The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Commentary: Why It Doesn’t Matter What Heimdall’s Race Is

Written by: Tony Lazlo, CC2K Staff Writer

ImageFirst of all, who the hell is the Council of Conservative Citizens? A cursory Googling of them reveals a white supremacist portal. So to be fair: Who cares what these twerps think, and how prevalent is their view, even among conservatives?

(Side note: If anyone out there shares this story, do us all a favor and eschew the usual online etiquette that calls for primary sources. Just link one of the many geek blogs that wrote about this story. Don’t link directly to the CCC website.)

But let’s talk about colorblind casting in TV and film. There’s a larger and more energetic conversation to be had about the interesting results that can be had from casting a black (or a white or hispanic, etc.) person in a role that specifically calls for a certain race. For example, Patrick Stewart played Othello in a production in which the rest of the cast was black, and I think it would be *really* interesting to cast a black man as Iago in that play. (In fact, that’s probably happened.)

That said, this is a different issue. We’re talking about a body of myth  or a story where race doesn’t really play a role.

And it doesn’t. It might be easy to think it does, but mythology transcends time and place, and in the case of the Norse gods, we’re also dealing with a body of myth that Marvel pressed into duty for their *own* mythology. Who knows what gods would even LOOK like, much less the Norse gods depicted in Marvel comics?

(Side note: I wonder why this same group isn’t complaining about the character of Hogun? Marvel invented him as one of the “warriors three” who often help out Thor, and he’s always been depicted as an Asian. Why didn’t that incur the wrath of paranoid bigots everywhere?)

But there’s an even larger artistic issue at work here that isn’t necessarily connected to race. Hear me out:

Imagine that you went to see a production of Much Ado About Nothing — a play that’s set in Italy — and someone complained that the actors weren’t speaking Italian. A question-mark would appear over your head, wouldn’t it?

That’s because there’s a magic filter that sits between us and the world of movies, theater and comics, etc. This magic filter supersedes even the mighty suspension of disbelief because we’re typically not even aware of it. Who CARES that they’re not speaking Italian in a production of Much Ado About Nothing? Shakespeare was trying to tell a story, not reproduce in exacting detail every aspect of the world of that play.

In the same spirit, the storytellers at Marvel — going all the way back to Stan Lee, et al — aren’t interested in reproducing every detail of ancient Norway in exacting detail. They’re talking about the Norse pantheon, for Crom’s sake, and their chief end was and remains to tell a great story.

To that end, you should find the best actors for the roles, and I think we can agree that Idris Elba is one of the finest actors working today. Heck, if anything, Heimdall seems like too small a role for him.

OK, I haven’t touched on every part of this argument or every point for discussion here, but those are a few of the major points that spring to mind.