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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Lois Lane is a Negress

Mike noted late last year that writing about that issue of "Lois Lane" where she is turned black was mined to death. And probably it was, but I still find it endlessly fascinating anyway, probably because it came out while I was collecting comics, yet I was totally unaware of its existence.I was a Marvel zombie at the time, reading Luke Cage, Sub-Mariner, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and the like, rather than Superman, Batman or (sorry, Gay Prof), Wonder Woman.

For those unfamiliar with the story, in brief: Superman helps Lois Lane turn black, so she can "see how the other half live." It has a "Black Like Me" quality to it. It reminds me of my single favorite piece EVER on Saturday Night Live, a filmed segment in which Eddie Murphy, in whiteface, gets on a city bus. When there are black and white people present, everything is as expected. But when there are ONLY white people, then the party starts and no one has to pay the fare.

Googling about, I found a lot of conversation about whether Beyonce Knowles might be cast as Lois Lane in some Superman movie. There was an interesting range of responses, from "Why not?" to "Why are they trying to be political correct? Lois Lane is WHITE!" One declared: "Lois Lane should not be played by a negress."

A negress?

Seldom have I heard that term, but the jury seems to be out on whether the term is offensive or not. The American Heritage Dictionary lists it s offensive, in the same league as Jewess. It IS arcane, that's for sure.

I've been thinking about when does/how can one recast a part that had been traditionally played by a white person. Certainly, with the historical discrimination in the movie business, one can make the case for more color-blind casting. But is Lois Lane so iconic that a black actress simply will not do?

I read that there were complaints in some circles about Jessica Alba being cast as Sue Storm in last summer's Fantastic Four movie, not over her acting ability, or lack thereof, but over her skin color, darker than the comic book character.

Daredevil fans know that the Kingpin is white in the comic book, but played by a black actor, Michael Clark Duncan, in the movie. I noted little resistance, but then I don't read all of the comic blogs, so if there was controversy, I'm sure someone will let me know.

Occasionally, one of my blogging colleagues suggests a movie recast, usually of an older movie for which all the major players were white. Almost invariably, I'm the one who's most likely to suggest "non-traditional" casting.

To the original point of this piece: I think it's always a good idea for us to put ourselves in situations where we are not the majority, situations that make us a little uncomfortable. However hackneyed the comic story might have been, I think its heart was surely in the right place.
It occurred to me, especially after this Sunday's sermon on forgiveness, that talking about race seems to mean being angry about it in the minds of some people. Certainly stuff happens, and certainly some of it is hurtful. But for me to hold on to the anger of all of these tales would be too debilitating for me. So, I let go, I forgive whatever the slight, or perceived slight, may have been. However, as you may have noticed, I seldom forget.


Greg said...

Hey! I sometimes recast movies!!!

Someone in this day and age actually used the word "negress"? Either they were older than, say, you, or they've been living in a cave for decades. That's just weird.

There are very few characters who should be the race they are in the original source. If we're talking comic books, most of the heroes probably should stay the race they are. ANYONE else (Commissioner Gordon, Lois Lane, Mary Jane Watson, Bucky) is fair game. I often thought that if they had retained Billy Dee Williams in the third Batman movie rather than getting Tommy Lee Jones, it would have been a lot better. Not because Billy Dee is black, but because he, as Harvey Dent, is so very suave, and as Two-Face he'd be rougher. Tommy Lee Jones' good half of his face looks like most people's idea of the ugly half. Low blow to Mr. Jones, maybe, but he's ugly. Billy Dee is much better as the attorney. They didn't bring him back because Jones was a much bigger star, but I wonder if people complained about Harvey Dent being black. That would be stupid.

GayProf said...

rather than Superman, Batman or (sorry, Gay Prof), Wonder Woman.

What?! I am so hurt!

**runs away crying**