Rather unfortunately, the British have picked up a story about a white supremacist group here in the U.S. that has launched a boycott of the upcoming “THOR” movie. Thor, as you may recall, is the Norse god of thunder and Marvel Comics character whose book has now been turned into a film. Being Norse, one expects the pantheon of Valhallan deities to present a certain phenotype – blond, blue eyes, white skin and a superhuman tolerance for lutefisk.
Director Kenneth Branagh has, in what is assuredly not groundbreaking or the slightest bit daring, cast a black man to play Heimdall - one of Thor’s Asgardian allies. Now there is a long tradition of using black actors for roles in Shakespeare (and this Thor movie is having serious Shakespearean pretensions) and other roles that would traditionally have been portrayed by white Europeans. There is literally no reason that a black actor can’t portray Hamlet, or Romeo and Juliet, or Macbeth or whoever. At a certain point in history, it needed to be shown to the larger culture that blacks could perform as well as whites in serious roles. Very few people (the aforementioned racists being some) question when a movie has a lead who is black. This is ground well trod.
The suspicion of course is that the casting of a black man for a role one would expect to be filled by a white is merely a cynical appeal to multiculturalism. “Look and see, we are diverse and open-minded and tolerant. Also, we’d like a few black people to pay to see our movie so let’s plop one of theirs in here somewhere!“ Patronizing, if you ask me.
Was it really about the talent of the actor? Might Heimdall have been played by a white man? These are questions that only the people who made the movie can answer, but I suspect there was a plan to forcefeed us diversity from the start.
Idris Elba has the chops, and I’m no racist, but this casting is odd to me. It’s kind of like if they did a movie about Shaka Zulu and he had a white Zulu cousin or something. He might play a great Zulu but he just doesn’t quite fit.
Wouldn’t having an all-white cast of Norse gods be a subtler and stronger message about the state of our diversity? To say that while there are no black people in this movie, that’s alright – we are strong enough to make a movie about Scandinavian gods who look like Scandinavians?
Here’s a great question to prod the embers of racial resentment: why not have the professor character played by a black man? Want to know the answer? The only member of the cast who is actually Scandinavian is playing him.
Ok, ok, so the movie explains that the Norse gods are actually aliens or something. So why couldn’t one be black since…yeah, that’s contrived too. But at the end of the day it’s like the actor said: this is a movie with a flying hammer. I can probably suspend my disbelief that there’s a black Norseman.