When I heard about Michael B. Jordan being cast as Johnny Storm in the reboot of the Fantastic Four movies, my first reaction was to make a lot of excited and strange noises because him in anything, let alone as superhero, is worth getting hyped up for. I didn't think about how that would affect the relationship with Sue, his biological sister. And by ‘effect’ I mean to say her skin colour. Both Johnny and Sue in the comics are white and they had cast Jordan, who is black.
Before drawing to the sibling racial questions, most of the backlash was against the decision to pick a very talented black guy to play an originally white character. Because that’s the worst thing that could happen to a beloved franchise, right? It’s hardly as if black actors have to struggle to find good roles in Hollywood.
The same thing, similarly, occurred with John Boyega’s feature in the Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer, where he is wearing a Stormtrooper uniform in the opening shot. Most of the comments I read, at their tamest, were things like “why would they show a sweaty black guy as the first thing? I’m not interested”. Others were a lot worse, whether through pure ignorance, or down-right racism.
(This is clearly the most "sickening" thing that has happened to Star Wars, like, ever.)
(No need to tell you what word I blocked out. I bet we can find another word for this guy, something beginning with d, four letters, and ends with a k.)
Boyega aside, when the whole main cast of Fantastic Four were announced (at this point, it was rumoured that Jordan was going to be The Human Torch, so a lot of hatred bile was gotten out of the way months before) a new question started popping up. And one that I read over and over, and over again.
So, if he is black than how can his sister be white? In the new adaptation, Sue is played by Kate Mara.
Adoption has been extremely mistreated within the mainstream. I won’t go too much into it because I don’t know everything about the processes, but what I do know is that there isn’t a fair representation of adoptive families in the media. That is the most common answer to this, apparently, “impossible” scenario I’ve read and could very well be how they're family.
They could also be half-siblings, which is another idea banded round and one that is, yes, plausible. Related by their parents getting married, again, that is possible. Or, more shockingly, they’re not even siblings at all and they have some other kind of connection.
One of these explanations must be true, because the quality of the film doesn’t really matter; it’s only answering this so crazy casting choice that counts most!
As all of these ideas were being thrown around internet forums and comment threads, not once did I hear the words ‘mixed-race’ come up in the discussions and there is a sad reason for it.
What we define as being mixed-race, or what we envision a person who is mixed-race to look like, is very one-note. We usually only equate it to a black and white couple’s children, mostly ignoring how you can be mixed outside of those two skin colours. There are some people in the public eye who are mixed-race, but don’t necessarily look it on the basis of how we define it. Keanu Reeves, Wentworth Miller, Rashida Jones, Michael Jackson’s kids.
Our image of mixed-race families isn’t changed through mainstream media, either, which – whether we’re fans of it or not – does define, subconsciously, a lot of our opinions. When having one black and one white kid is reported as some kind of miracle, how are we to think any differently?
I am mixed-race. I’m quarter Trinidadian, Irish, Scottish and Mauritian. My granddads were black, and my grandmothers are white. Both my mum and dad are mixed-race, and have fairly dark skin. My brother is dark (think Zayn Malik colour) and I’m not. I’m white. But we’re both mixed-race.
All the adoption questions, all the ‘they’re not your real parents’ conclusions, and, at times, racist remarks. I get why so many asked them now, I really do. I understand why people would be surprised, at the very least, or confused. It is confusing because we aren’t exposed to different types of mixed-race people, let alone the idea of what we think someone from a mixed background looks like.
So, why can’t Michael B. Jordan and Kate Mara be related in the Fantastic Four movie universe? That’s what got me the most about these discussions. Because there are so many unaware of what you can look like if you're mixed race or what your skin colour can be, our assumptions automatically lock onto the other side of the family answer – only half related, or cousins, or adopted. It still doesn’t make it any less frustrating because being mixed-race is rarely acknowledged in the mainstream or in pop culture. We’re everywhere, but we’re nowhere at the same time.
We need to give more representation to families that aren’t what we would define as being ‘typically’ mixed-race. As multiracial partners and children continue to rise, both in the UK and in the US, we need that visibility, we need that understanding to spread to those that would find it weird to be white, but have a brother far darker than you.
We’re not being taught about it, so we need it somewhere. The FF franchise could be the perfect stepping stone for this and such a high-profile platform to have these conversations. But, no doubt they have already set up some elaborate way of explaining the siblings family relationship from one of the rumoured scenarios.
You know what would be cool, though? If they stuck to the story of Johnny and Sue being brother and sister, biologically, and paired up their own cultural identity issues with having superhuman powers. Now that would be a commentary. Even I know, through all my hoping, that isn’t going to happen.
Or even better, what this guy said: