It's official: Michael B. Jordan is The Human Torch. I guess it's time we had the talk.
Michael B. Jordan, up-and-coming Hollywood presence and star of Friday Night Lights, Chronicle, and Fruitvale Station, is our Johnny Storm. We've been circling this rumor for a long time, now, and, all throughout, every inch of social media has been filled to the brim with people saying that this is bad, because Michael B. Jordan is black, and The Human Torch cannot be black.
If you are one of the people saying this...well? There’s no easy way to put it: You’re wrong. Let's look at a few of the most common arguments and talk about why they just don't hold water.
"Making Johnny black means throwing away 50 years of tradition and ruining Marvel's first family."
Man, remember when Idris Elba was cast as Heimdall in Thor and it totally ruined the movie? Me, neither. Because it didn't happen. In fact, Elba is one of the few actors with the gravitas to pull off that part, and he did it magnificently. There's no reason Jordan can't do the same with Johnny.
Also, since when does Marvel care about tradition? I don't think the collective population of the planet can count on their fingers AND toes how many times Marvel has retconned story and character elements in their comics. Sometimes, it works; sometimes, it doesn't. But change is always happening, so let's stop pretending it's so revolutionary just because this one happens to be a race change.
While we're on the topic of the past, would anyone care to venture a guess as to how many people of color played meaningful roles within the pages of a comic in 1961 (aka the year Fantastic Four debuted)? You guessed it! Almost zero. Look for yourself. The covers of Marvel comics are riddled with white cowboys, white girls going on dates, and white people being scared of giant monsters.
So when we talk about tradition, let's be clear that Marvel (and pretty much every major content creator) has been treating white as the default for these last 50 years. That's one of those traditions we're talking about. And it’s not a tradition we should be interested in preserving. It's one that has been changing and should continue to change. No one is served by telling the story of the same small group of people over and over again.
Lastly, if the blonde-hair, wonder bread version of Johnny Storm is of top priority for some people, there's good news. The new movie will in no way remove all the previous Fantastic Four stories from existence. They'll all still be there for people to enjoy for generations to come.
"If Johnny Storm can be black, then why can't Black Panther be white?"
That's a false equivalency. Think about it for a second: If Johnny Storm is black, what does that change about his core character? He's still part of a family of superheroes who save people, right? He's still struck by cosmic rays, right? He’s still brash and impetuous. He still becomes a giant ball of flames, yeah? So, what's the difference?
In contrast, Black Panther's race is an indelible part of his story. T'Challa is the King of an African nation. Johnny's isn't. Changing Black Panther’s race changes part of what defines him as a unique and interesting character. Johnny, on the other hand, is white because, in 1961, the default for almost every fictional character in mainstream media was white. If you change his race not only does it not affect the character, but it doesn't detract from the experience of white people everywhere.
You change Black Panther, well...we're still talking about a pretty small minority of people of color portrayed in comics. It's going to make the character make zero sense and it's going to take away one of the few African heroes that is actually recognized by most people in the Western World. And that would be, ya know, bad.
"I want the REAL Human Torch"
That's a bummer, because there is no real Human Torch. He's a fictional character! The closest thing you're gonna get to a dude who can set himself alight and save the world is the many political protestors who self-immolate in order to effect social and political change. And unless you're a wicked sadist, I don't think you're gonna find watching videos of people burning themselves to death to be a popcorn-chomping romp.
OK, if what you meant to say was "I want a perfectly represented version of Johnny Storm from the comics and that means casting a white actor," then may I be the first to welcome you to the wonderful world of adaptation. There is no way to perfectly adapt a character from one medium to another. Even Peter Jackson, who is Tolkien-obsessed, made changes to The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit books when he adapted them for the big screen. It doesn't matter if we punched through to a parallel world and found Johnny to bring into our world for the purpose of making a movie; his story would still be changed to fit the medium of film.
But, let's say, hypothetically, that Johnny is exactly the same in this movie as he is in the comics, says things line-for-line, and the only difference is the color of his skin. Would you still be mad, then? If there answer is "yes," then it's time to take a long, hard look in the mirror and re-evaluate.
"I'm just so sick of the PC police in Hollywood having to make everything into a cause."
I'll end on this point, because it represents a fundamental misunderstanding of how movies in Hollywood get made. And it also gives me a chance to touch on why people shouldn't have been surprised that all the actors are under the age of 30, too.
Let's be clear -- Hollywood does not give one @#$% about being politically correct. They care about. MAKING. MONEY.
Hollywood doesn't care about making a good movie, they don't care about thoughtful writers or directors. They care about the bottom line.
Do you know the actual reason why there hasn't been a Fantastic Four movie since the summer of 2007? It's not because Rise of the Silver Surfer was terrible (which it was). It's because it cost more than the first FF movie and made considerably less. It wasn't financially worth it to make another. That's all.
But it'll be nearly a decade between that dud and the new movie. Fox left the ground fallow to restore a little fertility. That doesn't mean they wants to take a big risk, though.
So, here's what happened. They looked at their stable and realized they had this guy in their back pocket, Josh Trank, who just so happened to make a successful superhero movie, Chronicle, without a brand to back it up, for only $12 million. That movie starred young, pretty people (which is basically Hollywood's stock-in-trade, now), and it made back over 10 times its budget. TEN. That's PHENOMENAL.
So, Fox came to Trank and said, "Hey. We want you to do that again, but this time with The Fantastic Four". And Trank was down for it, but he wanted to bring back one of his actors from Chronicle, Michael B. Jordan. And that's probably not because he was thinking "Woo! Equal representation in Hollywood!" It's way more likely he was just thinking, "I like working with Michael B. Jordan and would like to do so again!"
And that's where we are now. Fox gets the director who can make a superhero movie with a young cast on a shoestring budget, and Josh Trank and Michael B. Jordan get to work together again.
And we get a new Fantastic Four movie with a bi-racial brother/sister act which, no matter how it happened, is actually pretty revolutionary in this business.
Now the movie just has to not suck. Or, as I like to call it, the easy part!