Sunday, December 19, 2010

Racists and Geeks Protest Idris Elba Playing a Norse God

Is this controversy with boycott the same as objections to The Last Airbender casting? As Rosanna Rosanna Danna would say, "It's always something!"

I just read at The Root and the U.K. Guardian that a white supremacist group in the U.S.A. is boycotting the superhero movie Thor because British black actor Idris Elba has been cast as the Norse god Heimdall. Wikipedia says Heimdall is called "the white god." An older Guardian article describes Heimdall in Thor as "guardian of the burning rainbow bridge between the world of men and the world of gods."

I must add here that if that designation is in spiritual language, the description "white" most likely signifies a non-physical, positive nature and character, but we can't escape that Vikings are generally white. This website constructed by a University of Idaho class discusses the role of Odin worship or Norse mythology among some white supremacist groups:
"The page is not meant to be a comprehensive analysis of all modern Odin worship beliefs and practices (see that here). Nor is it an examination of current understandings on Norse mythology. Its focus is on how Odin worship in understood, manipulated, and employed by modern white supremacist groups, both in America and in the United Kingdom. Germany will also be included, since that is where much of the white power music scene started. I also want to make it clear that plenty of Odinists are not white supremacists. There are a number of people who truly want to return to their ancestors’ religious beliefs without any political agenda. This is a distinction that seems blurred in much of the current research. ... Why is this topic important? First, understanding the views of those in the white supremacy movement is vital to putting a stop to it. And we cannot understand their views without understanding the reasoning behind them."
British director Kenneth Branagh cast Elba in the role most likely because the actor has name recognition and is talented. Readers will remember him from HBO's The Wire, the husband in Obsessed which also starred Beyoncé, the father role in Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls, as the soon-to-die Tango in American Gangster with Denzel Washington, and from guest appearances on Showtime's The Big C as the main character (Laura Linney) Cathy's love interest. I thought he was pretty hot in The Reaping in 2007 with Hillary Swank as well. In addition, he's the star of a British detective show, Luther. So, we're not talking light-weight nobody here.

Nevertheless, the Council of Conservative Citizens belittles Elba's work, ignoring his acting career and only referencing his DJ experience. The group also calls Marvel Comics, creators of the superhero comic book Thor, an advocate of leftwing ideologies that has attacked the Tea Party (Does the Tea Party welcome their support right now? In 2009 the Roanoke Tea Party disavowed the CCC.). And it's not just the CCC that's unhappy with Elba as Heimdall. Baddass Nerd says that when news spread that Elba had been cast as a Norse god, quite a few geeks had fits.

The writer at The Root says of the CCC:
"We guess they're really pissed that Jewish Natalie Portman is playing love interest Jane Foster. Too bad she and Elba won't be kissing. That would probably send the white supremacists into a frenzy."
Ah, echoes of the infamous "near" kissing scene between Captain James T. Kirk and Uhura in the original Star Trek. Many television stations in the integration-resistant American South refused to air the episode in 1968.

I think The Root writer, speaking of Jane Foster, means Thor's love interest. In the movie, by the way, Portman's character will not be a nurse, as Foster is in the original comic book, but she'll play a doctor instead. I don't think anyone's protesting that change.

The very Aryan-looking Chris Hemsworth stars as Thor; so, there's something the CCC and Geeks can rejoice about. The Marvel website says:
"The epic adventure "Thor" spans the Marvel Universe from present day Earth to the realm of Asgard.At the center of the story is The Mighty Thor, a powerful but arrogant warrior whose reckless actions reignite an ancient war. Thor is cast down to Earth and forced to live among humans as punishment. Once here, Thor learns what it takes to be a true hero when the most dangerous villain of his world sends the darkest forces of Asgard to invade Earth."
I guess those white supremacist missed when Stargate SG I wrote in the Asgard as little gray aliens.

Back in April, Elba defended his role in the film:
"There has been a big debate about it: can a black man play a Nordic character?" he told TV Times. "Hang about, Thor's mythical, right? Thor has a hammer that flies to him when he clicks his fingers. That's OK, but the colour of my skin is wrong?

"I was cast in Thor and I'm cast as a Nordic god," he said. "If you know anything about the Nords, they don't look like me but there you go. I think that's a sign of the times for the future. I think we will see multi-level casting. I think we will see that, and I think that's good."
In that same Guardian article, comic book fans are reported to have said:
"This PC crap has gone too far!" wailed one. (Another said) "At the risk of sounding like a bigot, I think this is nuts! ... Asgard is home to the Norse Gods!!! Not too many un-fair complexion types roaming the frigid waste lands up there. I wouldn't expect to see many Brad Pitt types walking around in the [first mainstream black superhero] Black Panther's Wakanda Palace!""
The question that's ripping through my mind is this: How is this protests and boycott different or similar to the ones against M. Knight Shymalan's casting of The Last Airbender? Shymalan cast white actors in roles the series creator had written as people of color, and he said he did it for marketing purposes.

I've got my own answer to the question, but it's very long with scholarly documentation and history notes, and so, I'll leave it to others to say what they think about this topic with more passion. For the record, to me the The Last Airbender and the Thor issues are not quite the same thing when we consider prevailing hegemony and power distribution in movies and reality over the years. It's sad that some white men, given all the power that white males have amassed and still have, continue to to feel supremely insecure and easily threatened.

My son, 20, who can't wait to see this movie in May 2011, says he can see how his fellow superhero geeks could arrive at this objection (he won't even address the white supremacists thinking) but also says, "It's Norse mythology. I don't care."

Below an injured Elba's interviewed on a British talk show, Jonathan Ross. He talks about the difficulty with doing the American accent, his role on Luther, his time as a D.J., and in Part 2, he discusses Thor.

Part 2: Ross says Elba is so good looking that Ross considers kissing a black man.

Also at the Guardian, "It's a blond man's world: Thor v Masters of the Universe."


Gena said...

I'm a long time comic book fan of Thor. 12 cents was faithfully received by Marvel from me every chance I could scrap it together.

I also read independent of the comic book the Norse mythology stories that ain't got jack diddly to do with the comic book except some character traits and the names of the gods.

In the land of the comic book there were no African-Americans. There were blue, orange and flame-based beings but no black folks. Sif has blue-black hair but that is about as dusty as it got.

For representations to the mythological faith-based Asgaard I don't think you can have people of color on film. The geography thing is working against it. That is not what this movie is about.

For the comic book, yeah you could have a black Norse God. Marvel would have a heck of a lot of explaining to do but it could work. If they created an original character independent of the story canon

Heimdall would not be my choice to slide a tan on. But I can live with it.

That said, I don't think it was political correctness as much as Hollywood trying to ensure that they make the movie palatable to non-Thor fans by having a well know actor. It was the $$$$ not any goal of equable representation.

The difference between this and The Last Airbinder? The producers of that movie totally white washed the Asian influence and aspect of the original series. They did not respect the original source material at all.

This is one man playing a Norse God who doesn't look like the typical depiction of a citizen of the realm.

I'm ok with it but can understand if others are not.

Vérité Parlant is Nordette Adams said...

Thank you, Gena.

Stephen B said...

These were, after all, gods worshiped by Norse people, not Norsemen (and Norsewomen)themselves. Racially, they were, well, god-ish I guess! So until someone actually sees a real live Heimdall there are no grounds for complaint.

Anonymous said...

Since this is based off norse gods and a comic book i think the actor should be white. Im not racist , but if you can have a black channel on tv (BET) then i think you should be able to get the right race to what is depicted in the comic books...Note america is probably the only country who would call being accurate to the comic book racist.

Thomas D. said...

So, did ALL of the characters in Nordic beliefs look like the Nordic peoples, or just some/most of them? If they all didn't look Norse, then why object to this one?