According to Hollywood Reporter and other entertainment sources, Westworld star Jeffrey Wright is in negotiations to play Commissioner Gordon in Matt Reeves’ The Batman, a prospect that has raised the ire of some fans in the toxic corner of DC fandom. No one is disputing Wright’s acting chops. Indeed, he’s been the recipient of multiple industry awards including three Emmy’s, two Tony’s, and a Golden Glob. The rancor bubbling from internet cesspools has to do with his race. You see, Wright is an African-American being cast in a traditional white role.
“I’m tired of Hollywood race swapping my favorite characters,” Ian Joseph laments from one of dozens of DC universe Facebook groups. “Jim Gordon is white! He’s a comic book character and he’s a white man! He should stay that way. The Batman movie shouldn’t be diverse. There shouldn’t be any diversity in The Batman. I don’t want that to happen.”
Joseph isn’t alone in his feelings. Peruse any comic book and science fiction-related message forum and you’ll read the sentiments of others like him. Under the guise of retaining ‘comic book accuracy,’ they employ the same rhetorical dog whistles heard on Republican talk radio. They long for the good old days when they weren’t burdened with inconvenient notions like gender and racial equality. At their core, they view themselves as victims of political correctness, believing the demographic changes in the American populace will soon displace whites, or more specifically white males, as the majority. There mantra could very well be Make Comics White Again.
Most know full well comic book characters, especially those from the genre’s golden age, have undergone dramatic changes in appearance, origins, and methodologies in the numerous resets and ‘crisis’ storylines in the 80+ years of DC comic’s existense. They are, for the most part, cool with that. But their sticking point is skin color.
“He would’ve also made an epic Alfred.” States Brian Penton of Wright, insinuating the actor is better suited as Batman’s servant.
Of course, not all fans participate in this alt right-style rhetoric. Many push back. Some correctly point out that major black characters were as rare in the industry’s pre-code golden age as blacks were in positions of power then, and for the same reasons. And, more importantly, as the comic industry fights to survive in the twentyfirst century, they know representation matters to a younger and more ethnically-diverse consumer who want to see people they identify with in successful super hero mediums.
“Why don’t they just make new black characters!?” Some object. Good question.
“The golden and silver age superheroes represent a tableau of stark whiteness,” remarks writer Bryan Cooper Owens in his article Racebending and Representation in Comic Books. “The superheroes that have become fixtures of pop culture are almost entirely white. Additions to this modern day pantheon have often not fared well. New comic books and their characters are released and cancelled on a revolving basis. Comic book audiences have shown a predilection for familiar heroes, the ones that they grew up with. The repercussions of this for new superheroes of color are that they are often relegated to side characters or simply forgotten. Superheroes of color have failed to capture a wide enough audience that generates enough sales to justify their existence.”
Owens continues by explaining the reimagining of established white characters as African American, Asian/Asian American, and Latinx allows audiences of color to see themselves represented within popular comics narratives. It does not seriously threaten the white hegemony of comic books.
Then there’s the emphasis of realism in storylines DC comics pioneered and most fans embrace. For example, the heart of fans’ defense of Zach Snyder’s gritty universe is it’s proposition that super heroes exist in our troubled times. In Jeffrey Wright’s case, it isn’t unusual for the police commissioner or other high-ranking officer of a major American city to be black. Chicago, the city most often mentioned as the model for Batman’s Gotham City, is currently served by African American police commissioner Eddie T. Johnson.
Approving Wright’s selection, one fan put his experience with toxic fandom into perspective. “Racists having problems with things like this just makes me want it to happen even more. We should find every opportunity to make racists feel as uncomfortable as possible. It pales in comparison to the ways they make people feel uncomfortable, but at least it’s something. All that aside, Wright is an amazing actor and I would love to see him as Gordon based on his merits alone.”
Matt Reeves’ The Batman, starring Robert Pattinson as the Dark Knight, is being planned as a grounded take on as the DC Comics crime-fighter. Casting is in the early stages and the film is set for a June 25, 2021, release.