several examples. What makes the choice of Jordan as Johnny Storm perhaps a bit more interesting is that actress Kate Mara, who plays Sue Storm (aka The Invisible Woman) is white, like in the comic books. And in the comic books, the Storms are siblings from the same biological parents.
Thus, one of the interviewers felt compelled to ask the question of Mara and Jordan, “You’re white and you’re black. How does that happen?”
For that, USA Today's Lawler (or perhaps just her headline writer) deemed the interview to be racist.
Apparently, a lot of other people concluded the same thing—enough that Jason Bailey, the morning show's host, came out to defend the interviewer's question.
"Look, [I'm] not a huge fan of these controlled 5-7 minute interview junkets they run in the first place but I was curious about the brother and sister thing." Bailey told BuzzFeed. "You have a white sister and black brother. Wouldn’t you want to know how that happened? I did. The other Fantastic Four franchises explain the relationship so I figured with this new hipster version they’d have some different back-story."
I wonder if USA Today considers Bailey's rebuttal to be hate speech? How racially insensitive can one person be, after all, to ponder how a character's film origin might deviate from that of the comic book that inspired it? Oh, the intolerance of it all! I'm so offended that I nearly forgot that the interview was also sexist...not just racist.
As it turns out, after the controversial genealogical question, one of the interviewers also expressed the fact that he found Kate Mara attractive, and that he thought she looked better with a longer hairstyle that she wore in an older movie.
Was voicing such a thought crass? Sure.
Was it awkward? Yeah, a bit.
Was it sexist? Maybe, but no more than any number of interviews I've watched where female questioners fawn all over actors like Brad Pitt and Hugh Jackman. And it certainly wasn't enough to warrant a USA Today headline on its own.
No, the clear story here was the perceived racist component, and the notion that daring to comment on a racial discrepancy between two people is in itself racism. Call me crazy, but I'm pretty sure this isn't what Martin Luther King Jr. had in mind when he was dreaming of a colorblind society.
What it all comes down to, once again, is the desperation of our media to keep discovering racism (no matter how ridiculous the reasoning) as part of its endless pursuit to shame American society for its past (while declaring its own moral high-ground in the process).
The result has been a crippling culture of political correctness that has trivialized so many serious topics with phony outrage that our country now can't take anything seriously.
We've become our own comic book (with too few heroes), and there's nothing fantastic about that.