It was said by a man long since gone that, “Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths.”
During Black History Month we discussed how cinema presents opportunities for Black people to take on roles that reality seems to continually deny them, granting them the chance to play characters who have vocations that are exceedingly rare in the real world.
Perhaps then, you have caught a glimpse of Hollywood’s public dream, creating myths in film by casting Black people in roles that non-celluloid enhanced life shockingly can’t provide.
It is important to note that Joseph Campbell was speaking about myths that unite a cohesive people to the past, safeguard their collective present and grant images of hope and courage to forge on to create a future where those myths may endure.
In Black Run America (BRA), the great myth that binds the nation together is maintained through sports, plus the continued inclusion of Black History Heroes in cinema and television to help satiate the appetite of those in need of entertainment.
Since 2000, the predominate form of entertainment at movie theaters and thus, wherever DVDs are sold, has been through the genre of comic book movies. Raking in billions upon billions in worldwide box office revenue, films such as The Dark Knight, X-Men, Superman, Spider-Man and a host of others have a profound impact upon pop culture.
The problem is of course the nearly complete absence of any Black people in comics or in comic book movies. Hundreds of millions of people see these films, read the comics and buy the merchandise but rarely is it in celebration of any Black comic book hero, but the continued perpetuation of the notion that” only white people can save the world” ideas.
Comic books are the 21st century answer to the myths of old that worked to make mere mortals strive to have the characteristics of the Gods, ennobling us to summon the courage of greater beings in pursuit of truth and the overcoming of personal obstacles:
Comic books have always been popular with the American people, but in recent decades their popularity has increased dramatically. The Christopher Reeve’s Superman movies may have that just shows America’s fascination with that character. Film seems to be America’s choice of form for pop culture, and comic book adaptations seem to be limitless lately.
In the more popular titles there is also more going on that is subtle that draws us to them. The characters are iconic in who they represent too. Superman represents the immigrant. He fully embraces America and will do anything to help his country, but at the same time he has to remember where he came from and that he is not truly an American (or even a human). The Hulk is a representation that anger can take over even the most rational of people and make them into a monster. Batman is an avenger, and uses fear against those who use fear to intimidate regular people. Captain America is an example of the truly patriotic and righteous as he fights the Nazis and Red Skull. The X-Men represent the outsiders, the people who suffer prejudice in the real world. It is these subtleties that also draw us in to these characters and stories.
Over time, these characters have dealt with a changing morality, and they have changed with it. That is one reason that we are drawn to them and why they are still compelling. The Greek and Roman myths changed too. The mythologies reflected morality and human nature, but there were many different versions of the stories just like in comics. Comic books will continue to reflect the nature of our society, and that is why they will continue to be popular. There is a lot more going on in comics than just kid’s stories, and that is why they will be around for a long time to come.
The problem with the comic book movie is one that plagues that Black people, for so few B lack faces are seen in these films that can give Black people myths and heroes to cheer for (Barack Obama comics notwithstanding) and engineer any type of character that can import positive ideas to the Black community. The universality of heroism is a noble idea, but to Black people only characters that are distinctively Black can provide idols for young Black people to cheer for, buy their merchandise and strive to replicate (see the power of the Obama Effect).
Thus, in the new Iron Man movie the Ultimate Avengers story, the character of Nick Fury – long an aging white guy – has been replaced with inimitable Samuel L. Jackson. A traditional white character has become a Black character, merely for the sake of integrating the white world of comic books.
In the poorly-received Daredevil film, the master of criminality Kingpin – once again a white character in every incarnation of the comic before – was replaced with a Black actor, Michael Clarke Duncan.
Black people need heroes (and villains) to identify with and the inclusion of Black characters – replacing boring white people – helps to open the door of mythology to more people, bringing about desperately needed inclusion.
Regrettably, Black people forget the incredible 1990s film Meteor Man that stars a nearly all-Black cast and a Black superhero trying to make Washington DC safe for Black people.
The upcoming Thor 2011 film (all part of the plan to eventually make an Avengers film) is one movie that hardly has the ability to cast Black people or any person of color, considering the subject material is the Nordic God of Thunder and his companions of Asgard:
In Norse mythology, Asgard (Old Norse: Ásgarðr; meaning “Enclosure of the Æsir“) is one of the Nine Worlds and is the country or capital city of the Norse Gods surrounded by an incomplete wall attributed to a Hrimthurs riding the stallion Svadilfari, according to Gylfaginning . Valhalla is located within Asgard. Odin and his wife, Frigg are the rulers of Asgard.
Ostensibly, a film about Nordic Gods is one that will be devoid of Black people, right? You see, Black people have a problem with white actors playing Black roles. This reasonable response to white people being cast as historical Black characters devalues the films authenticity:
Ya’ll know that every time a historical Black person is deemed to be of merit, his or her onscreen depiction will be done by white people as white people. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not one of those people so pathologically Black that I have the urge to smash every pane glass window that depicts Jesus as a white man, but anybody with even a cursory knowledge of the bible realizes that he couldn’t have looked like Jim Caviezel. Anybody that knows Egypt is in Africa wondered what in the world was going on when they first saw the Ten Commandments starring Charleton Heston as Moses. I mean, this wasn’t an Egypt that had its bloodline significantly lightened by being conquered by Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon and Mussolini seemingly in succession. This was early BC Egypt; the one that still looked like Harlem in the 1980s. And a lot of times, you don’t even have to be a dead Black person to get a white actor to play you. Mariane Pearl, wife of slain journalist Daniel Pearl, is an African-Dutch-Jewish-Chinese-Cuban. Who played her onscreen? Angelina Jolie who is none of the above. And then (and I know this is a sidebar argument but please allow it) whenever a Black life is deigned significant enough to not only appear onscreen but also with a Black actor playing the part, there always seems to be a white story which serves as an undercurrent. Take Invictus or Cry Freedom or the Last King of Scotland, movies about, ostensibly at least, Nelson Mandela, Steven Biko and Idi Amin. Those movies also gave equal time to telling the stories of a white soccer player, a white journalist and a young white physician. All this makes me wanna make my own movie: The Beatles—starring Charlie Murphy, Tracy Morgan, Kevin Hart and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje.
Black people should have the right to play Black characters in films. Of course this makes sense. However, Black people should also have the right to play white characters as well, no matter how silly the inclusion of such a character in a historical inaccurate might be. In the 2011 Thor film, the casting of Black actor to play a Nordic God makes perfect sens e, as we live under the rules of Black Run America (BRA):
Even for an actor who has played a vampire-hunter with a guilty conscience, a Baltimore crime lord with a taste for Adam Smith, and an asset manager with a stalker, the role of the Norse deity Heimdall – guardian of the burning rainbow bridge between the world of men and the world of gods – was always going to be a bit of a challenge.But playing a god in Kenneth Branagh’s forthcoming film Thor has turned out to be the least of Idris Elba’s worries, after fans of the comic books turned on the star of The Wire for reasons that have nothing to do with his acting ability and everything to do with the colour of his skin.When news emerged late last year that the 37-year-old black Londoner had been chosen to play Heimdall, “the whitest of the gods”, a being who can hear the sap flowing in trees and look across time and space, many devotees of the Marvel comics on which the film is based flocked to online forums to weep, gnash their teeth and unleash a tide of indignation…Elba, who was born in Hackney, north-east London, to a Ghanaian mother and Sierra Leonean father, has addressed such concerns in a string of recent interviews.”There has been a big debate about it: can a black man play a Nordic character?” he told TV Times. “Hang about, Thor’s mythical, right? Thor has a hammer that flies to him when he clicks his fingers. That’s OK, but the colour of my skin is wrong?”I was cast in Thor and I’m cast as a Nordic god,” he said. “If you know anything about the Nords, they don’t look like me but there you go. I think that’s a sign of the times for the future. I think we will see multi-level casting. I think we will see that, and I think that’s good.”Cinema, which is far less reliant on existing, classic material, has lagged behind theatre when it comes to colour-blind casting. Rumours of a black James Bond remain just that, although his CIA friend Felix Leiter has been played by two African-American actors, Bernie Casey in 1983’s Never Say Never Again, and Jeffrey Wright in the Daniel Craig films Casino Royale (2006) and Quantum of Solace (2008). In 1999, another originally white US lawman, Captain James West, was played by Will Smith in Wild Wild West, which also starred Kenneth Branagh.
Understand, white actors cannot play Black roles but Black actors can play any role they want. Even a character of mythology that belongs to the pantheon of Nordic heroes is fair-game to be portrayed by a Black person, though evidence for Black people arriving in Europe starts in the 16th century.
Nordic myths are quite old and bespeak of a time when a homogeneous people roamed the land, with Gods that reflected their fair skin to worship. However, Black people see nothing historical wrong with the inclusion of a Black person into the world of Asgard, for it makes absolutely perfect sense.
Even Captain America was rumored to be open to a diverse potential actor base, with Will Smith leading the way at one point. Never mind that during World War II the United States Armed Forces were segregated, thus negating the opportunity for a Captain America to be Black as this is of trivial importance:
While everyone seems to be chasing down flimsy leads about who’s playing Captain America, I’m left wondering: What the heck is Marvel thinking here? It’s been a month since “Captain America” director Joe Johnston promised casting news within “a couple of weeks,” and besides a disappointing (and ever-growing) list of actors I’d never dream of installing as the title character, we’re no closer to anything firm.
None of this answers the question: How is there not one non-white actor on this list? To have 10 actors reportedly in the running, with not a single one of them African American, Latino or otherwise, isn’t exactly representative of the American population these days. Why pass on a great opportunity for Marvel to think outside the box. After all, isn’t America a melting pot?
If a Nordic God can be Black, by gosh a World War II soldier can be Black and thus, earn the title of Captain America. Black people (who were 9 percent of the population during World World II in America, the rest of 90 percent of the people being white) can see themselves playing any role, regardless of the time, place, country or historical figure.
George Washington? Black in the next biopic on his life. Neal Armstrong? Don’t you know all of NASA is Black, as was the first man on the moon? The Romans, Greeks and Egyptians? Black, Blacker and Blackest.
White people cannon be cast as Black characters. Ever. Period. End of discussion.
Especially white women, for the opportunities of Black female actors are precious few to begin with and only growing rarer.
But Black people see no great travesty in playing historically inaccurate characters, especially “the whitest God of them all” as Stuff Black People Don’t Like includes the uproar over Thor.
Black people need myths to guide them by and though African mythology is orally rich , the visual shock of seeing a Black in Valhalla and as a Nordic God offers a chance to continue the displacement of the old mythology that once bound a people together, but now works to bring about their complete dissolution.
By rewriting history and mythology new and more palatable myths emerge.