Call For Comments: Fan Casting Adaptations

From Mav: Once upon a time, back when magazines used to be a thing, Wizard magazine used to have a semi-regular feature where they’d take a theoretical movie property that was being adapted — either one that was rumored to be in preproduction, or something that they just thought it would be fun — and they’d write up what they thought were the best fan suggestions of who should play the major roles. Sometimes these were spot on. I have definite memories of one such article in the middle of the original run of Star Trek: TNG that theorized that if they ever made an X-men movie, Patrick Stewart would be the perfect choice to play Professor X. Obviously, this eventually came to pass and they were right. It’s hard to imagine anyone else doing a better job (fun story, he originally passed on the role for much the same reason that I think the fans WANTED him for it… too much like Picard). Stewart is now and always was a fantastic actor. But I’m pretty sure that the reasons he was chosen were: 1) he was on a geeky show so geeks knew who he was. 2) he was bald. This one obviously worked out really well. But again, Stewart is a phenomenal actor.

Even though Wizard Magazine is gone, the Internet has picked up the slack. Now, in the post-magazine internet world, anytime a producer in Hollywood even mentions that they might want to make a movie based on some existing IP (which is… you know… all IP) the fans of that thing get into a tizzy with fan-casting. You have everyone taking to Twitter saying “you know who would be perfect for this…” or once the movie is out “you know who would have been better for this” and they’ll pick their favorite super famous actor who is of the right race and hair color (or… you know, lack of hair).

Sophie Turner got to play Jean Grey in the recent X-men movies because people looked at her in Game of Thrones and said “redhead! perfect.” I’ve seen her pitched in internet fan communities for every female red haired comic book character I can imagine. Nevermind the fact that she’s actually blonde… she dyed her hair for one role and now she’s stuck with it. In a lot of cases, I think that’s about how much thought goes into it. In particular I’ve noticed that, at least with geek IP stuff… superheroes and the like, fans almost always cast things with other actors who have been in other big name geek properties. Michael B. Jordan, Daisy Ridley and Henry Cavill come up in these things a lot. You almost never hear anyone go “you know who should be the next Superman? that guy who played the nameless CSI in the opening scene of the fifth episode of last seasons Law & Order: SVU. That guy would be great! And while we’re at it, the lady from that KFC commercial would make a great Lois Lane!” Nope… people will just say “Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke because… umm… you know… they kissed in that other thing I like.”

Of course, actual casting directors don’t work like this. They audition people and try to match the director’s vision of where they want to take the adapted character and not the generic fan’s idea of “I’ve read this thing… and here’s a guy I’ve heard of.” Back when Marvel announced they were going to be making a Shang-Chi movie I was really excited to see who would fans come up with… because… well, American’s aren’t great at racial diversity and I was like “well, there’s only like 3 male asian actors anyone knows” and yep… the predominant fan theory was totally Steven Yeun, or more accurately for most “uh, the guy who plays Glenn on Walking Dead.” Honestly I was actually impressed, because I figured everyone would just say Jackie Chan… you know… senior citizen Jackie Chan. And who did Marvel Studios go with? Simu Liu… best known for his versatile roles as “the guy standing over there in Pacific Rim” and “the guy standing over there on Fresh Off the Boat.” And I think he’ll be great!

Of course, then there’s the negative side. Every time someone is announced in a role like this, especially if they’re not already a big name actor, then fans will come out of the woodwork complaining that they’re clearly “wrong for the role” because they don’t match up with what’s in their head. Again, this is often about hair color. People don’t know about wigs. Or about just not caring. I know some people were concerned that relative Charlie Cox would be bad as Daredevil… until they saw him do it. When Gal Gadot was first announced as Wonder Woman people were furious because she’s “too skinny” and Wonder Woman needed to be someone like Ronda Rousey, who actively campaigned for the role (and I like Rousey… but acting is not her strong suit. Especially back then). And there was a time when people didn’t want Hugh Jackman to be Wolverine because he was too tall. Really, I don’t think anyone has ever been cast as Batman and not had fans revolting that he was “clearly wrong” for it. Robert Pattinson is dealing with this now… not because anyone knows anything about him. They just don’t like that he was in Twilight. This isn’t limited to geek adaptations, btw. If you’ve never seen the backlash to casting for Fifty Shades of Grey, even before John Oliver jumped on the bandwagon, you’d be amazed.

A lot of times there are more political or ideological motivations for fans hating a certain casting. The key example I’m thinking of here is Brie Larson for Captain Marvel. It’s been years now, and still every day I see some incel loser ranting that she is awful because “can’t act, is ugly, and hates men.” Of course, most of these people can’t name another of her roles. She’s an amazing actress, having won the Oscar for it right before playing Captain Marvel. She’s absolutely gorgeous and I’m sure tons of the people complaining about her totally jerked off to her as “that girl from Scott Pilgrim” and just don’t realize it. And by hating me, of course they mean that she’s a vocal feminist. She doesn’t hate men. She’s clearly dated several male celebrities. No dude… she just hats you. I recently saw someone posting a fan mockup of Natalie Dormer as Captain Marvel and claiming she would have been better “because she’s a better actress, hotter, and doesn’t hate men.” I assume what that person meant by that was “I saw her naked in Game of Thrones” and never read any interview with her where she talks about feminism. Which is a lot. Also… for a while she had the side of her head shaved… which Captain Marvel did in the comics… and again… hair.

And of course there’s lots of racist or sexist ones. Recently, this has happened a lot someone changes the race of a white character to a minority. I’m thinking of the massive backlash last year to Disney casting African-American actress Halle Bailey as the live action little mermaid… a character who while white in the original cartoon was also… you know… a fish. Or, a few years ago when people were furious that black actress Noma Dumezweni was cast as Hermoine Granger. My favorite was fans getting upset that Anna Diop was cast to play Starfire in Titans. This is the pinnacle of racist overreaction. Starfire isn’t white in the comics. She’s fucking orange! And then there were the complaints about Jodie Whitaker being cast as a female Doctor Who, a character whose literal gimmick is being reincarnated into different bodies.

Of course, this also goes the other way with more liberal minded people being upset when a character they imagine as a person of color is suddenly turned white. The first that comes to mind is Scarlett Johansson taking flack for being the Major in Ghost in the Shell, which was far more complicated than anyone on either side wanted to admit.. But I think even more interesting is the reaction to Tilda Swinton being cast as the Ancient One in Dr. Strange, replacing a character that traditionally is a massively offensive Asian stereotype. Perhaps the most fascinating to me was the reaction to the casting of Finn Jones in Iron Fist. From the time the show was first announced, the Internet had convinced itself that it could solve racism by simply inserting an Asian-American actor into the part of the traditionally white savior role of Danny Rand. Then when Marvel decided to go with… a white guy… the project was sort of doomed from the start. This is probably the biggest example I can think of where people got mad that casting DIDN’T deviate from the source material.

So. We want to talk about fan casting. How do you decide who you want to play the live action version of your favorite character in an IP adaptation. What examples can you think of where thing worked perfect or where they worked horribly? What makes it good or bad? What are your thoughts on massive deviations in things like race or gender when the property moves from one medium to another. What about when the property doesn’t really specify but people assume whiteness “just because”? And speaking of the racial issue, are there special allowances that make this more or less ok. Why is ScarJo playing Major wrong but Hailey as Ariel fine? And just for fun, is there any obvious fan casting that you have that just NEEDS to happen, logic be damned?Give us your thoughts!

7 Comments and 1 Webmention for “Call For Comments: Fan Casting Adaptations”

  1. I remember being outraged at the casting choices for Eragon because the blue eye, blonde guys they cast deviated from the book. A fact which would have systematically changed events later on in the series.

    As for racial casting, I think people get angry over whitewashing characters of color because it has been so hard to make a place for them. However, when the character goes from white to a POC, then it’s like “finally, giving us a chance!”

  2. for YEARS – YEARS – people said “Glenn Danzig should play Wolverine” because he’s short and swole and kinda hairy but… can he act?

    Doesn’t matter! (also there is a significant metalhead/comic nerd crossover population lol)

    ALSO: A while back someone in the Transformers fandom was very angry at the suggestion of Idris Elba voicing Megatron because “Megatron isn’t black.”

    Which, uh, what.

  3. Obvi heath ledger rocked as the joker, that’s the easy one. But can we talk about the crazy good casting of Sin City! Or on a smaller more known scale, the VOICE acting of the OG Teen Titans animated cast.

  4. Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves as brothers in Much Ado About Nothing. Forced an examination of the meaning of “brother” in the bard’s comedy. Half-brothers? Step-brothers? True brothers and what we assume about melanin in genetics isn’t, well, as black and white as all that? Very little backlash that I noticed, but then again, not really a geeky IP, is it?

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