In case you haven’t noticed, Michael B. Jordan is black, and he is the Human Torch. Those two things are not mutually exclusive, but judging from the types of interview questions he and his cast members have had to field during the Fantastic Four press tour, a lot of people seem to be having trouble wrapping their head around the idea.
Since rumors of Michael B. Jordan’s casting in Fantastic Four began back in May of 2013, everyone from Internet trolls, to late night talk show hosts, to casually racist Atlanta reporters have been freaking out over the fact that Michael B. Jordan is portraying a black Johnny Storm, while his onscreen sister is white.
To their credit, the cast has shown class in the face of uncomfortably offensive interviews, fielding questions regarding race in a blunt but graceful manner, like when Jimmy Kimmel asked Michael B. Jordan how he and Kate Mara could be onscreen siblings and he responded by saying, “I’m pretty sure there’s white people here with brothers and sisters of other ethnicities. It doesn’t necessarily mean biological, but it’s the world that we live in. It’s kind of self-explanatory, and it’s one of the things I don’t like drawing attention to: the ignorance.”
Besides the fact that it’s 2015 and there are any number of logical reasons why two siblings would have different skin colors, (adoption, foster-siblings, half-siblings, step-siblings, biracial siblings, these twins from the U.K., etc.) it seems interesting that even two years after Michael B. Jordan’s casting announcement, the topic of his race is still a question the media and Internet have been obsessing over, despite excessive explanations from the film’s creative team, a seal of approval from Stan Lee, and an open letter from the actor Michael B. Jordan himself.
This leads me to believe that this has very little to do with the logic of Sue and Johnny Storm’s relationship at all, and more to do with the discomfort a certain type of privileged person (straight, white, male) feels when someone inherently outside of their privilege encroaches on a space they are used to dominating — like the superhero, comic genre.
Because in reality, how a fictional character looks is not relevant when casting an actor unless the physicality is essential in retaining the spirit of the character. Yes, there are some instances when a character’s race and gender are essential to their story — the Black Panther needs to be black, Wonder Woman needs to be a woman — but for the most part, changing a character’s hair, eye color, or even race in order to find the actor that can best embody the spirit of the character is something that we as fans should not only be okay with, but actively encourage.
Specifically, in the case of comic book superheroes created decades ago during an era that looked wildly different from the United States we live in today, race-bending the cast to be fresh and diverse may even be more useful in helping to retain the original spirit of the character. For example, the Sony/Marvel contract that leaked a few months ago dictating that Spider-Man must remain a white, heterosexual male, seems ridiculously outdated considering that Peter Parker’s whiteness and sexuality have never been qualities that inherently made up his character. He’s a geeky science whiz that gets bullied at school — an orphaned kid raised by his elderly aunt and uncle in Queens. Touted as New York’s working-class underdog superhero, in 2015, it almost seems regressive to imagine Spider-Man as the 1962 vision the films seem desperate to hold onto when 80% of the population of Queens is made up of people of color.
This is why I am possibly the only civilian left who is actually glad that this Fantastic Four reboot happened. Casting Michael B. Jordan, a black man, as the Human Torch shouldn’t be groundbreaking, and yet, in 2015, it still feels like it is. Johnny Storm is a scientist and a hothead, and yes, in this incarnation of the comic, he also happens to be a black guy with a white sister.
So just calm down, all you die-hard comic book fans: If you stop and pay attention, you’ll realize Michael B. Jordan is actually one of you. During press tours, he’s been the only cast member to openly admit to being a comic book geek as a kid, and unlike fellow costars Miles Teller and Jamie Bell, who sometimes come off as too-cool-for-comic-book-school, he seems genuinely stoked to have the chance to suit up as a member of the Fantastic Four. Of everyone in the cast, he — the person who has received the most hate from comic book fans — also seems to be the cast member most concerned with keeping the spirit and discovery of the original comics alive.
Will there be things to hate about this new installment of the Fantastic Four? Sure. It’s the reboot nobody wanted, and even its director has publicly condemned the final product. Critics so far have argued that it’s both too serious and not serious enough; it’s pacing too slow, and then all at once too fast. If you’re looking for reasons to hate on the movie, there are plenty of reasons for you to do so without acting like a racist asshat in the process. So do not worry, white people. The Human Torch being black will not make you less white. You are safe and you will still get to hold on to your privilege, even amidst an evolving America.