05 May 2018



I had put off seeing both Thor: Ragnarok and The Black Panther simply because I felt so put off by the sort of odd Spiderman: Homecoming. I doubt I will be seeing anymore Spiderman movies but I did want to see both of these. I was a fan of both back when I collected Marvel superhero comic books from about 1971 to 1975. I can say I did not miss a single issue of any of major titles during that time and in particular I liked Thor. I do not recall Black Panther having his own comic book but he showed up in those weird little comics like Marvel Spotlight or something. Sharing half the book with another superhero, like The Beast for example. So when Ragnorok came out I figured I would eventually see it and the same with Black Panther even if I was getting pretty burned out with some of the odd forced diversity and essential character “recoloring”, like Nick Fury. I just can’t let that one go. So I had a bout of insomnia last night and watched both of these back to back. Let me give you my general feelings without doing a review of the films. I think most people have either seen them by now or plan on seeing them in the near future. So I think everybody who is interested has a clue what the films are about.

Let me start off by saying both movies are overall pretty good in a Marvel movie way and I may try to see Thor again if the wife would like to with me  but she ain’t no super Marvel fan. But she has endured a few with me in the past. I am especially glad I waited until all the hype and debate with Black Panther cooled off. I recall reading things that said “if you do not like it you are a racist!” and I felt a bit intimidated and biased back then. I do not want to be told I must like a film or book or music or I am this or that. But, in the end, I did like it. While I do not think it is lived up to all the hype and hoopla it was nonetheless a pretty entertaining film. The same with Thor: Ragnarok and I liked Thor more out of the two. Hope that does not make me racist. But I had just seen Chris Beefslab Hemsworth in the war drama 12 Strong and so felt the time had arrived. No problems with Thor and even enjoyed the fact they sort of added some comical elements to the characters. Both films had a few problems for me in terms of trying to stuff too much into the story at one setting. Some aspects and characters that could have been explored more were set off to the side too often. The villains in both films, Hela in Thor and Kilmonger in Black Panther, could have been developed more in my view but no super biggie. So then what the hell is this post about then?

Well, I do in fact have an issue with how some of the race/diversity issues were addressed in both films and how odd and glaring those issues are when the two films are viewed back to back. Lets start with the more obvious example that is The Black Panther. There was so much hostility online with this film for months I put off seeing it. I live in China and certainly many of the reviews on the Chinese version IMDb called Douban were simply outright racist. But this is China and many Chinese people are in fact pretty racist and have no desire to address or change those sorts of issues. A lot of negative and hostile stuff was coming out of the US And UK going in both directions and so I was not interested in the film until last night’s Marvel marathon. I had no issues with the way things were presented as I used to read the comic book. Some people joked about the advanced people of Wakanda using spears and having hoops in their lower lips but in truth none of that affected me in the least. It is a Marvel fantasy culture in a make believe nation hidden away in Africa. They made up a zillion of these things. Marvel had mastered the craft by the mid-70’s. There were however a couple lines referring to the CIA agent as a “white boy” and “colonialist” that could be interpreted in a less than positive way in today’s climate. Basically, that is that it is always okay for people of color to refer to white people in these insulting and denigrating ways. We can take it and deserve it anyway. But in fact it was not that big a deal unless you wanted to push the issue. In fact if it didn't happen it would be odd. There is cracker in Wakanda for God's sake! But I am going to come back to The Black Panther film after I touch on something in Thor and try to make a point. In the end some people may feel the point is useless, or mean spirited or just downright racist, but I feel it is going to a valid point.



When the character of Heimdall in the Thor films was given black actor Idris Elba I sort of went along with it, although I had reservations. I like the actor and sometimes select a film just because his name is involved.  Like a lot of people I may have just felt afraid to express my problems with the role of a Norse god being portrayed by a black actor. I may have thought it is best to just go along with it and say “well, maybe there were a few Africans livings in ancient Norway and Sweden and Iceland and maybe the Viking types could have figured that a few of their gods could have been black.” Of course that is bullshit. The Vikings were into diversity about as much as Wakandans. But I went with it and, like I said, I usually like Elba, although his white cowboy redneck accent in the Prometheus film was a bit, well, ridiculous. I grew up in the south between Kentucky and Texas and never heard ONE black person use that twangy, hillbilly accent. But, I digress. I had an issue I could not ignore with black (I even thought she was Hispanic which I understand she may be half of but I guess having black DNA trumps Latina DNA) Tessa Thompson playing the character of Valkyrie. And not only that but she plays the character in a tough, street girl fashion, like Valkyrie grew up on the mean streets of  LA or Detroit. Valkyries are white only. It some sort of rule. Sorry, like Samurais are only Japanese. Okay, expect one time when one was Tom Cruise. Her character was awesome. I loved her. Until she was revealed to be a (or the) Valkyrie. Couldn't they have just created a whole character? I then noticed that when there were crowd shots of the people of Asgard you would see people of color milling around. Black characters and even some Asians, but mostly black.  No American Indians or dwarves as far as I could see. Yes, most of the crowd was white and pale but there were other races represented in the shots. Elba in interviews was pretty angry about any sort of criticism of this and basically referred to those criticisms as racism and in the future people should expect to see more, not less, of the mixing up of races and roles in this fashion. Yes, one should expect to see in the future more blacks in  a culture that was, at that time in history anyway, all white and as white as one can get. And what is wrong with that? You could say what is wrong with adding a black actor into the Norse mythology? You must be racist? Okay, well here is my point:

Why not in the The Black Panther when there are crowd shots of the Wakandans or other African tribes show a couple white people or Asians with spears just standing around. Why not just take a character that would have been black originally and just make him or her white for no reason and make all the other characters in the film oblivious to the fact that there white people standing around casually. Like the jokes about the CIA “white boy” being different and not black, why not have a joke or reference about Heimdall being black? If the idea is diversity to the point of absurdity why not push it in both directions? Does it somehow make black people the world over feel better about themselves and their history to see that they too were once Norse gods? Do they leave the theater and say to one another “man, I didn’t know we were Viking gods too! I feel empowered and better about myself now!” Why does the diversity game with modern Hollywood only go one way: entering black and people of other ethnic backgrounds into the Norse Asgardian pantheon and making the mob look like the party scene in the Matrix 2, but not plopping in a few white guys into some African tribes? I tell you why, because there are no white people in African tribes and it would be a stupid thing to do and there are also no black Norse gods or black Vikings or black Valkyries. And it is equally stupid to turn a mythic female warrior from a white culture and who is traditionally portrayed as white (why not) as black or Hispanic or whatever the actress is. I feel Elba would not be so welcoming to this concept of mixing up races in movie roles if it were white dudes playing blacks dudes. No way. He wouldn’t mind being the next 007 I understand but would he be cool with a cracker playing Shaft? Maybe, who knows. And the attack here, if there  even is one, is not towards Elba or any other actor of color who would have been offered the role and a sizable salary to go along with it. The attack would be against weirded out social justice driven Marvel studios and whatever their misguided motivations might be for saying "hey, lets take this ancient religion from Northern Europe and put a couple black actors in the roles. It'll be the nice thing to do and will help to advance the human race and people will see us as morally virtuous."


The movie was still good on most levels but on this point it was totally stupid and if the point is to brown out history one culture and religion and figure at a time then I guess we are well on the way. One quote I read on line was how placing Tessa Thompson in the role of Valkyrie was a huge step forward for black women. Yea, screw Asians and Hispanics. Screw trying to show a reasonable depiction of a northern European mythology. Because in the end the real diversity projects is centered, for now, on more blacks because they are the most vocally disgruntled group. Although I just read too that some LGBT (am I supposed to put a Q at the end all the time or only sometimes?) are pissed at Avengers Infinity War because there are no queer superheroes in it. They said queer in the article okay. I don't know if being black and queer would get priority or not over being white and queer. Idris Elba said in the same interview I read above that the Thor story is full of strange things, like Thor's hammer coming to him when he holds out his hand and him flying around around with the hammer. He then says something like, all of that is okay but there is a problem with the color of my skin. Oh boy. There is no problem with the color of the guy's skin! This is the impossible vs the implausible issue with movies. People can accept what is impossible over what is implausible. People can accept the idea of a beefcake mythic Norse god being flown about by his mystical hammer. It is actually impossible, but it is a sci-fi theme built around a myth. So that goes. It is much harder to accept that there would be a black skinned Norse god. That is implausible and makes no logical sense. Elba is saying if people can fly with hammers then a black guy and woman can be Norse gods and female warriors because there seems to be no real logic in the first place. In the first instance we all know it would never happen and no one is trying to convince you it would. There is no debate raging over whether people can conjure up lightening bolts or turn into big green monsters or not. Can't happen.


Also it just could not be that there would be black Norse gods and Elba himself knows this and has said so in the same interviews, that "Norwegian people don't look like me" (paraphrased) but this we must accept because to not accept it brands the person questioning the move a racist or part of a seething  white supremacist racist backlash that is fueled by a bitter hatred of all things not white. That is not the case. There is no problem with Elba's skin other then the one he want you make you believe you have. He is a handsome man and fine actor. While he is not an ideal Heimdall he is not a terrible one, while Tessa Thompson is simply a terrible Valkyrie. We must also accept it is okay to color in all those ugly white spots in history. So what if we make Asgard look like a multicultural paradise.  Lets not forget that a "rainbow" bridge leads to it. But do not try to "white out" African or Asian history.  I would be willing to accept both Elba and Thompson in their "diverse" and history rewriting roles however if in the next Black Panther film you have white and Asian Wakandans milling about and no one makes any references to their skin colors. Why not? If white is too sickening and  evil then at least some Asian and Hispanics? Or a few dwarves. Peter Dinklage could stand around with a spear. Maybe he could be a gay dwarf. Hmmm. Diversity in action. Wakanda is a mythic comic book nation so why not? It is all impossible, implausible and illogical in the first place, like Asgard, so why not? If it can happen in Asgard so why not Wakanda? Neither place really exists. Sure, Africans don't look like Asians, but so what? Norwegians and Norse gods don't look like Idris Elba, he admitted it, but so what. Or how about a few American Indians! No one cares about them I guess. Oh, but the Hulk had better stay green!

ADDENDUM: I just read online that Avengers Infinity War is under fire for diversity issues. One is it is too white. Too many white CIS males. And the other is there are no gay superheroes. Preferably black gay superheroes. And by gay it means gay and their gayness being "confirmed", I guess by French kissing or at least hold hands. IF Marvel introduces even one gay character into their MCU then that is it. In fact it may it already. People are actually bummed out that the film is making more money than The Black Panther and see racism in this. An MCU "whitelash". Goddamned, can't even watch a silly ass superhero movie anymore. I, as a CIS white male, feel very, very marginalized. And it hurts. It really does. Hold me Captain America!


Tom Dulski said...

Another great post, I agree 100%. Not sure why Marvel in particular seems to force diversity down our throat by making characters who were always white as black. It looks like the new dead pool movie is doing the same thing by making the character Domino a black woman. I have no problem with black characters if you want to add one fine, just write a new on in the script why does it always seem forced with Marvel?

Bill Dan Courtney said...


yea, I sort of settled with Idris Elba as Heimdall. I don't know why. Like a "well so what" moment. But the black, ghetto attitude Valkyrie was pushing it a bit too far.

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