Earlier this week, Reg E. Cathey (The Wire) was cast as Johnny and Sue Storm’s father Dr. Storm in the new Fantastic Four reboot. For many, this assuaged the fear that Twentieth Century Fox would pat themselves on the back for casting Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm and call it a day; leaving him as the only person of color in the film. In casting Cathey, the studio also pushed aside the fear that the character of Johnny would fall prey to the tired “Nice White Lady”/”White Man’s Burden” trope. I for one am breathing easier knowing that a very white Storm family is not going rescue him from the scary ghetto and maybe even teach him how to read. Never heard of the trope? See The Blind Side and countless other films and television shows.
Traditionally, Johnny Storm is white. It would have been so easy for there to be no people of color in the film at all. But someone at Twentieth Century Fox strove to do better. Someone at Twentieth Century Fox took the term “reboot” seriously.
Many comic book movie franchises have gone back to the drawing board in the last ten years. Superman, Spider-Man, the Hulk and Batman have been rebooted with a new cast and a new director. Every time a character is re-imagined, the producers and the directors go on and on about their “fresh and new” approach to the character. A lot of the time that approach involves a change in tone and/or a script that adapts a comic book storyline that hasn’t been featured in a film before. But when it comes to casting, thinking outside the box is simply not allowed.
Just days before the Reg E. Cathey casting announcement, Amazing Spider-Man producer Avi Arad was interviewed by IndieWire. When asked about the possibility of Ultimate Spider-Man Miles Morales appearing in a Spider-Man film, he said, “No. The one thing you cannot do, when you have a phenomena that has stood the test of time, you have to be true to the real character inside – who is Peter Parker? What are the biggest effects on his life? Then you can draw in time, and you can consider today’s world in many ways. But to have multiple ones… I don’t know if you remember, but Marvel tried it. And it was almost the end of Spider-Man.” Now, Miles has proved to be so popular that his new title is called “Miles Morales: The Ultimate Spider-Man.” He is also headlining another book, “All-New Ultimates.” But Arad can’t even comprehend putting him or any other Spider-Man besides Peter in a movie. He has greenlit Venom and Sinister Six movies though. Those are films he’s confident in.
Arad is not the only producer to balk at the idea of a film starring a black superhero. Many have been clamoring for a Black Panther film for years. The precedent is there. Before there was a Marvel Cinematic Universe, there were three successful Blade movies. But when asked about a Black Panther film in 2012, Marvel Studios Co-president Louis D’Esposito infamously said that creating the character’s home country of Wakanda would be “difficult.” The studio then went on to make another Thor film and Guardians of the Galaxy. Now apparently a Black Panther film is in development, but who knows when it will actually get made. Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige doesn’t know considering that he said, “I don’t know when it will be exactly, but we certainly have plans to bring him to life some day.” Some day. What’s wrong with today?
To Twentieth Century Fox, apparently nothing at all. Instead of not even considering a Fantastic Four more diverse than the original quartet or making vague promises about more diversity in future films, the studio let their actions speak for themselves. Now, this doesn’t mean the resulting film will be any good. The first two Fantastic Four films certainly weren’t. For right now though, I choose to be optimistic and hope that the studio takes the script as seriously as they have taken the casting.