Hollywood and the Quest for Diversity

Mike Dwyer

Mike Dwyer is a former writer and contributor at Ordinary Times.

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233 Responses

  1. greginak says:

    An IJ of color seems like it would either create real story problems (ignoring the characters race which would be completely anachronistic) or have race be a major story element. I’m not really seeing IJ as a franchise that is all about deeply exploring social issues. I’d be all for Idris Elba as a JB but his race should likely be somehow part of the story since black and white folk, regardless of the tux and cool theme, get treated differently and many place JB goes are still pretty darn openly racist.

    It isn’t as much the giant franchises that matter but more the more common everyday films and shows. If IJ is a white guy but it is normal for characters of all races/ethnicities to be hero’s, villains and normal schmo’s all over entertainment then that seems fine. Superhero’s movies seem ripe for multi ethnic casting since they are far more into the fantasy realm and often exist in different worlds. IJ and JB are supposed to exist in this world so they are more tied to the constraints of this world.Report

    • Kimmi in reply to greginak says:

      IJ was trying, with the last movie, to move more towards social issues. (McCarthy and a Black Indiana Jones would be fun).Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to greginak says:

      I’m in agreement. IJ is supposed to hark back to pulp fiction and the serials of the 1930s, only with better budget, scripts, acting, and music. If you cast a man of color as IJ and do not address this in the movie than your kind of creating somethnig too anachronistic even for a science fiction or fantasy movie. Outside of kid’s entertainment, you can only ignore actual history so much in historical settings. However, if you address race in IJ than the movie becomes a lot more serious than what you intended.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Make him indian. And high caste. Speaks english, is in his home country, still tons of stuff to discover.

        The point is — there are tons of people who make great stories… and 1930’s is a great time to write about.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Well, bear in mind that the 1930’s were also a time when race, racial identification, nationality, national origin, religion, and color mattered a whole lot. Hitler turned his back on Jesse Owens at the Berlin Olympics — even if not literally, then figuratively. And we’re talking about a fantasy adventure movie here, so the emotional feel of the portrayal is more important than rigid historical accuracy.

        A depiction of the 1930’s in which men and women of color moved effortlessly across a Europe still debating whether the Nazis were a) creepy-but-otherwise-mostly-right or b) not-creepy-at-all-and-pretty-much-right or at best c) odious-but-tolerable-for-now wouldn’t feel real at all.

        I’m way cool with the idea of an educated, smart, tough, sarcastic black man beating the ever-lovin’ snot out of Nazis while galavanting across the globe to find a magic dingus before der Furher’s minions do. In fact, just writing that sentence makes me want to see that movie. Unlike James Bond, who has been unmoored from being fixed during a particular part of history like the Cold War, Indiana Jones really is rooted in a particular period of time about which there is plentiful common knowledge.

        Even an Indiana Jones movie set in the 1950’s substituting the Soviets for the Nazis seems like it would be just wrong and fated to be bad, and I sure hope that no movie like that ever gets actually made; Hollywood should be smart enough to leave well enough alone.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to LeeEsq says:


        There is also a history of African-Americans going to Europe and appreciating a freedom and respect that was denied to them in the United States:


      • LeeEsq in reply to LeeEsq says:

        @saul-degraw, it was only a very small minority of African-Americans that got to experience something like this. I’d also point out that the Europeans had no problem giving freedom and respect to African-American artists they admired while imposing imperial control and exploitation over hundreds of millions of Africans and Asians in their colonies.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to greginak says:


      We already have all sorts of inaccuracies in our historical fiction. We wouldn’t want Downton Abbey artistocrats to speak with the ideas of actual artistocrats from the 1910s and 20s. That would repel almost everyone especially the core audience of PBS-loving liberals.Report

      • greginak in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        @saul-degraw True. But would it play well to have a black man playing one of the male characters in DA. If he was playing as a white man and good actor then that could work but it would be odd. Maybe it shouldn’t be and it is done on the stage but not really any place else. If he was played as a black character then either you make that a big part of the show, which could certainly work well, or try to ignore his ethnicity which would be huge problem since it wouldn’t make any sense.

        I’ve seen the last IJ movie. I have no faith IJ is the forum to deal with complex social problems.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I actually thought the Crystal Skull was decent until they brought in the stupid alien plot. Not great but enjoyable popcorn stuff. And I am still not sure about why someone would complain about aliens in a world that also supposed the Ark of the Covenant had real supernatural powers.

        I agree with you on your point on having a black male actor play Lord So and So.Report

  2. Jaybird says:

    For what it’s worth, Miles Morales TOTALLY got off on the right foot.

    He got bit by a spider that was used to try to figure out the Super Soldier Serum, he got accepted to a high-end charter school (free tuition!), and a “with great power comes great responsibility” moment that involved his uncle.

    When discussing this with Parker, one of the main things we both worried about was “will Miles be a white kid in blackface?” and other questions about whether we’d see the same storylines that we’d see with a white character only with, and this is a line from Parker, a watermelon and a bucket of chicken on the table.

    As it turns out, I’d say that the first dozen or so stories were exciting, interesting, and they weren’t obviously white people stories. (Book 3, sadly, went off the rails a little bit and gave a story that was about Spider-Man rather than being about Miles being Spider-Man, if you know what I mean.)

    All that to say: it’s possible to do these things right and Miles Morales was done right.Report

  3. James K says:

    One of the problems Mike is that the reason making a main character black seems like a gimmick is that it’s so rare. The only way to change that is to actually start having a non-trivial number of non-white protagonists. It reminds me of Joss Wheadon’s response to an interviewer who asked him why so many of his works were focused on strong women. His response: “Because people keep asking me that question.”Report

    • Kimmi in reply to James K says:

      +1. Yeah, I don’t think that Wheadon has gone out of his way to write “focused on strong women” stories. He’s just written good stories, and women have been in them. Doing things.Report

      • Guy in reply to Kimmi says:

        Eh. I kinda have the impression that Wheadon does female focused* stories at least in part so he can be the guy who gives that answer.

        *Stretching the definition of focused, at times.Report

  4. Saul Degraw says:

    I kind of see your point but on the other hand, color blind casting is done in theatre a lot but maybe it works in theatres in ways that it doesn’t work in film. On the other hand, casting a non-white actor as Indiana Jones can be seen as a correctional action for decades of white-washing (see the Last Airbender) and casting minorities in specific roles only (see the Asian guy or gal who always gets cast as a lab tech or IT guy.)

    That being said, I just want reboots to end. The original Indiana Jones trilogy is perfect. There is no need to reboot the movies. I suspect by the time I am 50, there will be reboots of reboots and they will be called rereboots.

    What is it about this current age that seems to go overboard with nostalgia and can’t move onto new things? How about new stories and new plots….Report

    • greginak in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      I can see the pitch meeting for the new IJ. “Yeah we’re going to cast a black guy as IJ because it will make up for years of racial errors.”

      ” Box office gold…..heres a blank check. Go for it.”

      Lets not ignore why big franchises and sequels get made. They are safe bets to make money.

      It could be possible to make IJ as a black, or other POC, person. But then you better make his ethnicity part of the story, and do it well, or you going to churn out some sad crap.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to greginak says:

        I’d love to see an Indiana Jones raised in Liberia, doing archeological research in Africa.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to greginak says:

        I STILL don’t know why someone gave the greenlight to Torchwood.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to greginak says:

        Because they wanted to reward Davies after his success with Doctor Who and they had a decent idea for a sci-fi series (which ran out of steam after Children of Earth) (which I liked, btw, though I think I remember you saying you didn’t) (miracle day was terribad, I couldn’t get past the third episode even when trying again twice)Report

      • greginak in reply to greginak says:

        Yeah Kimmi that could be good. A completely different character of course, which would also be fine. I’d love to a series about black slaves as spies for the Union during the civil war. But if your changing the character, just come up with a new story and character then go with it.

        IJ was never making social issues a major point. Its the background which is fine. It’s a mistake to hyperfocus on big name franchises. There are plenty of stories and characters that you dont’ have to shoe horn into old franchises. That actually serves POC better since they are being given an old name and template.Report

      • greginak in reply to greginak says:

        Torchwood was fine idea that was executed well not nearly enough. But as an idea it was good. You got a charismatic lead, a great universe and a running start with Dr. W. Shame most of it was solid meh.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to greginak says:

        Torchwood was “in production” before Doctor Who.

      • Kolohe in reply to greginak says:

        Torchwood was an idea in the back of Davies head, but it wasn’t anywhere close to being “in-production” until Davies back fitted the codename for Nu-Who onto that idea, put deliberate world building easter eggs in the 2nd series of Nu-Who, and got the final formal green light during that run.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to greginak says:

        I mean, unless you want to consider this winter’s Star Wars as being ‘in-production’ since the 1970’s.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to greginak says:

        I more meant in production like the latest Duke Nukem.Report

    • Reformed Republican in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Colorblind casting can sometimes lead to interesting results. Last weekend we saw The Magic Flute. The role of Papageno was played by a black man. There was a scene where he is considering hanging himself, and there was a noose hanging from the tree. It added a bit of unintended subtext, and it made me a bit uncomfortable. Some folks found it humorous.Report

  5. Rufus F. says:

    There was a great South Korean Western action movie a few years ago called The Good, the Bad, the Weird that was advertised with the line “No CGI. All stunts.” If they took the same approach to a future Indiana Jones movie, the fans would eat it up. But they won’t because we’re talking Lucas and Spielberg here.Report

  6. Chris says:

    Where I have trouble with Griffiths’ suggestion is that historically-speaking there were very few whip-wielding, Nazi-fighting, swashbuckling archaeologists in the 1920s and 1930s. Did they exist? Probably not. Would it make sense to build a movie franchise around such an archaeologist? Meh. It feels a bit too much like a gimmick.


    If the premise is already so incredibly unrealistic as to license both whatever the hell was going on in Temple of Doom and the monstrosity that was the Crystal Skull, it doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch to have a rare, but actually possible black archaeologist from the 30s.Report

    • j r in reply to Chris says:

      Right. You can suspend your disbelief when bible relics melt the faces off Nazis and the priests of secret Indian cults pull beating hearts out of a man’s chest, but a black guy with a PhD…. that’s too much of a stretch.Report

    • Mike Dwyer in reply to Chris says:


      The ‘whip-wielding, swashbuckling’ part is actually based on several real-life archaeologists. 1900-1940 was the golden age and there were indeed some folks very similar to Indy.Report

      • Chris in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        For certain very loose meanings of “very similar to.”

        Also, the FTFY means the quote’s been altered. I’d appreciate you not editing my comments.Report

      • Mike Dwyer in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Chris – I didn’t realize you were well-read on the exploits of early 20th century archaeologists.Report

      • Chris in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        I know a bit of the story behind the creation of Indiana Jones, that’s it, but I also know enough about the human body to know that there very likely were not any archaeologists somewhere in Asia (the Indian subcontinent?) fighting witch doctors who could dig beating hearts out of chests with his bare hands. Did they find themselves in some interesting scrapes with locals and grave robbers and such? I’m sure. Doesn’t make Indiana Jones anymore realistic.Report

      • Mike Dwyer in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        So you would prefer they cast a different ethnicity? If that is the case, honest question, why not do that with every movie based on a fictional story? Simply figure out what the demographics are worldwide and use the percentages. The world is 25% Asian? Okay, 25% of our movies must have an Asian lead. Etc, etc.

        It becomes an exercise in political correctness.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Kebaaaabs! Kebaaaaabs!
        (This is a reference to the Broken Sword videogames, which are quite fun if you can get over the latent, fairly explicit racism).Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        I think a different ethnicity would be a goldmine. It’s a genre that really takes well to it. (And, if you must, make it the 1950’s).

        Some things don’t, of course. But Indiana Jones, like James Bond? Works, totally works.
        (note: redneck James Bond would probably be a Problem).

        Crockodile Dundee? While you could make him Aboriginal, that’s pretty much it. Either white or Aboriginal. Anything else requires Too Much Explanation.Report

      • Chris in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        I don’t care whom they cast. I wish Hollywood would cast more people of color in movies like this, for the reasons people have mentioned here (your “gimmick” comment being a good example of why), but I am not at all invested in who they cast as Indiana Jones specifically, because if it’s a good or even just a fun movie, I will almost certainly enjoy it, regardless of whom they cast.

        But you’ve already decided that hiring a black actor is a “gimmick” and “political correctness,” so only one of us is invested in the race of Indiana Jones for racial reasons.Report

      • Mike Dwyer in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        It’s a gimmick because they are rebooting an existing franchise with a very recognizable character as its lead. The main goal is getting the story right and also making it similar enough to the original to retain that same magic. As Greg points out, a minority IJ doesn’t jive at all with the historical realities of the 1920s and 1930s. So you’re talking about setting the entire film in a universe that doesn’t exist at that time. You ruin the story right out of the gate.

        On the flip side, is there any harm in taking a historically black character and making him white? What about a Shaft reboot staring Gerard Butler? No one would complain?Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Did you mind Capt.Benj.Sisko?
        I think that Benny managed some of the most moving, heartwrenching Star Trek.

        I don’t see Indiana Jones as stuck in the 1930’s — he’s clearly moving through time with the series.Report

      • Chris in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        So you’re talking about setting the entire film in a universe that doesn’t exist at that time. You ruin the story right out of the gate.

        Wait, I thought we were talking about a reboot, not Temple of Doom.

        And sure, make Shaft white. Talking about a specific character, I’m not sure why it matters. I mean, the two franchises aren’t quite comparable, because Shaft existed in one of the few genres that would cast black leads at the time, so he as a character holds a place in black culture specifically that Indiana Jones does not in white culture, but at the end of the day, if you can make the movie entertaining with a white Shaft, more power to ya. I’m sure you’ll get some pushback because of the culture thing, but it’s better than getting pushback because white people just dislike putting black people in roles they identify as white for no reason other than white people just dislike it.Report

      • Mike Dwyer in reply to Mike Dwyer says:


        “Did you mind Capt.Benj.Sisko?”

        That doesn’t make sense to me as an analogy. He wasn’t a recast. He was a new character in a universe that is already established as being color-blind.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        “if you can make the movie entertaining with a white Shaft, more power to ya”

        Isn’t that movie called “Rambo “First Blood?”Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        ” he’s clearly moving through time with the series.”

        And kitchen appliances.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        “That doesn’t make sense to me as an analogy. He wasn’t a recast. He was a new character in a universe that is already established as being color-blind.”

        This is true.

        But it’s also true that creating the character and making it the central lead in a Star Trek universe was widely decried as being “pc” and messing with what Star Trek was just prior to the show airing. I remember the week it ploted, and it was getting so much publicity because of the success of STNG, and the pc police forcing Hollywood into making the new captain black was big talk radio fodder.Report

      • Mike Dwyer in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        I don’t recall the kerfuffle over the Star Trek casting, but I’m not really a Trek television guy (love the movies though). It seems weird to me considering they already established the diversity of the cast in the original series.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Yeah, it was totally weird — and it had a shelf life of “until people saw the pilot.”Report

      • Alan Scott in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        As someone who watched Deep Space Nine in 2010, the whole idea that people on talk radio were talking about star trek at all seems completely nuts to me.

        But then I remember that star trek was a thing that normal people cared about in the nineties.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        (We called him “Hawk” for the first two seasons. So many memories.)Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        “(We called him “Hawk” for the first two seasons)”

        which is why Avery Brooks wore the hairstyle he did and the facial hair he didn’t at the beginning – so he wouldn’t be Hawk. Then they said fish it, and everything got a lot more bad ass and a lot more better.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        I remember when I heard Hawk was going to be in DS9. Top reason I bothered watching.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        If there is a fictional character out there that better deserves the mantle of “I Know He/She Is Based on Terrible Negative Stereotypes, But God Help Me I Still Loooove This Character” than Hawk, I haven’t seen ’em.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Mike Dwyer says:


        “But then I remember that star trek was a thing that normal people cared about in the nineties.”

        You remember a very different nineties than I remember.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        “(note: redneck James Bond would probably be a Problem)”

        Isn’t that the Kingsman movie that’s out now?Report

      • Alan Scott in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        At it’s height, as many people watched Star Trek: The Next Generation as watch Monday Night Football today. When I was eleven, I had star trek Micromachines and star trek Polly Pockets.

        TNG was not some weird niche show for nerds. It was a mainstream hit in a time when TV didn’t really support weird niche shows, before cable supplanted broadcast and before the rise of multiple-television homes.Report

      • Saul DeGraw in reply to Mike Dwyer says:


        I remember micromachines but not polly pockets. Maybe it is just a reflection of where I grew up but I don’t remember many of my classmates being into Star Trek in middle and high school during the 1990s.

        The new “everyone is a geek” things seems to be a very post-2010 thing.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        It’s not a “everyone was into” Star Trek thing. Everyone WATCHED star trek. It was an iconic show, just like MASH or The A Team or Dallas.

        These are the Television Touchstones — we used to really, really have things that everyone watched.

        A Japanese coworker wanted to watch TNG because one of her profs kept going on about Picard being better than Kirk. To me, it seemed odd that she hadn’t watched any star trek, ever.

        Because star trek was ubiquitous, once upon a time. (endless replays of the movies didn’t hurt).Report

    • greginak in reply to Chris says:

      The IJ movies are supposed to exist in this world with some fantastic elements. But very much this world. There are direct connections to real events and the fantastic things that happen are either kept secret or happen out of sight of the wider world. Nobody knows about the crappy ufo aliens from crystal skull except for the ufo fanatics….it is the back story behind a real world thing.Report

      • Chris in reply to greginak says:

        Oh sure, I get how it works, and it works really well in the first (and maybe third) film, which is pretty much a perfect movie. It’s still fantastic, and fantasy, though, and treating skin color as the factor that would put it over the edge into a gimmick makes little sense.

        Indiana Jones, regardless of whether he was based on real people, was not a real person. He doesn’t have a skin color in the abstract, only in the actual films. He can, in subsequent films, have whatever the hell skin color the filmmakers want him to have and he’d be just fine. We could find out that Indiana Jones is actually of Chinese or Indian descent, like 1/3 of the people on this planet, plenty of whom are archaeologists I’m sure, and it wouldn’t affect the character in any way (except that Sean Connery would be awkward as his dad, but then he can play a Russian and a Spaniard with a Scottish accent, so…). Hell, they could make Indiana a woman and it would work just fine; might even make for some interesting side stories.Report

      • greginak in reply to greginak says:

        Actually i like the 2 nd flick which i know makes me a heretic, but it was solid. It only works to change the ethnicity if you make it major part of the plot and likely change the character. A black person would be dealt with very differently by nazis then a white guy.

        There are so many stories to tell why shackle that to fitting it into the IJ story. Marketing is the only reason which get. But why do POC or women have to the “new IJ” as opposed to just being their own character with a unique backstory et.Report

      • Chris in reply to greginak says:

        greg, why not? I get that, if we wanted to realistic (like a plot line in which an archaeologist and his ex work to defeat what looks like at least a battalion of Nazi soldiers, say), we might have to work around some things, but I can’t think of a single scene in the 3 movies that would have had to have been done differently if Indiana had been black (I’m ignoring the 4th, but archaeologists with sons who can straddle speeding jeeps makes my point for me).Report

      • greginak in reply to greginak says:

        Chris…Um black guy with white gf. black treated as a respected scholar by nazis, black guy teaching a major uni in the 30. That is just off the top of my head. You might be able to make those things work but in a very different story. Hell i’d be fine with that story but i just see that as a very different character and story from IJ so i dont’ see the point.Report

      • Chris in reply to greginak says:

        Aside from the Nazi respect thing (I suppose we can’t make him Jewish then either, eh?), those others are just more “rare but not impossible” things that, should we choose to run with them, would not make the movie any more unrealistic than the movies plot and action scenes do.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to greginak says:

        my friend who’s a writer loves the 2nd movie too. (I don’t think I’ve seen all of it, so I don’t get to have a say).Report

  7. j r says:

    I am having a hard time squaring this:

    Would it make sense to build a movie franchise around a black archaeologist? Meh. It feels a bit too much like a gimmick.

    with this:

    Did they exist? Absolutely. John Wesley Gilbert is probably the most famous example.


    So Hollywood casts a minority Indiana Jones. His adventures take him to some exotic locale. Does his race play a part in the plot or does it just become something we ignore?

    Not sure why this question would be any different for a white actor than for a non-white actor. The thing about exotic locales is that they are not generally populated by white folks, so why would a black Indiana Jones in the Amazon jungle be any difference than a white one in the Amazon jungle?

    What all this comes down it is that you’re used to seeing white people portrayed as universal protagonists, so the thought of a non-white person appears to be somehow contrived.Report

  8. Jaybird says:

    Sadly, The Equalizer didn’t do that well.

    Which is too bad because, honestly, it was one hell of a satisfying (if somewhat mindless) competence porn flick.

    There was something about this in the leaked Sony emails:

    From the article:

    “The Equalizer” saw 47 percent of its ticket sales come from overseas versus an expected 65 percent return, something the producer attributed to racism.

    “No, I am not saying ‘The Equalizer’ should not have been made or that African American actors should not have been used (I personally think Denzel is the best actor of his generation),” the producer wrote, according to Radar Online.

    But casting black leads in films is sure to limit profits, the producer noted.

    “Casting him is saying we’re ok with a double if the picture works,” the unnamed producer said, using a baseball term to hit home his point. “He’s reliable at the domestic (box office), safe, but has not had a huge success in years. I believe whenever possible the non event pictures, extra ‘bets’ should have a large inherent upside and be made for the right price. Here there isn’t a large inherent upside.”

    To what extent is Hollywood okay with hitting a double when the whole “we could have hit a home run” thought scratches at the back of their heads?Report

    • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

      I enjoyed The Equalizer too, though that may be because I just like watching Denzel kick ass.

      I imagine the typical Hollywood exec also thinks that if you cast a black female lead, you’re contenting yourself to get thrown out at first, because they almost never do that.Report

    • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Jaybird says:

      I loved the end of Equalizer. I was half expecting some cliched martial arts fight scene in the rain. What they did was so much better and in line with the character.Report

  9. Kolohe says:

    There was Relic Hunter, which was ‘what if Indiana Jones were a Filipina-Hawaiian woman?’ It was..adequate, for syndication TV of the time.

    (Then there was Lost World, which was “what if Tarzan were a white woman?”, but to be fair, that genre has a long pedigree in the comics, almost as long as superheroes)Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Kolohe says:

      And it had the advantage of being basically about a hot chick who was scantily dressed. Which from a marketing perspective is allowed to excuse a lot of bad acting, writing and directing, historically speaking.Report

  10. Rufus F. says:

    Here’s the problem I had with “Django Unchained”- it’s a movie about the dehumanizing institution of slavery in which the main character is a black man with almost no recognizable character traits, aside from loving his wife, who is almost not a character at all, and being very adept at killing people. The German bounty-hunter is well-rounded, witty, intelligent, and also adept at killing people. But Django is a one-dimensional ass kicker. I realize Tarantino is getting that from the stoic one-dimensional heroes of spaghetti westerns, but his concern with the institution of slavery feels false as a result. Really, he just wants to make the same argument that his last four movies did, which is it can be really awesome to kill people.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Rufus F. says:

      Django is a terrific character study of the Christopher Waltz character, followed by an hour of over-the-top violent revenge, because what’s the point of a movie without an absurd amount of violence?Report

      • Glyph in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        I agree that the movie does right by the German character, but one of my complaints was essentially the same as Rufus’, that Tarantino kind of got distracted by the German, to Django’s detriment.

        I guess If DU was not viewed as a standalone, but instead essentially as a prequel (the origin story of Django, with the German as his combination Han Solo/Yoda) it’d probably be fine. Luke Skywalker had no real personality either.Report

  11. Tod Kelly says:

    I confess: I hate this entire argument, every time it comes up.

    You know why Idris Elba did really well in Thor, albeit for a very limited roll? He’s a really great actor. Period.

    You know why Wild Wild West sucked ass? It was a stupid, terrible movie. Period.

    I am not a huge fan of insisting that artists have to cater to our slightest political or nostalgic whims before we even have any idea what they are going to produce. I was a huge IJ fan growing up, and Raiders is still tied with two others as my top favorite movie of all time — in fact, I think you can make an argument that it is the platonic ideal of what an action adventure movie should be. So believe mw when I have the same trepidation as you on a reboot, Mike.

    But I don’t think the quality of finished product will have anything to do with the race of Indy. It’s most likely going to fall short (because how can it not?), and regardless of how good or bad it is it’s going to be a different animal, born of a different artist’s vision. They could cast Pratt or Elba, and it won’t matter: The reboot will be to the original as Noland’s Batman was to Burton’s was to whatever studio hack did Adam West’s.Report

    • James K in reply to Tod Kelly says:


      You make a good point here, there are too many variables at play in any given movie to figure out from individual examples why one went well and another badly. One would need to dig through a mountain of data on each film to figure out the effect of protagonist race on box office earnings or critical acclaim.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to James K says:

        Oh, I bet you don’t have to dig very far for box office earnings. I think that’s pretty well documented, and I think it puts the onus on a more troubling party.

        I know a lot of white folks who complain about Hollywood making movies with so few people of color in leads. But most of those people don’t pay to go see the ones that are green lighted.

        Best as I can tell, Americans will shell out a lot of money if Denzel, so long as he’s is in a really good movie. But they’ll shell out just as much money to see Tom Cruise or Hugh Jackman in a crappy one.

        Or on the other end of the quality spectrum, there are a whole heck of a lot of Americans who have never seen a Tyler Perry movie because in the ads “they look dumb” but who have yet to miss an Adam Sandler movie.Report

      • James K in reply to James K says:


        It’s not the box office data that would take work, it’s all the attributional data on each movie to help you figure out which attributes correlate with the box office figures.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to James K says:

        The share of US tickets purchased by African Americans is a hair over their percentage of the US population. (A ticket share that is more outsized if related to the African American share of consumer purchasing power)Report

  12. Rufus F. says:

    I think the best way this could work is if Indiana Jones was played by Samuel L. Jackson, it was a remake of Raiders, and included the line, “Jock! There’s a motherfishing snake in your motherfishing plane!”Report

  13. Tod Kelly says:

    Actually, off the top of my head here is a list of traditional white comic book/TV/movie/book characters that have been played by African Americans on TV or the movies over the past decade or two:

    Harvey Dent
    Perry White
    Nick Fury
    Little Orphan Annie
    Ford Prefect
    Whatever Morgan Freeman’s character in Shawshank was

    And heck, while I’m at it, here is an off the top of my head list of the reverse:

    the Grasshopper monk
    The Sherrif from 30 Days of Night
    Pretty much everyone in The Last Airbender
    And within a year or two, the Major for Ghost In the Shell

    I’m pretty sure each and everyone one of these casting decisions was seen as a sign of Hollywood ruining everything… right up until the point when the movie was released, at which point nobody cared.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      That Perry White decision in the Man of Steel was a disgrace.

      Perry White wearing an earring? Ridiculous.Report

    • James K in reply to Tod Kelly says:


      In fairness, the Marvel Cinematic version of Nick Fury is based on an alternate version of Fury, one who was not only black but actually modelled on Samuel L Jackson.Report

    • dragonfrog in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      The Tonto example is a bit special on that list – Tonto wasn’t a white character, he was an aboriginal character played by a white dude in parodic redface. People continued caring after the movie was released, not because of the poor cinematic outcome but because seriously what on earth made them think that was at all okay?Report

    • KatherineMW in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      I’ve read all the arguments for Katniss being a person of colour, and don’t find any of them convincing. They could have cast her as one – it wouldn’t have made any difference to the movies, except for implicitly drawing some additional parallels that would strengthen the story’s themes – but casting Jennifer Lawrence isn’t a case of whitewashing.

      And tons of people cared about whitewashing The Last Airbender, especially since all its supporters pre-release trotted out the “they’re just casting the best people, who all happen to be white except for the bad guys!” line, only for everyone who watched it to realize that none of the people cast in the lead roles could act. That movie is the reason whitewashing a cast is now colloquially referred to as “racebending”.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to KatherineMW says:

        I’ve always interpreted Katniss has having a Mediterranean look to her like somebody from Greece, Italy, or Spain.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to KatherineMW says:

        I also really don’t know why the casting people behind the live action version of the Last Airbender thought they could get away with casting white people. On another group I was on at the time, it was defended as a capitalist decision because there isn’t really a pool of Asian-American stars to cast from. Considering that most people cast in Air Bender were no names, this isn’t a convincing argument.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to KatherineMW says:


        The arguments I saw with regards to Katniss were less about her character being a person of color within the universe and more about audience reaction and a missed opportunity for a rising actress of color. Many, many fans — particularly girls of color — read Katniss as “being like them” so when a fair-skinned, blonde haired actress got picked, it felt like a slap in the face. And before we call this ridiculous, consider the myriad reactions of white fans who broke down in tears when a character who was EXPLICITLY DESCRIBED AS HAVING DARK SKIN was portrayed by an actor of color because they imagined her (I think it was a female character) as white.

        To the latter point, there are so few great opportunities for actors of color and this seemed like one so when it went to a blonde girl with a dye job… it again felt like a slap in the face.

        This isn’t to say that casting JLaw was wrong. Just that it irked people and I think legitimately so.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to KatherineMW says:

        @kazzy, Katniss is also depicted as having a full-blooded sister with blonde hair and blue eyes. This is kind of a big hint that Katniss is Mediterranean dark rather than a person of color.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to KatherineMW says:


        Even casting someone who was “Mediterranean dark” (I’m putting that in quotes because I’m not exactly sure what that particular term means) would have been preferable to casting Lawrence.

        I’m not familiar with the novels. So I’m engaging in a ton of hearsay. I’m not necessarily taking sides as much as I’m trying to do my best to represent an argument — and by extension, a voice — that isn’t present here.

        Also worth noting that many folks from Mediterranean nations — many of whom are now considered white in America — were not always seen as such and still harbor certain tendencies that one typically associates with non-white groups in America. Not unlike Jews in many ways (though many of the specifics differ).Report

      • RTod in reply to KatherineMW says:

        @katherinemw @leeesq @kazzy

        As I said elsewhere, I don’t know that I have a problem with Hollywood for “whitewashing” a movie for the same reason I don’t really have a problem with Hollywood doing all the things social conservatives go off on Hollywood about.

        If we’re not really willing to pay to see an all-Chinese cast in a movie, then as far as I’m concerned that’s on *us*, not HollywoodReport

      • LeeEsq in reply to KatherineMW says:

        @tod-kelly, thats how some people defended the casting choice in the Airbender movie. The thing is that how are we going to know what people are willing to pay to see if nobody attempts to do it first. There were lots of Airbender fans who were really angry at the casting decisions made. We also know that the Airbender movie bombed. Maybe it would have been more successful with an all Asian cast.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to KatherineMW says:

        Hollywood assumes this, @leeesq , because every time they *do* make a movie with an all-Chinese cast — or an all black cast, or an all Latino cast — you don’t go see it.

        I guarantee you, if the majority of Americans had bought tickets to go see the only movie I have seen promoted as having a great cast of Asian American up and comers (The Maze Runner), every other movie in 2016 would have an Asian American lead actor.

        If people went to see Tyler Perry movies at the clip they went to see Adam Sandler movies, or Spike Lee movies at the clip they went to see Christopher Noland movies, you would have a LOT of all-black cast movies.Report

      • KatherineMW in reply to KatherineMW says:

        Lee – That’s how I’ve read Katniss as well.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to KatherineMW says:

        Likewise, movies starring young, hot women do better than movies starring older women, which is why there are so many of them.Report

      • KatherineMW in reply to KatherineMW says:

        Kazzy – That’s fair, and considering that the role has launched Jennifer Lawrence into superstardom, and there are so few roles for women of colour, it’s understandable for them to be disappointed with the casting. It would have been a great opportunity. And I recognize that there are mixed-race families where siblings can look very different.

        I was delighted with the choice of Jennifer Lawrence, because she was my pick for Katniss from the moment I saw her in Winter’s Bone, even before a Hunger Games film was being considered.Report

      • Alan Scott in reply to KatherineMW says:


        I guarantee you, if the majority of Americans had bought tickets to go see the only movie I have seen promoted as having a great cast of Asian American up and comers (The Maze Runner), every other movie in 2016 would have an Asian American lead actor.

        Dude. Big Hero 6 was one of the 10 biggest movies of 2014. It had like one white guy–two if you count the Robot. In contrast, I hadn’t heard enough about The Maze Runner to even know it had Asian characters in it.

        I think it’s pretty telling that the movies you can think of that white people don’t see are ones by Tyler Perry and Spike Lee. Perry and Lee make their movies not giving a shit whether white people see them–and rightly so.

        In comparison, think about the number of straight people who saw “Brokeback Mountain” vs. the number of straight people who saw “Latter Days” or “Mysterious Skin”. Brokeback Mountain was specifically created for a broad audience–and the audience showed up for it.

        The question is, how do movies with casts of color that include white filmgoers in their target audiences do? Did 12 years a slave underperform? Did The Live of Pi? The only recent flop with a non-white cast that comes to mind is “Red Wings”, and I’m pretty sure the failure of that movie has more to do with George Lucas than with race.Report

      • KatherineMW in reply to KatherineMW says:

        Alan – It’s “Red Tails”.

        And Selma severely underperformed despite being an exceptional movie, and was snubbed by the Academy in the Directing and Acting categories despite being, on the merits, a very strong contendor to win both. Reluctance to see (or award) a movie about the Civil Rights Movement where the lead protagonists are actually black is the only reason I can think of for that.Report

      • Notme in reply to KatherineMW says:

        Maybe Selma didnt get the accolades people think it is due because of its historical inaccuracies?Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to KatherineMW says:

        Yes, because if there’s one thing people universally decry in movies, it’s when things don’t match reality.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to KatherineMW says:

        Certainly, implying that William Wallace was Edward III’s real father is what sunk Braveheart. (Wallace died in 1305, Edward was born in 1312.)Report

      • Alan Scott in reply to KatherineMW says:

        Yeah, that explanation is nonsense.

        But you know what else is nonsense? Claiming a movie nominated for Best Picture was snubbed at the Oscars.Report

      • Notme in reply to KatherineMW says:

        If you dont like my snarky answer then i would have to say folks didnt fawn over Selma because they are racists.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to KatherineMW says:

        I love how when people say Mediterranean they never mean North African. Funny, ain’t it?Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      Othello was a Moor [1], a North African of mixed Arab-Berber descent. It’s actually an example of your first category when he’s played by a black man.

      1. Or a Moop.Report

  14. Pinky says:

    The movie is going to be terrible. There’s no way around that. The original broke new ground the Hollywood way – by copying a genre that people had forgotten about. In our post-Lara Croft world, where superheroes have quests for magical McGuffins 24/7, there’s no way this movie will be able to so something interesting. A white Indy, a black Indy, it doesn’t matter. I already saw Chris Pratt play Indy, in Guardians of the Galaxy, and it was okay except for the Indiana Jones parts.Report

    • RTod in reply to Pinky says:

      @pinky I tend to agree, and I might take it one step further:

      After reading what you wrote I found myself thinking, maybe that’s as good an argument as any for making Indy black. Kind of in the same way that the Bond series had become a joke until they rebooted and made Bond movies that were nothing like the previous movies, maybe you have to get as far away from the Harrison Ford Indy for it to have a chance of being watchable.Report

      • Pinky in reply to RTod says:

        As I said further downstream, my thinking had the same stops as yours, but in the different direction. I thought that Chris Pratt or anyone else impersonating Harrison Ford would fail, so they should take a different direction and make it about Indy’s buddy – actually create a new story. But then I tried to picture it, and I just don’t see it being fun.

        The first JJ Abrams Star Trek movie actually did that, and I think successfully. They created an alternate universe Star Trek that was way more tragic. It wasn’t light, but it was fun because it was really polished and almost Michael Bay-ish. Could you make a less-lighthearted Indiana Jones? Actually, you could, if you made it about race. But it’d be a miserable viewing experience. The thing about the IJ movies is that they’re completely thought-free.

        Could you make an IJ movie that was serious? Not without making it boring. Could you make it slicker? Not really. So that’s pretty much where my thinking ended. What could you do with the IJ franchise that wouldn’t be awful?Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to RTod says:

        What could you do with the IJ franchise that wouldn’t be awful?

        Make enough money to get an even bigger house, an even fancier car, and an even younger trophy wife.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to RTod says:

        “What could you do with the IJ franchise that wouldn’t be awful?”
        … more charlemagne.

        (Seriously, you’ve got to see the audience reactions to that part of the film. Totally, totally hilarious).Report

  15. j r says:


    The big problem here is that you are assuming that many of these casting decisions are being made almost solely on the basis of diversity. Do you have any proof that this is the case? In the absence of that, you are largely attacking a straw man.

    As @tod-kelly says above, lots of people want to see Idris Elba as James Bond, not because they want to see a black Bond, but that they really like Elba. And whoever cast Will Smith in Wild Wild West most likely wasn’t the least bit interested in being political correct, but rather thought that Smith was a big enough movie star to drive box office. That movie sucked, because that movie sucked. Smith’s skin color is almost wholly incidental.

    And I am still waiting to hear how pulling beating hearts out of chests is perfectly within the purview of what you consider normal, but a black archaeologist in the 30s or 40s is beyond belief.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to j r says:

      Does the Indy reboot even need to take place in the 30’s and 40’s?

      I mean, what are the essential elements of Indiana Jones? What are the parts that can’t change without essentially creating a new character? I’m not an expert on the character, but I assume he has to be smart and fearless but also a little reckless and good with the ladies and suave but able to get himself out of jams he inexplicably gets himself into are all pretty essentially. Is him being a white guy in the 30s essential? Why can’t he be a Hispanic guy in the 90s? How would that change the character or story?Report

      • greginak in reply to Kazzy says:

        An IJ reboot doesn’t have to take place in the 30’s or 40’s. It could keep the same name and a promise of a similar style. However that is all about trying to maintain and create a perma franchise. Hwood loves that stuff because they can bank on it. Of course you can do anyting you want because you are just rejiggering stuff to build a franchise of films not keep the actual character. That mostly bores me. I’d just as soon they make up a new character and instead of trying to pay homage to the old character just use their own damn imagination and build a back story and history separate from the older films they are just trying to capitalize off of.

        An actual example of changing characters for a reboot is the new ghostbustes movie they are making with four women as the Gbusters. Ghostbusters was a great movie but that is about it. The remake is just very delayed cashing in.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

        Have it take place in the 80’s!

        “Let me get my Walkman.”
        “Mousse. Why’d it have to be mousse?”
        “Top Men.”Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Kazzy says:

        I’m going to argue that an Indiana Jones does need to take place during the 1930s and 1940s. One of the key elements of Indiana Jones are the adventures in exotic locals relatively untouched by Western civilization. An Indiana Jones movies set latter than World War II seems wrong because the world is to developed and modernized. Its kind of hard to imagine having Indiana Jones style adventures in post-Indepdence India for a variety of reasons. For one thing, the Indian government would stomp down hard on any such adventures.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        A fair point, @leeesq . As I said, I’m not an IJ expert. If it weren’t for the Nazis, I probably couldn’t tell you off the top of my head when it took place.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

        Have him be fighting *NEO*-Nazis!Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Kazzy says:

        Indiana Jones and the Spiders from Mars!!!Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Kazzy says:

        @jaybird, our hero needs to face a realistic threat not cosplayers.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        Neo as a Nazi?Report

      • Damon in reply to Kazzy says:

        Can’t our hero face sexy chicks cosplaying instead?

        They can be quite dangerous!Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Kazzy says:

        Or Neocons. Say, set it in 1991 and make the bad guy Richard Perle, who wants the Ark to brainwash GHWB into going into Baghdad.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

        Okay, so we have a Native American Indiana Jones start out like normal, almost a shot-for-shot remake of Raiders. Halfway through the giant boulder scene, we see a glitch. Make the audience think it’s a mistake. Show another one in the classroom scene. Then have Marcus Brody offer him the two pills.

        Wham! He takes the Red Pill and wakes up and he’s black.

        Now we’re in and out of The Matrix where he’s fighting spider monsters in the real world as a black guy and Nazis in the fake one as a Native American.


        Let’s make him a woman in the real world. We can explore some gender stuff at the same time.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Kazzy says:

        Isn’t that Cloud Atlas?Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Kazzy says:

        Isn’t cosplay where you drug someone and then have sex with them?Report

      • aaron david in reply to Kazzy says:

        Na, that’s voting Mike.Report

      • Alan Scott in reply to Kazzy says:

        Indiana Jones needs Nazis. Without them, you need to find another villain that’s

        1) Recognizable
        2) Inarguably Evil
        3) Politically Powerful
        4) and Associated with Pulp Mysticism

        There are other badguys that fit the bill, but none more recent than the 40s. The movies are period pieces for a reason.Report

      • KatherineMW in reply to Kazzy says:

        Alan – The CIA? They got pretty into the idea of pyschics and the like back in the Cold War days, they’re recognizable, politically powerful, and have done plenty of evil.Report

  16. DRS says:

    Here’s a novel thought: why not just go to the movie and watch – the actor. Without all the preconceived biases against diversity. Without the usual obsession with pigmentation. Just – go – watch – the – movie – already. Stop making a press release the basis of your enjoyment.

    My fave Star Trek is Deep Space Nine. And one of the great things is how black actors were incorporated into the story without a big deal being made about it. Commander/Captain Benjamin Sisko is black – that’s it. His relationship with his son is one of the most realistic presentations I’ve seen on television. There are black Bajorans in every crowd shot where you see a crowd of Bajorans. They just are there. Also black Klingons (hi, Worf!). And when the time-travel-into-the-past episodes crop up, the consequences of being black in mid-20th century Earth are treated realistically and don’t depend on sensitive white people straightening everything out. It’s such a blessed relief to watch a show that doesn’t reflect America’s scream-inducing obsession with this issue but just gets on with the plot of inter-galactic blowing up of spaceships.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to DRS says:

      It’s true, Star Trek never made overly clunky allegories about racism. . Nor more subtle treatment on what it means to grow up mixed-race, shifting internally and externally between two cultural worlds, having to ‘keep it real’, and learning how to be real to yourself. And it never talked about micro-agressionsReport

    • Road Scholar in reply to DRS says:

      I agree with you about DS9. On the other hand, I found Tuvok on Voyager to be… I dunno, a bit jarring perhaps. For one thing he’s the only one. There’s absolutely no indication that Vulcans even have races so it just seems like tokenism. Ironically, given that Vulcan is a desert planet and hot as hell, you might logically (ahem…) expect their normal coloration to be at least ruddy. But, you know, copper-based blood, different physiology, who can say?

      By the same token (ahem), as much as I enjoy watching Elba on the screen, unless Asgaard has tropical zones, which seems unlikely, casting him as Heimdall seems similarly token-ey.

      Here’s the thing… if you want to say, “just cast the best actor and don’t worry about the race thing” then you can’t logically complain about Cumberbatch as Khan, or JLaw as Katniss, or whoever played Tonto. It either matters or it doesn’t; just make up your mind.Report

    • RTod in reply to DRS says:

      big +1 to @drsReport

  17. aaron david says:

    How about we stop rebooting stuff?

    Lets create a new character, in a new setting, doing new things. I mean really folks, as someone up above said its not going to be better than the original IJ. The studios keep making these things because we keep going to them. No other reason. So if we feel that a movie about black archeologists from the ’30’s would be cool, there were real ones! Who were probably really interesting! In fact they could serve as a spring board for a series of movies about awesome black men and women. I would so much rather see a movie about an African American who inspired me than about anything that attempts to make me feel guilty.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to aaron david says:

      Even when they made a movie about a famous Black Revolutionary, they began the story with Part Ten.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to aaron david says:

      I want Hollywood to make an old-fashioned epic movie about Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia and the Battle of Adwa.Report

      • KatherineMW in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Lee – That sounds fantastic! I’d love more movies about African history that aren’t from the perspective of the colonizers.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to LeeEsq says:

        If Idris Elba is willing to gain some weight, since Menelik II seemed a bit on the chubby side from his photos, we already have our leading man.

        The movie should be done as an old school epic like Spartacus, meaning you lots of people and little CGI.Report

    • DRS in reply to aaron david says:

      Actually the first black American archaeologist wasn’t working in the 1930’s only because he died in 1923: John Wesley Gilbert: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Wesley_Gilbert

      And this group might benefit from the interest in a black IJ: http://www.societyofblackarchaeologists.com/Report

      • aaron david in reply to DRS says:

        Having it take place in ’23 works quite well in the pulp world that many people think about when they thing about IJ. That said, the Society of Black Archeologist might be happier with a character based on a real black man, instead of one based on real (white) Roy Chapman Andrews.Report

    • Damon in reply to aaron david says:

      SECONDED. Let’s have some original stuff aye?Report

    • Pinky in reply to aaron david says:

      I had been thinking about that, before I made my comment (about how the movie is going to stink). If they wanted to have a black lead, instead of rebooting it with a new Indy, why not make it about Indy’s best friend, who would be a black schoolmate or rival archeologist? Then you could have a completely different story line, but remain part of the franchise. Then I thought: actually, I can’t imagine a movie about an adventure archeologist being anything but stale.Report

    • FridayNext in reply to aaron david says:

      I even have a real person in mind, although it is from a generation earlier. Clarence King was a geologist, explorer, and the first director of the United States Geological survey. He was officially white but secretly passed for black and married a former slave from Georgia and fathered five children. In one life he was a “black” Pullman Porter and the other a “white” famous geologist. You could fictionalize the story a little, but make this the basis of an awesome film franchise of a heroic explorer who could pass through what was a much more fluid racial line than most Americans are willing to admit. There is even a good “next generation” story line with his daughters marrying white men and his sons fighting in WWI as black soldiers in a segregated army.Report

  18. KatherineMW says:

    I don’t think casting a character as black is a “stunt” any more than casting them as white is a “stunt”; the issue is that we’re automatically inclined to see white as the default. Sometimes it’s just about having a great actor; that’s unequestionably the reason Michael B. Jordan, who has worked with Fantastic Four director Josh Trank before, is playing Johnny Storm.

    There are great reasons to pursue more diversity in Hollywood; one is that non-white kids can be inspired by figures in media the same way you were by Indiana Jones, and they’ve got a lot less protagonists who look like them on screen than you had. Another is that non-white actors tend to get shafted; they rarely get lead roles, and they get pigeonholed into a few character types that it can be hard to break out of. Since movie studios seem very, very reluctant to release original films with non-white protagonists, changing the race of already-famous characters in adaptations and reboots is a way to get around that and start addressing the genuine problems caused by Hollywood’s lack of diversity.

    I’m generally supportive of changing the race of white characters to minorities, unless being white contributes something important to their character or there are strong reasons why changing their race would be seriously inconsistent with the era and setting. I don’t think the latter issue is sufficiently important in the case of Indiana Jones for changing the character’s race to be a bad idea.

    And if we’re going to raise issues about historical accuracy, then everyone needs to come down harder on directors like Ridley Scott who make historical period pieces like Exodus, where the entire cast should be non-white, and cast white actors in all the leading roles.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to KatherineMW says:

      “And if we’re going to raise issues about historical accuracy, then everyone needs to come down harder on directors like Ridley Scott who make historical period pieces like Exodus, where the entire cast should be non-white, and cast white actors in all the leading roles.”

      I’ll go further: Until each and every portrayal of Jesus involves a non-white actor of Middle Eastern descent, just stop watching films.Report

      • greginak in reply to Kazzy says:

        Ridley Scott got a lot of flak for the whitey whiteness of the cast of exodus.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Kazzy says:

        Jesus had blue eyes. I can show you a hundred paintings of him that prove that.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Kazzy says:

        Well, if your going to go by accuracy than most movies based on the Bible should only cast Jewish actors.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        I thought I had included that. But yes!Report

      • KatherineMW in reply to Kazzy says:

        Lee – Well, for the Israelite/Jewish characters, there’s a case to be made for that. But in terms of historical versimilitude, I suspect the ancient Israelites looked more like Sephardic Jews or Arabs than like Ashkenazi Jews. Given the demographics of prominent actors, your requirement would probably have all of the main parts played by the latter.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Kazzy says:

        @katherinemw, casting actual Middle Easterners and North Africans as Egyptians, Amalekites, Philistines and other bad guy nations of the Bible is going to be just as problematic as casting white people. The same people are going to complain, just for different reasons. Its a no-win situation for casting. If you cast white people, you get damned for ignoring people of color. If you cast somebody allegedly more ethnically appropriate, you can’t damned for propagating negative stereotypes.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        That only happens if you do what Airbender did and cast white actors as good guys and actors of color as bad guys.

        If Moses and the pharaoh are both Egyptian/Middle Eastern/Arab… well, what could be a more nuanced representation than that?Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Kazzy says:


        Moses wasn’t Arab….

        I get some of the complaints about casting for The Ten Commandmants but not all of them. Now it is true that Moses and Aaron would not look like Mel Brooks or Woody Allen but they could very well look closer to Amos Oz, Benjamin Netanyahu, or Ariel Sharon over someone Arabic. Moses and Aaron were Jewish, not Arabic.

        The same complaints also sometimes forget historical details at times. Cleopatra was a Ptolemy. The Ptolemys were Macedonian Greeks who ruled Egypt. She was not Egyptian herself.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        Arab and Jewish are not mutually exclusive. Arab has to do with geography while Jewish has to do with faith. I know it isn’t *quite* that simple but, yea, it just about is. Jews born or who trace their ancestry to the Arabian peninsula can be both Arab and Jewish.

        A little sleuthing shows Moses referred to as an Israelite from the “Land of Goshen” — an area of Egypt. So I was wrong to refer to him as Arab. But he was undoubtedly Middle Eastern and the most accurate visual representation would include a Middle Eastern actor.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Kazzy says:

        @kazzy, most Middle Eastern Jews didn’t consider themselves to be Arabs and their neighbors didn’t consider themselves to be Arabs either.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Kazzy says:

        @saul-degraw, the Ptolemy’s did pick up the Pharaonic habit of marrying your half-siblings though. Make of that what you well.Report

      • Zac in reply to Kazzy says:

        Moses is a fictional character, or at the most a composite of existing figures, so you could really make him any ethnicity and it would be “accurate”.Report

  19. Kazzy says:

    What’s interseting, Mike, is that you speak about the power of seeing someone you can identify with on screen and then want to deny this to others. And let’s be honest… if the original Indiana Jones was black, would you have thought archaeology was any less cool? Because tons of kids of color — who are constantly bombarded by messages about their lack of self worth — are often led to believe that they can’t be archaeologists because they never see themselves portrayed that way. That really isn’t the case for white kids.Report

  20. El Muneco says:

    Don’t cast Idris Elba as James Bond…
    Buy the rights to Keith Laumer’s “Retief”…
    You have basically James Bond – IN SPACE – you can have him riff off of CGI aliens and still keep your skiffy nerd cred. Simon Pegg as Ben Magnan (actually, he’d probably love that at this point in his career).
    You can fit any balance of humor vs. action. And social commentary vs. no social commentary. Without even deviating from the source material.
    And if your milieu is multiracial as opposed to the whitebread GB Foreign Office setting from the originals, well, we don’t have to hammer the point into the ground, after all the setting is what it is – we did have to adjust for modern sensibilities, didn’t we?
    Really, this might work.Report

  21. Pyre says:

    My thoughts:

    #1: Hi, Jaybird. I poked my head in.

    #2: Has diversity gone too far?

    The question “Has diversity gone too far?” is a question that is being posed a little late to be relevant. The horse has left the barn which has burned to the ground and the earth that the barn was in has been salted.

    One of the problems with Lefties is that they always imagine a line that society should progress to and then stop. In the marriage field, yesterday’s Lefties said “Well, we should allow interracial marriage but that’s as far as tolerance should go.” Today’s Lefties say “Well, we should allow gay marriage but that’s as far as tolerance should go.” Tomorrow’s Lefties will say “Why do we obsess on marriage only being between two people?” and so on.

    The time to ask questions about whether diversity has gone too far is before it hits your comfort zone. Waiting until it has hit your comfort zone is waiting too long to ask the question.

    #3: It’s interesting that you mention James Bond because, if they had done a script straight from his original books, the Bond series would never have gotten off the ground. Even for his time, he was a racist grandfather who, between bouts of misogyny, couldn’t adjust to the sun setting on the British Empire so he used his novels to lash out at a changing world. However, it was wisely decided that, when the big screen movies came, the world Ian Fleming was wrapped up in no longer existed and thus the movie was changed ….. a little (It was only 1962 after all.)

    It is not a bad thing to change the source material to adjust for changing social attitudes. Before I saw Indy 4, I watched the first three. A number of flaws were made manifest that I hadn’t noticed at the time but the biggest was the character Short Round. At the time, everyone thought that he was the second most charming character next to Marian. Seeing the movie from a 2008 perspective was distinctly uncomfortable to the point that, if I saw this with a Vietnamese person in the room, I’d probably feel the need to apologize for the film. The original three movies are not the flawless gems that nostalgia makes us think they are.

    #4: “historically-speaking there were very few African American archaeologists in the 1920s and 1930s”

    I’m going to skip over the “historical accuracy” of Indiana Jones to say “So What?” When I was in High School, Theatreworks put on a production of Romeo and Juliet where Romeo was *gasp* black. This led to people flipping their shit and endless debates over whether it was appropriate for Romeo to not be white. Y’know what? I saw it and the skin color of the Montagues didn’t detract at all from the play. In some ways, for an 80s audience, it actually enhanced the play by creating a more credible (for the time) take on why the Montagues and Capulets might not want their kids to date.

    Certainly, despite the protestations of aging racists, having a non-white Balder neither detracted from Thor nor did it bring about the end of the world.

    #5 Diversity is all good until it hits something that I like.

    The interesting thing about gamers is that they will loudly proclaim their commitment to diversity ….. up until it’s THEIR franchise that is being looked at. I have done two pieces on diversity in videogames. In both pieces, I never proposed any changes to the protagonist’s behavior other than the idea that they were into men.

    With the first piece that was done before the release of Devil May Cry 4, Devil May Cry players unanimously rejected the notion of a gay Dante with one player going so far as to say that he would sell all three games because a gay Dante would ruin the franchise in his mind to the point of wrecking the previous games.

    With the second piece, the proposition of a gay Marcus and a bisexual Dom had a few homosexual gamers thank me publicly and privately for writing about the idea that gay men could be manly men as opposed to effeminate hairdressers who sashay a lot. The vast majority were still against it with one of the recurring themes in the argument “Why put that lifestyle in my face?”

    And it isn’t just my ideas that get shot down. When I went to the Escapist, someone wrote their own piece on having Wonder Woman come from the Amazon. Instead of her being a white woman from Paradise Island/Themyscira, she would come from an isolationist tribe deep in the Amazon. The actress would be Brazilian and the movie would take place in a South American setting. I thought that the idea was really good despite having one glaring flaw. (The author didn’t want to link her leaving the tribe to the destruction of the rain forest where I didn’t see another plausible reason for an isolationist tribe to send forth their champion to the outside world.) I was also the only voice of support for this alternate take on Wonder Woman.

    This is part of the head space where you’re coming from. Where you may have been okay with a black Balder, Indiana Jones is special to you and, to your mind, should not be tampered with. Where objecting to a black Balder was just the act of aging racists to you, you see it as a reasonable action when it comes to YOUR franchise.

    I refer to this as the “Ahsoka Tano” moment. The moment when changes are made to your franchise that do not fit in with what it has always been to you. The moment where you can wallow in resentment of the changes being made to your franchise or you can accept that your vision of the franchise is not the only vision. You can accept that nobody is going to take away what is previously done. You can accept that you and your franchise may now walk separate paths. You can cherish the past without begrudging others a different version of the franchise.

    When you say “better safe than sorry”, what you’re really saying is “I don’t want things to change.” But it’s not all about you. I have a friend that I have known for 34 years. As of late, one of the things that he increasingly asks is “How can we get back to the old ways?”. Like most good friends, I bluntly tell him the truth of “We can’t.” To go back to the old ways, we would have to sacrifice so much of what makes up our lives. (The irony is that, in the old days, his career as a computer programmer would not be what it is today.)

    This is where the other part of your head space comes from.

    You’re old.

    Your time is passing.

    You see things changing beyond what your comfort zone allows. You look at a movie landscape where the heroes are no longer white men and you see it as “stunt casting” rather than a reflection of a changing social landscape. Even if we make an Indiana Jones where the character is Hispanic and is more interested in the Aztecs than in a Christian artifact which will melt your face if you look at the inside, would that really be so terrible?

    Even if it is outside what you are comfortable with, it doesn’t have to threaten. To use Star Wars as an example:

    If the Star Wars franchise decides that, rather than having the superior Dark Horse graphic novels as canon, the adventures of an annoying Mary Sue (In fairness, from what little I’ve seen, she does get better in later seasons) is canon, I can treat it as an Infinities in my head canon. If Episode VII decides to negate decades of media in favor of a future where lens flare is king, it still doesn’t threaten the media I own. It’s not as if Leland Chee is going to kick down my door and burn everything that even references Jaxxon or Pink Five. It was a difficult thing to come to terms with but I eventually did make my peace with it. If I have to let my franchise pass into the hands of a new generation, then I would rather do it with open hands than to try to clench it to my chest and have it yanked away from me.

    This is your time to do the same. Indiana Jones is going to pass on to a new generation. You can spend your time berating the loss of your childhood and revile every change that threatens your memories with reasoning that may sound well and good to you but comes off as “racist grandfather” to everyone else or you can accept that your time has passed and that it is time for a new generation to define what Indiana Jones will be to them.Report

  22. Saul Degraw says:


    “One of the problems with Lefties is that they always imagine a line that society should progress to and then stop. In the marriage field, yesterday’s Lefties said “Well, we should allow interracial marriage but that’s as far as tolerance should go.” Today’s Lefties say “Well, we should allow gay marriage but that’s as far as tolerance should go.” Tomorrow’s Lefties will say “Why do we obsess on marriage only being between two people?” and so on.”

    I am a bit confused on how lefties imagine progress should stop. A sign of being on the left is a general belief that progress can’t be stopped.

    Also Mike Dwyer is no leftie. He is not even a liberal.Report

  23. Mike Dwyer says:

    @pyre @kazzy etc,

    Several of the same points were made above so I am going to try to consolidate my response here.

    Let me be clear; I don’t have a problem with the casting of black actors in the Fantastic Four or Thor. I don’t mind the use of a Latino in Spider Man (though to be fair there are so many alternate universes in the Marvel canon that it loses a bit of its punch to do this in the comic books). And I care deeply about those franchises as they were all titles I read growing up. Spider Man and the Fantastic Four make sense because they are set in modern times and inter-racial families are pretty common and Latinos are a major part of our population. Elba being cast in Thor was a bit weird but I think the reason it is easy to overlook is because of the heavy fantasy element. I mean, does the term ‘race’ even apply to gods? Just because they were Norse, where does it say that they had to look Scandanavian? So again, very easy to overlook. When kids go to the movies and see a black Johnny Storm, I’m quite certain they aren’t going to give it much thought at all. And to be honest, I won’t either.

    Regarding Indiana Jones though, I think it’s much harder to do so and I will try to explain why… Several people pointed out that there is a supernatural element in Indiana Jones. We’ll call it the ‘magic factor’ which appears in all three movies of the trilogy (I’m going to ignore IJ4 for the purposes of this comment). To disagree with Chris’ point above, I don’t think the existence of the magic factor means that all other elements of the story are suddenly freed from the tethers of reality.

    One of the (many) reasons why the movies work for me is that they are grounded in history right up to the point where some fantastical happens. All of the technology, the look of the places he visits, the way people dress, the culture, the larger historical context, etc is pretty accurate, and I would argue, necessary to make the movie credible. For example, the existence of a supernatural Ark of the Covenant in IJ1 doesn’t mean that we would accept Indy using his TI-86 to calculate the location of the Well of Souls. The existence of a supernatural Holy Grail that gives eternal life at the end if IJ3 doesn’t mean that we would accept Indy pulling out a cell phone to call for help when Jones Sr is shot.

    I think the reason why this juxtaposition of historical reality and fantasy works is because the supernatural elements are ancient. This means we aren’t introducing the future into the story…we are introducing the past.

    So….this brings us to the casting of a black archaeologist in a reboot. My objections are based on the assumption that the new movies would exist in the same time frame as the originals. If so, a black archaeologist would strain historical credibility and make it a *gimmick* in my opinion. It would make race a feature of the story that it doesn’t need to be. To Kazzy’s point, what if they set the story in a later period, say the 1970s? That changes the dynamic. Introduce an Indy of any color you want and it would probably work. Maybe that’s where they will go with it…but I hope not. And the reason I hope not has nothing to do with my discomfort with a minority Indy. It’s because the time period Spielberg chose was perfect for the hero they created. It was during the ‘wild west’ period of archaeology, where science to a backseat to splashy discoveries and adventure. And this dovetails nicely with Hitler’s documented interest in the occult. By the 1970s archaeology was mired in theory and an academic desire to make it as scientific as possible. There just isn’t much room for an archaeology-based adventure.

    One idea I would advance though is that a Latino Indy might work in this time period. There was a lot of archaeology going on in South America then and the Germans were all over the place. Set it in the 1950s and you can easily include ex-Nazis that are hiding there. To be honest, I never understood why Spielberg didn’t do that anyway instead of using the Russians.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Mike Dwyer says:


      Thanks for your response.

      Let me concede that there exist many characters — of all races/genders/ethnicities/etc. — for which those aspects of identity are crucial to the character and, consequently, the story. So, there is a point at which a character and story are fundamentally changed by casting an actor of a different race/gender/ethnicity. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done in those cases; it just means you are changing the character and/or story. So, you could have Indy portrayed by a Black actor and in addition to spears and giant boulders and snakes, he also has to deal with getting pulled over for driving while black. What that would do to the character and the story, I really can’t say because I’m simply not super familiar with the franchise.

      So, I can accept your argument that changing Indy’s raise necessarily changes the character/story. People will then disagree about whether that change is for the better, worse, or simply moving in a new direction. I don’t think we can answer that question objectively.

      What I’m uncomfortable with is referring to it as a “gimmick”. That seems to call into question the motivation for such a decision which seems unfair. I mean, let’s say they did it solely to drive the box office. At that point, damn near every decision made by a studio is a “gimmick”. So harping on this particular gimmick feels weird. Let’s say they did it to be PC. Actually, I’m not even really sure what that means. Do we really think multi-billion dollar companies are investing in multi-million dollar project and allowing major decisions be dictated by making people feel warm and fuzzy? I seriously doubt that. I see two reasons why the filmmakers would cast a Black actor to play Indy: 1) They thought it would make them more money or 2) they thought it would make a better piece of art (which may or may not be in service to #1). And, again, those are the prime motivations between just about every decision made with regards to a movie.

      Because this can be wedged into the PC/culture wars BS, it is tempting to do so. But I don’t think that’s what’s happening. I think the studio is making either a financial or artistic decision (or both)… just like they do every day.

      A counter would be that the financial angle is rooted in the fact of catering to people of color. But, again, that is what movie studios do all the time. If the movie theaters could charge admission to dogs and fill the seats with our four-legged friends by rebooting the Beethoven franchise, I’m sure they would.

      tl;dr: Maybe Indiana Jones needs to be white to avoid dramatically changing the character/story. But changing the character/story to incorporate a black actor in the role is no more gimmicky than anything else Hollywood does.Report

    • greginak in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      Good response Mike. I think you hit the nail on the head except for Kazzy’s point about calling casting a black actor as IJ a gimmick. It wouldn’t be any different from any other casting decision made in the movie industry. It would be done if they thought it would make more money and for no other reason. That is what business does.

      Unmooring IJ from its time in the 30’s wouldn’t work well and would make it a different series. The 50’s could have worked if, you know, the movie wasn’t really lame. I don’t’ really see why a pulply action adventure movie is the way to seriously address racial issues. Trying to make quippy jokes, which is the IJ thing, about race would be how the movies would stay in character and deal with it seems more of shallow gimmick. There really is no limit to the imagination of people outside of the movie industry in terms of developing new stories and characters. Shame those people don’t’ have much of a say.Report

    • Mike Dwyer in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      One additional thought: Another reason why the McGuffins in IJ1 and IJ3 don’t open the door to other departures from reality is that they are objects rooted in our real history (plus Judeo-Christian tradition). I’m a trained historian and archaeologist and even I find a small part of myself that believes those objects are out there somewhere. So even the existence of those objects isn’t pure fantasy. Spielberg wasn’t world-building much at all when he put it together.

      IJ2 works a lot less (and you’ll notice that’s the one that people post the most fun at above) because we don’t have any connection to the McGuffin prior to the movie. To be honest I don’t even know if those stones are based in any real-world stories.

      So again, we sti have a story that’s based in a real world. And that world included zero black archaeologists that could have moved freely throughout the landscape the way Indy did.Report

      • Chris in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Knights who’ve been around for a century and a box that melts off the skin of everyone who looks at it are more based in reality than a globe-trotting black (or Chinese, or Hispanic, or Indian?) archeologist in the 30s?

        I admit that the plausibility of counterfactuals can be difficult to compare, but I think we can probably separate those that are impossible given the laws of physics from those that are improbable given other, less mutable facts of history. I wonder why it is that some people find their ability to suspend disbelief less challenged by the impossible than the improbable. Perhaps the improbable forces us to think about the mutability of those other facts, while the impossible is so absurd that we don’t even bother?

        Personally, I find the improbable more likely in a universe that allows the impossible, and I suspect that this has more to do with certain investments that I don’t have.Report

      • Chris in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        This has given me a vague idea for research. I wonder if there’s work on the improbable vs. the improbable in the study of fiction. Where’s Rose?Report

      • greginak in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        So i guess it wouldn’t feel a bit odd to have, lets say, Morgan Freeman starring at Robert E Lee is a civil war story. Sure he can act, so that isn’t the issue, but wouldn’t it play really weird. Star Trek, as always, handled this best. They had a black captain in a future where it didn’t’ matter so they played it that way as racism being an old stupid thing. When Sisko, through the magic of science fiction, traveled back to the 50’s his race sure as hell mattered and was the crux of the story. So in summation: all hail Star Trek.Report

      • Chris in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Well, now you raise a separate issue: Robert E. Lee = real. Indiana Jones = not real.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Robert E. Lee, the greatest general in American history, who personally hated slavery but fought for his homeland out of pure patriotism, and would have won if that drunken butcher Grant hadn’t overwhelmed him with cannon fodder? He’s not all that real.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Now I want someone to greenlight a reboot Dukes of Hazard staring Kevin Hart and Nick Cannon.Report

      • Chris in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        I’m not sure the world is ready for that level of awesomeness.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        When it comes to improbability, or realism, I don’t think it’s at all the case where one has to have “certain investments” to accept the fantastical elements of IJ while rejecting departures on socio-cultural ones.

        They’re along different tracks, and it seems entirely consistent to me. Or at least that it can be. Sometimes it’s going searching for an objection, but it’s often not.

        I mention, half-jokingly above, the disgraceful treatment of Perry White in Man of Steel. Not the part about him being black (genuinely didn’t bother me – thought the casting choice was great when I first heard about it) but the earring. That just struck me as wrong. Incredibly unlikely. Yes, unlikely in a movie about an immigrant from another planet who has the ability to fly and fire laser beams out of his eyes. But unlikely along different tracks. Honestly, when a movie is unrealistic along one track, I prefer greater realism along a different track.

        I’m still building my superhero universe for what I hope are a series of stories that will appear on Ordinary Times. It’s going to involve superpowers, aliens colonizing Jupiter’s moons and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, people getting superpowers by learning Tibettan tricks.

        As is often the case when I have identified my primary cast of characters, I look around and see that it’s a pretty white group. Then I go back and look at the characters and see on which ones being non-white might not work, which ones where it would make no difference, and which ones where it might improve the character and/or change the character in a positive or more compelling way.

        In the first group include the ones where the social dynamics don’t fit.There’s no case where I literally can’t make it work somehow, but in order to do it right it would require changing an awful lot*. I put a lot of thought into making that part as realistic or reasonable as I can, in large part because there are other aspects that I can’t remotely bring in to line with reality except by sacrificing the story I want to tell.

        * – Which I actually did in one case. Son of a white superhero in the south. Something of an icon. Making the father’s coupling interracial and the son a minority took off like lightning in my mind. It did, however, come at the expense of the character that he was going to be. Which is okay because nobody knew of or loved that character. Would be more complicated if that character had a following or something.Report

      • Pyre in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        The difference between what Lefties claim and what Lefties do is vast.

        @mike-dwyer @greginak I hear you talking and yet all I hear is:

        “Indiana Jones being a minority is a far less believable thing than hitching a ride on the outside of a U-boat that is chugging through the Aegean sea without dying while on a quest to retrieve a box that houses God.”

        (Amusingly, Rich Burlew is having the same problem over at Order of the Stick where people believe that Haley being bi is a far less believable thing than Haley fighting a magical golem while on a quest to keep the universe from unraveling due to the machinations of a lich, an immortal goblin cleric, and a god-destroying Snarl.)

        For me, when a movie has less historical accuracy and more fantastic elements than Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (which was actually a pretty stealthy history lesson), I stop worrying about whether the skin color was accurate for the time period.

        The ability to have a color-change can be easily remedied. Just put in a couple lines at the beginning:

        “It sure is difficult being the first hispanic archeology professor at Marshall College. Whelp, time to put on the whip and go whoop some Nazi ass”

        and away we go.

        You also give the game away when you say that a Christian god box is more believable than a Hindu holy stone.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Pyre! Good to see you. Stop by more often!Report

      • Chris in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Will, if people were arguing that, like the earring, a change of race would be inconsistent with the person (and personality) the character has been developed to be, we’d be having a different conversation. The argument thus far has been that a different race would be unlikely v historically and therefore a gimmick and pc. That, inevitably, runs into the impossibility or implausibility of other aspects of the movie, as you can see by the fact that it keeps being brought up here. It looks to me like the difference between those of us raising that comparison, and those trying to argue around it, is a level of investment in the character as he is in those films.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Chris, I think that can be the case, but I’m not sure it is here. Here, it seems more about the setting (specifically, the time) and faithfulness to the setting.

        For my own part, I don’t particularly care very much because what I remember enjoying most about IJ was the action/adventure aspect. If they were to reboot Indy into modern-day and have his adventure in South America, I wouldn’t skip a beat. But others respond differently. Keeping Indy back then, but having him as black, would not be changing the era but it would be being more unfaithful to it. It would be striking at the degree of realism of an aspect of the movie that they care about. That seems a pretty reasonable objection to me. A better answer to “Why not make this character black?” than I can conceive for Perry White (or, for that matter, Clark Kent).Report

      • Mike Dwyer in reply to Mike Dwyer says:


        As I noted above, the ‘impossible’ occurs in less than 10 minutes of the movies. In IJ1, the impossible takes about 2 minutes. In IJ2, if we add all the impossible parts together we might be looking at five minutes. In IJ3 I’ll give you ten minutes. Take those moments out and you don’t really impact the movie that much.

        After having this conversation I actually think an Hispanic Indy would work (he could probably pass as Italian, Spanish, or Middle Eastern so that gives him some added ability to sneak around). The improbable idea of a black Indy that can move freely through the same landscape has far more impact than the ‘impossible’ that you describe. This ‘improbable’ would impact the entire plot of the movie. It would be an ever-present factor that would have to constantly be addressed in his interactions. And that is why it wouldn’t work in my opinion.Report

      • Chris in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Raisers is more subtly impossible than Temple or Last Crusade, but there is little in the movie that doesn’t vacillate between absurdly improbable to outright impossible. That’s part is why it’s so fun, but also why the race improbability argument holds no sway with me and others here. Throwing a black Indy into that world would only make it less fun for those invested in the specific surface features of Indy’s character.Report

      • Mike Dwyer in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        At what point in the movies does someone stop and say, “That was really improbable that you were able to hang on to the back of that truck with your whip?”

        But there would be lots of moments where someone would ask, “WTF is a black American archaeologist doing here?”

        And you’ve made the ‘invested in’ comment several times. I think I understand the subtext knowing your own views on race, but why don’t you unpack that for everyone else? (10 bonus points if you can do it without calling me a racist).Report

      • Chris in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        I mean that you have an image of Indy in your head, and your enjoyment of any future films is dependent on him fitting that image. Sort of like when you hear a live version of a song you love, and they do it differently, so you just can’t get into it.

        Putting aside Ford’s iconic status, I’d bet more people are as willing to suspend disbelief about a black archaeologist in the 30s as they are to suspend disbelief about the nearly constant string of improbable and impossible things be does as I am, because most of is don’t watch an Indiana Jones and stress about its historical accuracy any more than we worry about the violations of basic physics in Star Wars. You are in the minority, because you are a serious IJ geek, and you can’t see past your own thick IJ glasses.Report

      • Mike Dwyer in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        “I mean that you have an image of Indy in your head, and your enjoyment of any future films is dependent on him fitting that image.”

        And that is where you are wrong. I don’t have an image of what Indy should look like anymore than I have an image of what Johnny Storm should look like. What I do have is an image of what American archaeology looked like in the 1930s… and that comes from four years of study and three years working in that field. I can handle small historical inaccuracies. A major inaccuracy that would dominate the entire film? Harder to overlook.

        So yeah, maybe someone like yourself that doesn’t understand the field of archaeology and feels very self-important in all things race…you can just ignore it. My ignoring it would require me to forget a major part of my academic background. That’s impossible to do.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        “A major inaccuracy that would dominate the entire film? Harder to overlook.”

        Doesn’t this depend on the individual? It would dominate for you and for reasons related to your professional background but also likely your personal perspective on race, diversity, and the like. For me, I’d probably say, “I wonder if a black dude really could have done all that back in the ’30s. HOLY CRAP! ANOTHER GIANT BOULDER!” And the rest of the time I’d be focused on giant boulders and the like.Report

      • Mike Dwyer in reply to Mike Dwyer says:


        It really has nothing to do with my views on race or diversity. It has everything to do with my understanding of the history of that time, especially in the field of archaeology. And while you and others have suggested it could be waved away once the action starts or quickly explained in a two-minute monologue…I would actually find it just as offensive if it didn’t dominate the plot because it would, in fact, be a major factor in all of Indy’s interactions. So, I guess what i am saying is that if Hollywood made the terrible decision to ignore the history of the field by casting a black Indy and then refused to own it throughout the film, that would be adding another major mistake on top of the first.Report

      • Chris in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Well done, sir. You’ve managed to be an ass and failed to give me my bonus points in the same comment. I would be offended if I expected better of you.

        I think I’ve made my point. I also think you’ve confirmed it repeatedly, as well as condescend to everyone whose made the same point by dismissing my making it as pc self-importance. I’ll let you be an ass to someone else now.

        By the way, you of all people know that if I want to call you a racist, I’ll just come out and say it. Like this: you of “white people don’t like black people because black people annoy us with there culture and their walking in the street” fame are a racist. Greg, however, is not a racist. I am responding to him as much as you, so I’m not responding to you as a racist. Savvy?Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Mike Dwyer says:


        I think you are really struggling to be objective here. You have a personal connection to Indy (which is awesome!) and a personal connection to the field of archaeology (also awesome!). As such, you have a specific set of expectations for both the character and presentations of the field. Which is totally within your right as a moviegoer.

        My point is that I think your expectations — your perspective and connection to the character and the world he inhabits — are non-universal. In fact, I think they would be in the minority. Most people aren’t archaeologists with an intimate knowledge of the field and most people didn’t get into archaeology in part because of falling in love with Indy and his stories. So YOU would consider it insulting if they played fast and loose with the character and the historical world in which he exists. Most people would think, “COOL! BOULDERS!!!! WHIP SWINGING!!!” Because it’s, ya know, a movie. A movie with all sorts of fantastical elements (like the aforementioned boulders and whip swinging).

        I’m not saying you are wrong to be bothered by what you’re bothered by. But it feels like you are telling me that I am wrong because I would not be bothered by it.

        Do you think a Black Indy moving gracefully through the 1930s would be the only misrepresentation of reality in Hollywood? Do you know how much bullshit exists in damn near every movie made about a teacher, school, or the education system? You seem to be acting as if a Black Indy is a unique affront. I think many folks have pointed out here that playing fast-and-loose with reality is sort of what movie making is. These are *fictional* tales. And your personal level of enjoyment of them is going to be impacted by how much and what forms of disbelief you can suspend.

        I struggle with the fantasy genre because, for whatever reason, I get bothered by inconsistent application of the internal rules of the world that the storytellers create. Have you heard me rant about the absurdity of Harry Potter using a magical time traveling device one time and one time only when it would have been fortuitous throughout the series? Because that sort of shit bothers me. It clearly doesn’t bother most people because most people LOVE Harry Potter.

        And, the thing is, I get your point! If Indy were a more reality-based story, I’d be one of the first ones to say, “They want us to accept a black guy globe trotting in the 1930s? Black folks couldn’t neighborhood trot in the 1930s! This is ridiculous!” But as soon as I saw one dude rip out another dude’s still-beating heart with his bare hands, I’d go, “Oh. We’re in a different universe here.” And I’d root for more heart-ripping-out!

        I think you are attempting to make an objective argument that Indy can’t be Black. I think the reality is you would be bothered by a Black Indy (again, well within your rights!). The latter does not support the former.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Mike Dwyer says:


        “And I addressed the whole ‘pulling a heart out of someone’s chest’ thing above. The movie includes magic and still doesn’t depart from the historical record in any major way. So A does not mean B is also okay in my book.”

        On which historical record does magic exist?

        And, there, you said it… in your final sentence. “… in your book.” Your objection is personal. Which is totes cool. Everyone gets to decide what they do and do not like in their art. It is totally within your right to claim that a Black Indy feels wrong to you. But you cannot declare that a Black Indy is wrong. You can say it feels gimmicky but not that it is a gimmick. These might seem like minor distinctions but they are really quite important. You seem to be trying to present your personal opinion as objective fact. Even if your opinion is based on your understanding of historical facts, that doesn’t make your interpretation of what is or is not an acceptable way to present those historical facts an objective fact.

        Lastly, shouldn’t we leave it up to the filmmakers — you know, the ones who created the character and the story — to determine what can or cannot happen in the universe? You keep saying, “That simply couldn’t have been the case in that time period. But, oh, magic can because the creators included magic.” What if the creators also included an alternative history wherein Black folks weren’t second-class citizens in the time period. Which they would be doing if they create a Black Indy.

        You want to project your personal, subjective opinion onto everyone else. You have no standing to do so.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        @kazzy If Mike will let me, I think maybe what he is trying to say is this:

        You can make Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter but for some reason, if you make some of the slaves black and some white and some of the slaveholders back and some white, it ends up losing something — even if the vampires are totally made up magical monsters.Report

      • Mike Dwyer in reply to Mike Dwyer says:


        I’m extremely perplexed by the line that I am presenting my opinion as fact or that I am suggesting ‘Black Indy is wrong’ as if I am the final word on the subject. The OP is clearly an opinion piece as is pretty much everything I write. Did you forget how blogging works?

        A reminder (hint: I fall clearly into category #3)

      • Kazzy in reply to Mike Dwyer says:


        “So, I guess what i am saying is that if Hollywood made the terrible decision to ignore the history of the field by casting a black Indy and then refused to own it throughout the film, that would be adding another major mistake on top of the first.”

        Calling it a “terrible decision to ignore the history of the field” and “refuse[ing] to own it… another major mistake on top of the first” seems to imply a level of objective analysis that I do not think can exist here. Such an assessment requires looking at the movie and the decisions that go into it through a singular lens: your own.

        Maybe the filmmakers aren’t ignoring history. Maybe they are crafting an alternative history. Or maybe they are ignoring it but it isn’t a terrible decision because they’re going to make buttloads of money for having done so.

        The reason this doesn’t feel so much like an opinion — an essay — is because you keep arguing the point as if it were a point of fact. Do you think those of us who aren’t bothered by a Black Indy are wrong? Or just viewing it differently? That matters greatly.


        I understand that distinction but I think that the race of the slaves in a Civil War-era movie are likely more integral to the storyline than the international race relations of the 1930s. Again, I’d bet dollars to doughnuts if you asked people when the IJ movies took place, many of them would have no clue. If you asked people what race American slaves were, they’d all know. So people — at large — are unlikely to be bothered by a Black Indy for historical reasons. Mike is. I get that. But most people wouldn’t be. They might be bothered for other, more insidious reasons.

        I concede that Mike would be bothered by a Black Indy to the point that it would ruin the movie for him because of his understanding of the historical time period in which the film exists. I simply contend that Mike is in a small minority in this regard.Report

      • Pyre in reply to Mike Dwyer says:


        “It has everything to do with my understanding of the history of that time, especially in the field of archaeology.”

        The problem with this being a supporting argument is:

        The vast majority of people, including archeologists, won’t care.

        When I watch a movie, I can tell you what is wrong with every fight scene. If a sword (or sword-like object such as a lightsaber) is involved, double down on that understanding. When my friend watches a movie involving computers or, even worse, Hollywood’s version of hacking, that usually brings on a rant on the inaccuracies of the scene. Despite this, both of us and most of the people that we know manage to just accept that Hollywood doesn’t know crap about either subject and we move on.

        Further, you keep banging on about how IJ got you into Archeology. Perhaps a non-white male lead might do more to interest a broader spectrum of future Archeologists into the field rather than solely the white male demographic. Would it not be better for your field to be able to get that broader spectrum of people interested in a subject that a growing number of the younger generation see as a waste of time?

        Also, you say it’s not about your feelings on race/diversity but most of your argument is based on race/diversity. As an example:

        “I would actually find it just as offensive if it didn’t dominate the plot because it would, in fact, be a major factor in all of Indy’s interactions.”

        Why does it need to dominate the plot in a fictional franchise where a large chunk of the movie takes place in a non-white culture (or, more accurately, a white serialized version of what those cultures were like)? Indiana Jones, as a non-British white man, didn’t seem to have race dominate the plot in countries where colonialism, while not having been dealt the WWII death blow, was receding. The argument that race HAS to be a major factor in the movie still would seem to fall under under the “Not in MY franchise” reasoning that happens whenever a franchise moves outside a fan’s comfort zone.Report

  24. Alan Scott says:

    Here’s my take on this:

    Race Matters. In a lot of different ways. One of those ways is that Hollywood does a pathetic job of putting people of color onto our movie screens. And because so much of what Hollywood does right now is take properties from the past where characters were overwhelmingly white and dust them off for modern audiences, “race-lifting” existing white characters is important tools that Hollywood can and should employ.

    But Indiana Jones is a spectacularly bad character upon which to hang that argument. Because, again, Race matters. And the race of Indiana Jones is White–in ways that significantly affect his interactions with the other characters around him. To cast a Black actor as Indiana Jones is either to cast a Black actor as a White character, or to make significant changes to how Indiana Jones interacts with the world. I think the former is generally inappropriate, because Race matters. I think the latter is much harder work than most of the people arguing for that change imagine.

    Daredevil didn’t suck because they cast Michael Clarke Duncan as the Kingpin–but it did suck. Fantastic Four won’t suck because they cast Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm–but it will suck. I am deeply worried that the sorts of changes required to make Indiana Jones a Black man are also the sorts of changes that will make a new Indiana Jones movie suck. And I’d like to not have yet another example that racist idiots can trot out to “prove” why Black actors should never get cast in historically White roles.

    I’d love to see more actors of color play parts that have previously been played by white actors. Donald Glover is the best choice for Spider-Man. Chiwetel Ejiofor should be the next Doctor Who. If you’re so eager to re-cast Harrison Ford, how about John Cho as Han Solo? But do it with an understanding of who those characters are, and what you want to accomplish. Because race matters–so changing a character’s race should always be more than an idle afterthought.Report

  25. DensityDuck says:

    The reason everyone got upset about Idiris Elba playing Heimdall is that in the original Marvel Comics Universe, those were supposed to be THE ACTUAL Norse Gods, and there ain’t no brothers in the Elder Edda.

    (Remember that the Marvel Comics Universe has all sorts of weird things. Like, Jesus and Satan and Dracula are all for-real people in that universe who can team up with the main cast for the occasional limited series or one-shot.)

    Now, it’s actually plausible to suggest that there exists a race of beings whose technology and superhuman abilities actually are so advanced that they’re indistinguishable from magic. It’s an idea so plausible that Jack Kirby had it fifty years ago. Unfortunately, when people said “wtf is this now we have token Valhallans”, the response was “fuk u fukin racists” rather than “they’re changing it so that Thor and company are more like the Inhumans because The Actual No-Shit Norse Gods is a bit of a tough sell for modern movie audiences”.Report

    • Alan Scott in reply to DensityDuck says:

      Yeah, no.

      It’s not as though the warriors three and Uru metal are in the Eddas. Marvel’s Asgardians have always been their own thing, and always had a magitech aspect. If people were really upset about the changes from marvel canon, Black Asgardians would be toward the bottom of the list… at least the non-racist lists.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to DensityDuck says:

      Interesting: that comic came before the official statement of Clarke’s Third Law.Report

  26. Mike Dwyer says:


    Unfortunately, your determination of folks’ racism feels very much like the days when Ryan Noonan used to tell everyone they were sexist. But you’re welcome to your opinion. Go Cats.Report

  27. greginak says:

    I can’t believe this conversation is still going. Let me try this, there is apparently some desire to reboot Columbo. Because Columbo is the cultural touchstone that kids today treasure: girls swoon over him, boys dress like him, etc.

    If this remake did happen it could easily star a POC if set in the current day because that wouldn’t be odd at all to see a POC as a police detective. If set in the 70’s his race would take on a very different meaning since it would be far more odd to see a POC detective. It could be done, without turning into Shaft, but having the criminals discount him because of his race and having his race be an issue would be crucial to not having the seem evasive and stupid. A separate issue would be with Columbo’s aggressive rumpledness which was very much part of his character. You would rarely see a POC in a professional position dare to not dress immaculately, so i’m not sure how to deal with that.Report

    • Chris in reply to greginak says:

      They call me Mr. Tibbs.

      Anyway, a black Colombo in 1960s Los Angeles would have been perfect, because people’s underestimation of him was his most important tool.Report

      • greginak in reply to Chris says:

        The Easy Rawlins mysteries by Walter Mosley, granted he was a PI, are also great. As long as you want to deal with race front and center it would work fine and dandy. If they want to just make the character black and never deal with it, then that would silly and insulting.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Chris says:

        Though watching a PoC act in stereotypical ways so he’ll be underestimated could become really uncomfortable. Unless it’s played completely for laughs.

        But rebooting Columbo is an idiotic idea. The show was great because of the perfect melding of actor and character, which is almost impossible to recreate. It would be like having someone else play Tony Soprano, Or Inspector Clouseau, or Sgt. Bilko.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Greg, I imagine race as a plot point would be common, but not necessarily overwhelming.

        I don’t think he’d have to behave in stereotypical ways. Just Colombo ways, with his being black an added reason why over-confident criminals underestimate him.

        Though Mike’s right, I don’t think rebooting that show makes sense. Better to make knock-offs, like Psych.Report

      • greginak in reply to Chris says:

        Chris, I think almost all reboots or remakes are stupid myself. I’m a star trek geek who hasn’t even seen the last ST flick yet.

        I agree it could work as long as race is addressed. I think churning out IJ movies is lame idea no matter who is the lead, Much like with Columbo, i think Ford is IJ and anything else will be a pale comparison. Hell the fourth IJ movie was a pale comparison to the first three and it had Ford in it.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Chris says:

        Idris wouldn’t be a pale comparison.Report

      • greginak in reply to Chris says:

        As always we all seem to function to set up one liners for Schilling.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Since my general standard for action movies is, did stuff blow up, and did someone kick ass? I am less worried about reboots.

        As both Tod and I have said, Raiders is basically a prefect movie. I doubt anyone will be able to make a new Indiana Jones movie that well. Then again, the latest big screen Batman reboot was pretty good.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Chris says:

        No Hitchhikers was a prefect movie,Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Chris says:

        Mos Def.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        I will not stand for any dissing of Yasiin Bey.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Chris says:

        Well, he did mistake the dominant species.Report

  28. James Pearce says:

    “If it’s the clothes that make the Indy costume and not the skin color, why is it that we see white male after white male portraying Indiana Jones without someone pausing to consider that, “Hm. Maybe an actor of color would make a great Indy?””

    This approach seems to have little confidence in the concept of universality or an audience’s capacity to empathize with people other than themselves, but it also misunderstands the process behind creating fictional characters, how they “work” on a technical level, and seems intent on reducing fictional characters to their most superficial of parts, to little more than a costume and a skin color.

    I get it the impulse behind it. Hollywood would benefit greatly by diversity, but what makes a person think that this approach would lead to more diversity instead of more crappy movies with thin, uninteresting characters?Report

  29. Mike Dwyer says:


    If speaking with confidence in my opinion makes you think that i am presenting it as fact, I don’t know what to tell you. Every professor I had in college told us to never write by saying, “In my opinion…” or “I think that…”. Surely you don’t need me to do that here?

    Do I realize my relationship with the franchise is more personal than most? Absolutely.

    Do I realize that some people wouldn’t care less if Indy was purple? Absolutely.

    Do I think my opinion matter more than theirs? No.

    I don’t know what more I can say on the subject, but just as a disclaimer for all future statements by me on this site: They are all OPINIONS. If it’s a fact I’ll provide a link. Cool?Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      I guess your tone seemed to indicate that you thought those of us who disagreed with you were wrong. If you did not mean that, than we can agree-to-disagree.

      By the way, your link in your prior comment to your earlier comment on the type of blogger you were took you to the “Edit Comment” page, not the comment itself. Not sure how to fix that but figured I’d point it out to you in case it somehow gives anyone backdoor access to the Dashboard there. Note: I don’t know how computers/the internet works.Report

      • Mike Dwyer in reply to Kazzy says:

        Well of course I think you are wrong. In a similar way, you probably think I am wrong if I say, “Boston is not as awesome as Louisville.” They are both opinions but that doesn’t mean we can’t have an opinion we believe is right.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        I tend to think that opinions *can’t* be right. That is what makes them opinions. For something to be right, it has to be demonstrably true. Or, the extent to which they are right is highly limited.

        You are 100% correct that a Black Indy would ruin the moviegoing experience for you.
        I am 100% correct that a Black Indy would not ruin the moviegoing experience for me.

        To say that we are right is ultimately meaningless.

        And what neither of us can say is that our opinions — our rightness — extend beyond the personal.

        I cannot say that you are wrong to feel the way you do because I feel the way I do. “No, Mike. The Black Indy would no bother you.” That’d just be silly. Furthermore, I can’t even really say that it *shouldn’t* bother you. I might be able to offer reasons for that (just as you have offered reasons for the inverse), but at the end of the day, we have to respect individual opinions on the matter and not demand homogeneity of thought.

        I think we have to be careful about going from “I wouldn’t like a Black Indy” to “There shouldn’t be a Black Indy” to “There can’t be a Black Indy” (or, conversely, “I would like a Black Indy” to “There should be a Black Indy” to “There must be a Black Indy”). It felt like you were doing more and more of the latter. And perhaps because you saw people saying, “I would like a Black Indy” and heard it as “There must be a Black Indy”. And, yes, fully conceded that some people do stake out ground on that final point.Report

  30. Chris says:

    Reading about Gilbert, I found this interesting:

    Gilbert traveled widely during that year; his interests and work took him on excavations throughout Greece and the Mediterranean islands. He was interested in archaeology, gaining recognition as one of the first African American archaeologists. After finding Eretria’s ancient pillars, gates, and walls, he traced the walls, located the structure’s towers, and then worked with his team to prepare a map of the ancient structure. He also spent a semester at the University of Berlin in 1891. After writing his thesis on the villages of Attica (or the demes) in 1891, Brown University awarded him the master’s of arts degree. He traveled a lot, visiting most European countries and later much of the United States.

    Yup, extremely implausible that a black archeologist could travel the world, particularly in Germany, back when.Report