Another day, another black actor inspiring internet vitriol from “purists.” First people worked themselves into a tizzy because the makers of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child cast African American actress Noma Dumezweni as Hermione. (For a comprehensive piece on that “nontroversy” and a rebuttal of every racist but “not” racist argument against the casting, check out Niala‘s excellent story here: http://geeksout.org/blogs/scififreak35/new-hermione-granger-black-and-internet-predictably-had-meltdown.) Then, the announcement of Idris Elba as Roland in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower movie, The Gun Slinger, was met with similarly lame, supposedly not racist “objections.” But, but… Roland has blue eyes in the books! They were illustrated even, with a Clint Eastwood type as Roland!
Just as J.K. Rowling leapt to Dumezweni’s defense, pointing out that Hermione wasn’t explicitly white in her books, so did King come out in favor of the casting, Tweeting, “I think Idris Elba is the greatest possible idea for casting for Roland, and I'm unbelievably proud of it as a collaborator on this enterprise and because I think that he's a great actor and I couldn't be more thrilled that he is likely to play a part.” King had previously stated “To me, the color of the gunslinger doesn't matter. What I care about is how fast he can draw...and that he takes care of the ka-tet." While some went so far as to suggest King was praising the idea merely to avoid being seen as racist, his very public and liberal views suggest otherwise. In any case, the guy whose work has inspired such abominations as The Mangler probably has bigger concerns than skin color when it comes to the integrity of his work. The choice isn’t even without precedent in King’s filmography; Morgan Freeman’s Shawshank Redemption character, Ellis Boyd Redding, was a red haired Irish white guy in the short story—that’s why he was nicknamed “Red”-- and few would argue that his casting hurt the film; quite the contrary.
Elba, meanwhile, is no stranger to race-baiting objections, after James Bond author Anthony Horowitz called him “too street” to play 007. Horowitz apologized for “inadvertently” causing offense, while Elba sassed back on Instagram: “Always keep smiling!! It takes no energy and never hurts! Learned that from the Street!!”
Between all of this and the would-be “backlash” against John Boyega’s casting in The Force Awakens, it seems pretty clear that a certain segment of the population is really uncomfortable with racial diversity in sci-fi/fantasy/action fare. One can only imagine what white fans of these films and books would have thought if they were never represented in their casts. White representation is something many of us take for granted, so perhaps it’s inevitable that those same privileged fans don’t realize how petty and offensive they’re being when they decry color blind casting in a franchise. Maybe we as queer geeks get it because we’re so used to identifying with straight and/or cisgender characters who are different yet similar to us in various ways. It’s taken a long time for popular culture to fully reflect the world we live in, and we’re still not there. So if some Dark Tower fans are upset over Roland having a different eye color, maybe they should stop and think it could be a whole lot worse to be in another person’s shoes.
Special thanks to Rob Russin for alerting me to this story.
Follow me on Twitter: @HeyLockwood