Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Big Picture: "Skin Deep"


Rob said...

Ofcourse! Nick Fury is an even better comparison, I was thinking of the Kingpin in Daredevil.

Steven said...

What the hell is wrong with an episode devoted to Samurai Pizza Cats?

Chris Evans said...

Well said. The one thing I'd argue is dwelling on past sins like that isn't going to help heal it. It's simply impossible to fix the past mistakes, we have to move past them, and that won't happen if it's constantly used to as justification for everything. I also think it's not fair.

Idris Elba wasn't put in the movie in some misguided attempt at amends to savory, her was put in because he was freaking awesome. Move past race and judge on performance. I wouldn't be hurt if they made Full Metal alchemist and cast Asians (As far as I understand it, it's supposed to be an alternate version of Germany) if it were good. I hate Last Airbender, not because of the races, but because it SUUUUUUUUCKED.

Steven said...

Also on the topic of religions and mysterious racial shifts, don't most statues of the Buddha look mysteriously Chinese for a guy born in north west India?

Hippie said...

Was it the cosmic cube?

Chris Evans said...

It's similar to affirmative action in that way. I understand the purpose of the law, but the law it's self is pretty much enshrining a view of the other races as inferior, unable to compete. Unfortunately I'm not sure if there's a better way.

I'm hopeful video games will help prove Martin Luther King's dream of judging based on character, not skin color. Gamers should eventually see skin color as just one of those cosmetic slider bars, unimportant to how the characters in the game see you or how you perform.

Adam said...

Hey…I liked the Samurai Pizza Cats…

Anyways I’m of two minds about this. I know nothing about Thor’s comic mythology so it didn’t strike me as odd that there were non-white people in Asgard. In regards to the Gatekeeper character I’ve always figured that if the original character was never that well defined to begin with alterations here and there aren’t a big deal (once again I’ve never read Thor so I don’t know how well defined the original character was but he doesn’t strike me as one that would be). Another interesting example is Nick Fury, once white, now black. I believe that started in the Ultimate line and I thought “It’s an alternate universe. Go nuts.” The interesting thing is Marvel seems to have run with it and now it’s much more common for me to see Ultimate Nick Fury as opposed to the original.

But when it comes to the big characters the whole prospect does leave something of a sour taste in my mouth. To me the most times it comes up it really feels like a.) a half-hearted attempt at character creation (different skin tone = NEW CHARACTER!) and b.) a lazy attempt at drumming up attention rather than a sincere effort to make things better. If you want to move forward with it go ahead I guess, but I’d much rather see a concerted effort to make original strong non-straight white male characters. I can’t guarantee they’ll be popular but I know on the whole the creators will be more respected for it. Hell even media entities that don’t have defined characters fall into this. With Mass Effect and Dragon Age II you supposedly can create any type of character you want but based on the box art you would think both games star the same guy.

And thank you for pointing out Hollywood’s hypocrisy in this. With as high minded and progressive an image as they like to portray themselves they still aren’t doing much to help the situation. One could argue that it’s just a business issue but I’d say the breakout success of Tyler Perry’s schlock is proof positive that people do want to see respectable material aimed for all. A starving man isn’t going to turn down food no matter what sustenance you give him.

Popcorn Dave said...

Ohoooo so you went there, huh? I can see the 20 page comment thread already.

Well, for what it's worth I basically agree. The fact is, if we stay true to the source material the world of comics is nothing but an endless parade of white men. I'm all for upping the diversity in comic book casts, especially when it means getting Stringer friggin' Bell in a comic book movie. Like you said, there are tons of great black (and other ethnic minority) actors out there that simply aren't getting any worthwhile roles, while the usual brown-haired white pretty boys get to headline every film.

I'm not sure I'm ready for a black Superman or Spider-Man, though, since, like you said a while back, making a "black version" of an iconic white character is a total copout. And for many characters you CAN argue their race is too important to change but that kind of argument is a damned minefield.

motyr said...

Before I comment, here's a disclaimer saying that I pretty much agree with you, but here's a point that I thought of while watching that I think is worth mentioning.

If we look at the titles you mentioned - Dragonball Z, The Last Airbender, or Thor, the thing they all have in common is that they're adapted works. They're based on some sort of source material. Mixing races in this case, therefore, is not an issue of "colourblind" or racially diverse casting, it's an issue of accuracy to said source material. The Norse Gods in Thor are white, the (human) characters in Dragonball Z and The Last Airbender are East-Asian for the most part. If you add a black Norse God, you sacrifice some degree of the accuracy to the source material.

I agree with you when it comes to original stories. For example, take Inception, a movie where almost all of the characters are white but could easily be any other race without having to make any changes to the screenplay. I wouldn't find any problem if Leonardo DiCaprio's character were swapped out for a black character, for instance. However, when it comes to adapted works, I would say that, in the name of accuracy alone, the races of characters play a crucial role in the casting.

kingofdoma said...

... well, obviously you read my blog, because my complaints about people reacting this way was basically YOUR rant, but using a metaphor using M&Ms. Well done, sir. I literally could not say it better myself.

houseofmetal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brandon Wright said...

Great episode Bob. Here's hoping The Escapist does go completely mad and lets you do that episode about Samurai Pizza Cats.

SaLaDiN_5 said...

Ok dude DO NOT make that Mistake racism is not only White VS Black and the privilegde race in history is not always white I live in Greece, check out where the name come from, when you have the time,(inteed of Hellas)ok turks had greece under eslavement for over 400 years and we get our freedom in a fullout was that resolte in our genoside,so the black "stragle" and the hangings of "colored" dont mean a sweat for us, also IMPORTANT the racism in color skin start by the arabs in 560B.C. also remmber for 600 years the penatly of being white or caucacin in china or near the border of china was death what I am saying is thing out of the box of american education Oh and the greaest in racism was ofcourse the nazi of german not germans ,thank you and with respect.

SaLaDiN_5 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SaLaDiN_5 said...

↑↑It was a fullout WAR actually
+ NAZI of Germany not The Germans
sorry ↑↑
also the turks are brown(colored)

carter said...

I love it when some people would say, "well, there's Black Enteratinment Television, but where's WHITE Entertainment Television?"

Paladin said...

Good episode and compelling argument but I think it loses some points bringing Goku into the argument.

Goku may be an Asian character but technically he's not even human so IMO the "whitewashing" issue has more layers than usual with regards to him.

Christian said...

You should absolutely do a Pizza Cats episode.

Just gettin' that out there.

Timothy said...

I don't know. To me a lot of this stuff still just feels like I'm being punished for the sins committed by people that I a. Have no direct ancestral line to, and b. Said sins were committed at a time when I did not exist and therefore could take no action.

Also why do we just look at the recent stuff? Anyone forget the whole thing where the Mongolians killed over 40 million people? Or when the Chinese nearly took over the known world? Why is it only the genocide committed by the whites that anyone seems to give a crap about? Why is it ok for them to tell me to forget all the crap done by other people, but not me to tell them to stop blaming me for stuff I had NO involvement with.

It's also REALLY REALLY dangerous to play this blame game too. It creates "then let me be evil" mentalities. Where being endlessly accused of such things, eventually some people just throw up their arms and go "screw it, you think I hate your kind, fine I do, time to begin the slaughtering!"

I've seen it happen.

Hell on that note, what about all the fantastical racism? Tell me, how many people here have ever actually met a "devil" or "demon". I'm pretty sure if a succubus or pit fiend showed up and started walking around, and making paintings or applying to jobs. They would be MURDERED and no one would bat an eye (of course assuming someone could murder such a creature).

Cole said...

Hey Bob, loved The Big Picture today. I pretty much agree with everything you said. Also I just wanted to say that my mind nearly exploded when you made an MLP:FiM reference. So awesome!

Kent said...

Hell yeah, ponies.

Hope this is a hint of another episode. I'm sure you can squeeze 5 minutes out of the demographic shattering FiM and gender expectations.

Not that I wouldn't love a Samurai Pizza Cats episode.

TheAlmightyNarf said...

Since I refuse to believe that there's any real lack of skilled writers, directors, artists, authors, ect., in any particular racial minority, I've never understood why they can't just start coming up with their own characters. Have they not heard of the internet? Have they not heard of YouTube? Have they no heard of DeviantArt? There's no actual barrier stopping them anymore, and the characters would be more authentic if they created them anyway.

Seems obvious to me at least.

Ray Penber said...

I think that this is the first time that I have ever disagreed with you. I understand the whole ideal world vs real world thing, but the attempts in removing racism are attempts at creating an idealized world, so we should function with the same sort of reasoning. On a historical level, you cannot really "give back" to any group of people. I do agree that the roles available for minorities are really small, and for the most part, they should have the opportunity to play "white roles", but I think that it should go in the same way. Race just shouldn't be used as a factor in determining actors, period.

antecedentless said...


It's like what our president was trying to say we before he let out that stupid "spread the wealth" comment. There are others "waiting in line" who have just about everything... talent, ambition, drive... everything needed to be a successful artist or entrepreneur, except capital.

I do not think loan guarantees or obtuse red tape laden grants are effective solutions. Lowering standards for minorities definitely is not the solution.

That aside... YEAH PONIES!!!

antecedentless said...

say we...
say we...

Let's say we pretend I never said that.

counterpoint said...

How is having a white character be black you being "punished"? And last I checked, the Mongolians didn't kill a lot of Americans. Bob pointed out that this deals with American culture and our racial issues. What you're referring to doens't have much to do with Hollywood, etc.


good episode. i agree.

i will add, however, that it's not quite as simple as taking a white character and making him black.

to me, since white was the "norm" until the last twenty years or so, most white fictional characters are nearly non-racial. That is, except for characters where their whiteness was somehow a defining characteristic - say, if a character was from a decidedly white place (ireland or whatever), and/or somehow had a backstory that relied on their whiteness - most of these other white characters seem to be white not so much by choice, but by "default."

In other words, Nick Fury is white, most likely, because the creator didn't care, and just made a character. When Marvel created storm, though, they went out of their way to make her black, much like the Prince of Persia was likely designed to be... Persian.

So, for me, the double-standard is pretty much nil when we're talking about these racial-neutral characters. Unless we're talking a character that actually has "white" as part of their identity (Bruce Wayne? Capt. America?), it shouldn't matter.

Bryce said...


Thor isn't a direct adaptation of the source material. Heimdall being played by a black guy is the least the film does to stray from the source material in fact.
I mean let's look at this way:

The source material states that Asgardians (and the other pantheons) were created through human belief manipulating latent magical energies swirling around after the Demogorge ate and them spewed up most of the Elder Gods. This is 616, anyway.

The film states the Asgardians are an alien race with the ability to travel between worlds connected by Yggdrasil, some kind of star cluster or something shaped like a tree.

Source material:
When Thor was banished, his memories were stripped along with all his powers, and he was left in the body of a fairly skinny mortal. He spent decades (or centuries depending on the book) on Earth as a doctor learning humility, only to stumble across Mjolnir completely by accident.

Thor keeps his memories and body, and only gets banished for a few days.

So back to the main point. Heimdall being a black guy? Pretty minor concern if you're worried about faithfulness to the source material.

john said...

Yeah, I'd be all over an SPC episode...only if it had the kicky Japanese theme inserted somewhere, though.

Timothy said...


I'm referring to the whole "affirmative action" double standard as a whole. The fact that a black person can get hired instead of me at a job even through I'm MORE qualified than him SOLELY on the basis that he's black and I'm not.

I see this as no different. It's a double standard, and is basically just continuing the hatred, because when that kind of stuff happens it doesn't make me think "justice" it makes me think "lame-ass attempt to kiss up".

Euvari said...

"I've never understood why they can't just start coming up with their own characters."

Euvari said...

"Have they not heard of the internet?"

Euvari said...

"Have they not heard of YouTube?"

Euvari said...

"Have they no heard of DeviantArt?"

motyr said...


Okay, well that's good to know. My point is, though, that a black Norse God should be treated in the same way as any one of those inaccuracies. Some may think it's no big deal and let the film speak for itself, some may treat it with disdain. In my opinion, such "inaccuracies" are negligable because the general audience (myself included) aren't completely versed in the Thor continuity, and, with this being a comic book adaptation, there's without a doubt some degree of alteration that would have to be made to the original material.

cathal said...

What I wish you'd mentioned here is that the practice of turning black characters white has ebbed away, but turing asians white is still apparently a-ok. In Avatar all the asian leads became white but the asian extras stayed asian. In Dragonball some of the asian characters became white, one-or-two became black. in 21 an entire cast of real people who were Asian-Americans in real life became white people for the movie. And tehn we have Prince of Persia, where Persians are played by whites in fake tan. Name a movie from the last ten years where a black character was made white. Name a single one.

antecedentless said...

I am sure few if any of those you list are making a LIVING off of what they are doing.

smile said...

I agree quite a lot with your points and that in the grand scheme of things having black performers portray existing white characters is not even a sacrifice in the most minuscule manner.

A true color blind society should cast based on performance and Idris Elba earned that role in Thor.

It is ridiculous how crazy we get about these things that don't really matter at all - I for one would be curious about seeing a black Bond or a Zelda game where Link is a girl... as long as it's entertaining. The same deal for every film/game.

Reverend Allan Ironside said...

This would have been a good opportunity to bust out Hancock, Bob. I mean, that was some pure ignorance there because in early interviews, Will Smith stated that there were no black superheros.

NO BLACK SUPER HEORES? Uh, Black Panther, Ultimate Nick Fury, War machine, Bishop, Shard, Mr. Terrific, John Stewart...and all that's off the top of my head, I know there's more.

So what does Will Smith do? He creates a black superhero who spends 2/3 of his movie being drunk, nailing ho-bags, acting like an ass, and the last third of his movie trying to overcome his most vile villian: The nefarious Shitty Third Act.

Wait, he wasn't race-swapped. I don't know why I ranted on Hancock, but everything I said is true. And I liked Michael Clark Duncan as Kingpin. That was damn good, just too bad the rest of the movie was bleh

superuub1 said...

I honestly don't care either way. but it really depends on the character himself.

Spiderman for example almost can't be changed to black, but every other race is fine. Only because of the stereotyping that would cause from him having a dead Uncle Ben and living with his elderly aunt.

Euvari said...

"I am sure few if any of those you list are making a LIVING off of what they are doing."

The questions asked were, "Have they not heard of the internet?", "Have they not heard of YouTube?", and "Have they no heard of DeviantArt?". None of those addressed whether or not they needed to be making a living. Having said that, I know most of those people either personally or professionally. They're self employed and making a comfortable living without the support of a secondary job.

CraftyAndy said...

I never put that much thought into it as you did. But now I know why I have the same reactions everyone else did when they didn't bother casting an asian roles with asians in the last airbender, and arabs being the faceless one note bad guys in Chronicles of Narnia. I love those movies but just wait until the next one. Hooo boy.

tweeta said...

lol interesting...googled my deviant art name and this
came up...

p.s...i make money from my art...i'm doing quite well for myself actually..and i've only been doing it for about 3.5 years