Back in August 2015 I wrote “Dear Comic Fans: We Get it. You’re racist and racebending scares you,” as a direct response to the racist backlash towards Keiynan Lonsdale being cast as Wally West on the Flash television show.
Well, it’s been a little bit over a year and I honestly can tell you that yes, fandom is still filled to the brim with racists who think that if they scream about red hair and “blackwashing” loud enough, that no one will notice that the only time they know or care about changes to characters’ races when it concerns white characters being cast with actors of color.
Look, if the only thing you care about when it comes to casting is an authentic hair color, then I have to introduce you to the wonders of hair-dye and wigs. And then I get to beat you with a bag full of them for complaining endlessly when these (usually female) characters are racebent since you stay silent when a white male character isn’t done to style.
Neither of the two actors playing Barry Allen look like him.
Neither of them have his canon personality.
But where’s the press reporting about how terrible both of them are for the job because they don’t have blond hair and because it’s so strange to imagine this iconic blond character being played by men who have dark hair?
Suddenly, authentic appearances don’t matter and there’s no fuss about “iconic” anything.
Just like it didn’t matter when Tilda Swinton was cast as the Tibetan Ancient One (and yes, you can wail about how she’s Celtic now but my eyes aren’t that bad: everything about the character right down to the look of her mystical pocket dimension, was taken from Tibetan culture) or Rachel McAdams clearly replaced Rosario Dawson as Marvel’s Night Nurse.
How about when Scarlet Johannsen was cast as a Japanese character, the main Japanese character mind you, in Ghost in the Shell, all of these white nerds were out in droves chastising us for daring to want a Japanese actress playing a Japanese character in a film that is 100% about a cyberpunk Japan.
Dude, even noted nub Max Landis got on his soapbox to screech about how there were no good Japanese actresses that could play Major Kusanagi.
And seriously, I’d like to point out that Japan has a thriving film industry that doesn’t actually depend on Hollywood and white celebrities as anything more than a novelty.
So Japan has wonderful actresses: nerds like Landis just like white ladies and white washing parts too much to care about any of them.
Prior to that, we had the push for an Asian American Iron Fist (on twitter as #AAIronFist) as an attempt to subvert the white savior origins of the character and provide Asian American comic fans with representation.
That released dozens (if not hundreds) of slobbering trolls who found their way into the mentions of anyone tweeting positively about the hashtag in order to lecture them about Iron Fist. Once that one white guy from Game of Thrones was cast, there was a smug sense of “well they just chose the best actor for the role” despite the fact that I highly doubt that he can act his way out of hsi paper bag.
The excuses that whitewashing and (in Iron Fist and Doctor Strange’s case) the refusal to consider racebending a character) is okay because “the best actor” was chosen for the role are constantly used to silence fans of color.
Preditctably, Benedict Cumberbatch is somehow the best man to play Doctor Strange (who could’ve been played by an actor of color) and was the best man to play Khan Noonien Singh in the Star Trek movie everyone hated (a role that should’ve been played by a South Asian actor).
We just have to trust that Tilda Swinton is going to be the very best Celtic Ancient One despite her Asian-inspired everything because she’s edgy and totally like David Bowie’s spiritual twin.
But heaven help us the second an actor of color is cast to play a traditionally white character.
Then fans of color get accused of needing to be pandered to. We get accused of being a social justice warrior when we make posts like these or talk about how awesome it is that we’re seeing diversity in superhero media.
We get threats in our mentions on twitter or in our inboxes on tumblr. And on top of that, we get all of these ridiculous reasons for unending whiteness in movies thrown at you – red hair, blond hair, tradition, canon – as if they mean more than our desire to see ourselves and our friends represented in diverse characters.
Then, the idea of the “best actor for the role” means nothing.
It doesn’t matter that Rosario Dawson is an accomplished actress who brings a lot to her role as Claire Temple (the character that was originally and clearly intended to be the Night Nurse).
It doesn’t matter that Idris Elba is already a literal god and Heimdall is the least the MCU could do since they wouldn’t cast him as Odin. (And remember the unbelievable racism that casting got even though our bae Idris was basically only in the series for fifteen minutes tops.)
It doesn’t matter that Iris West is a reporter first and a redhead second (and seriously, red hair is not a defining character trait to a character who wouldn’t hesitate to dye their hair for a story), not when nerds around the world fundamentally misunderstand that Black women can have red hair – naturally and otherwise. (Remember that Candice Patton did a chemistry test with Grant Gustin and is one of the best actors on that show!)
Then it’s that the media is pandering to social justice warriors.
Then it’s that the Black actress must’ve been sleeping with someone to get the part.
Then the actor of color’s award nominations and wins don’t matter.
Every single time a legacy hero is reimagined as a character of color or a “traditionally white” character is played by an actor of color, this happens.
Fans of color are told once again that this shit isn’t for us, that we need to make our own because racebending and reinventing characters somehow upsets or spits on the legacy of a bunch of Jewish young men from the 1930s (who probably would’ve LOVED to see where the world took their creations).
Yes, it’d be lovely if we had more #ownvoices stories in comics where creators of color create original characters of color who then make it to the big screen, but that’s not happening. Not the creating of course, but the big screen dreams.
An average creator making an original non-legacy superhero of color has little to no chance of that character ending up on television, much less a big budget film.
The only hope that we have of seeing ourselves on the big screen as superheroes is to hope that some white male writer pushes for racebending or they decide to introduce a legacy character like Kamala or Miles in a major MCU property.
Think about that.
People of color don’t get to see themselves in media like this until a character is racebent or after years of being patient and waiting for diversity to trickle down to them. And when a character is racebent, it’s turned into something ugly.
Racebent characters and the actors that play them are subject to harsher criticisms.
Look at how Halle Berry’s Selina Kyle was held up as a reason not to do any superhero movies with women or people of color in them.
Never mind that the movie bombed for reasons that had more to do with the premise of the film (which removed Selina from all things recognizable including Gotham and Batman) than Halle Berry’s acting or her casting as Selina.
Back when I first wrote about the racist reactions to racebending, I talked about the endless racism and threats Candice Patton received from “fans” of Iris West. I shared a letter that Michael B. Jordan felt he had to write to address the racists shitting all over his casting as Johnny Storm. I talked about Joseph Illidge’s terrible article about how racebending Helena was a bad thing (but didn’t use his name in the inital post because that post is dreck).
It’s been a year since then and you know what?
The only thing that has changed is that now people of color are more comfortable with calling out this racism we’re seeing. That’s basically it.
The racist reactions to racebending haven’t stopped.
They’re not getting milder.
There aren’t more people pointing out ways to diversify comics and comics related media since they think racebending is so very bad.
Every single time an actor of color is cast to play a “traditionally white” character, said actor is subject to racism both from random trolls on the internet and you know… actual nerdy media outlets. Fans of the actor are given rude responses to any attempt they make at supporting their favorite actor or racebending in general.
The moment The Wrap “confirmed” Zendaya was playing Mary Jane in Spider-Man: Homecoming, comic “fans” crawled out of the woodwork to inform us that we were spitting on Stan Lee’s existence by wanting her in the role.
Immediately, fans moved to position Zendaya as someone who wasn’t right for the role while denying that her potential role as MJ made them turn away from the character in the same way that “lifelong Flash fans” suddenly decided that Iris and Barry didn’t need to be together despite being the ancestors to basically all speedsters in the DCU.
They tweeted how much they hated the mere idea of racebending. They made petitions calling for her recasting even though the confirmation continues to be weak as hell.
God only knows what that girl’s mentions looked like for the days and weeks after the “confirmation” dropped because they tweeted her. They tweeted Stan Lee and Dan Slott.
Hell, if Jack Kirby had been alive, they’d have tweeted him too.
These “fans” wrote concern trolling articles about how racebending isn’t “real” diversity and how we need to make our own characters and somehow put them in multimillion dollar film franchises (as if the industry is at all accommodating to creators of color). They camped out in the mentions of anyone who commented on how awesome it would be to have a Black MJ and insulted their intelligence.
From nerds in mainstream fandom, we got the obsessive chanting of “she has to have red hair” as if Zendaya can’t buy red hair dye or wear a wig the same way Kirsten Dunst did back in the day.
From the largely female nerds in transformative fandom, we got “I don’t know why, but I don’t like Mary Jane” and “I hope that there are no relationships in Homecoming”. The amount of people I saw shipping Deadpool and Spider-Man in the context of Homecoming (problematic because Peter is still in high school and Deadpool is a grown ass man) directly after the Zendaya reveal from The Wrap was ridiculous.
And at the end of the day, we’re just supposed to believe that fandom doesn’t react like this to racebending because they’re racist.
No, the reason why they’re sending fans racial slurs, accusing actresses of color of sleeping their way to the top, and snipping their characters out from the narrative to slot white characters in their place is because they just want to keep the canon faithful. They just want to make the old guys in comics (like Stan Lee and the ghost of Jack Kirby) proud. They just want diversity to be “organic” because you know… people of color are secretly produce and the world is one big farmers’ market.
They just want to protect fans from “bad” racebending – something that neatly coincides with making sure that while white actors can play whoever they want, actors of color can only play characters of color.
It’s been over a year since I initially wrote about how racist fandom was and can be in response to racebending traditionally white characters.
In that time period, I’ve had my posts shared on different sites dedicated to making fun of “social justice warriors”. I’ve had to deal with racism and misogyny in the notes of the post on tumblr, in my mentions on twitter, and in the comments on my website.
I’ve had people descend upon me en masse, repeating the same insipid and incoherent drivel about how “in that case, maybe Black Panther and the Falcon should be played by white men since you like racebending so much”.
At the same time that nerds across the internet are telling me that I’m imagining the racism in fandom in reaction to racebending, I see it occur at even greater rates. Not just to me, but to my friends and many other fans of color who want to see the world of comics match our diverse one.
I see the response to people wanting racial diversity in their media being violent racism that includes racial slurs thrown at them. I see fellow fans of color being told explicitly and implicitly that comics aren’t for them unless they create it themselves – something that ignores the fact that the comic industry isn’t as open to diversifying their creator and character rosters as you’d think.
Real talk here: disagreeing or disliking racebending – especially as a white person – is racist.
It always goes hand in hand with condescending to people of color and talking down to us about our representation needs and pulling out their one friend of color as a “gotcha”. No matter how you try to frame it as caring so much about “proper” representation, it all comes down to not wanting to share your toys with anyone else because you’re used to how they feel in your hands.
It’s not that Iris West’s red hair is truly an iconic aspect of her characterization.
It’s not that you really care about what Stan Lee thinks about racebending (he’s okay with it!).
It’s not even that you actually want marginalized kids of color to be able to see themselves in the characters they love.
It’s because you personally don’t like to share – not your favorite characters, not the feeling of being able to see yourself onscreen/in a comic – and you don’t think that representation-hungry fans of color have any right wanting to experience comics or superheroes the way that you do.
If the only way you can appreciate nerdy characters is when they’re white “as imagined” (in a white supremacist world natch), please feel free to go back and read almost eighty years of comics written and drawn almost exclusively by white men. Go watch almost every single superhero film and show prior to 2008.
And please, feel free to stop sharing your unwanted and unnecessary opinions about racebending.
You’re wrong and those opinions are racist on top of being dead wrong.
Just accept it and move on since learning clearly isn’t on the menu for you.