It’s no secret that Hollywood struggles when it comes to casting black actors in leading roles. Things are at least getting better, slowly but surely. Chadwick Boseman will soon become the first black actor to lead the way in a superhero film (Black Panther, which we’ve posted about). And Daniel Kaluuya was the star of an indie horror/comedy (Get Out) that looks like a surprise award season highlight. Still, there’s a long way to go.
One thing that can be particularly frustrating is to see big budget reboots and remakes coming out and sticking with white casts for no apparent reason. There are some cases, to be sure, when an iconic character is established in a certain way and it would be odd (and probably a bit forced) to change things up. For instance, we wouldn’t expect the forthcoming young Han Solo movie to cast a black lead when Harrison Ford has represented the character for over 30 years. In other cases, however, the race and background of the lead are insignificant, and Hollywood has missed chances to give up-and-coming black actors major roles in successful properties.
These are four examples (with our picks for replacements, just for fun).
Planet Of The Apes
The Planet Of The Apes franchise has returned as a massive modern trilogy, and it’s actually done very well. Even a few years ago, IGN ranked the reboot as one of Hollywood’s best. Still, the casting has been disappointing, even if the actors have all done well. Three white men have been the main human leads: James Franco, Jason Clarke, and Woody Harrelson. Again, they’ve all done well, but nothing about this reboot required white-only cast members, and it’s a major franchise that could have offered a great opportunity to a young black actor. One idea we’d have loved to see in action is Donald Glover in the Franco role – though to be fair, that role was in the first reboot and was before Glover started to emerge as a serious actor.
It doesn’t always feel like it, but this is one of the biggest franchises of all time. There have been films, theme park rides, toys, and most recently, games and reboot. Even as it made it back to the big screen the franchise concept was developed by Microgaming for online slot arcades, as well as adapted by mobile developers for strategy games. But then came the Jurassic World reboot – one of the highest earning films of all time (and one that’s getting a 2018 sequel). Chris Pratt was about as enjoyable as they come in the lead role, but here again there was no need for a white actor for the sake of continuity. Our pick would have been Anthony Mackie, a very good actor with a similar blend of hero quality and playfulness to Pratt.
Granted, Peter Parker is one of those characters who’s firmly established, and it would be somewhat forced to cast a black actor in the role. That said, there is a non-white version of the character in comics (Miles Morales, who incidentally has been voiced by Glover), and we’re now on our third modern franchise with a white Parker. Tom Holland, the latest actor in the role, seems as if he could be a special talent. Shad Gregory Moss (better known as the rapper Bow Wow) would make an interesting choice here, though Glover has made his interest in the role known.
James Bond is a little bit more understandable in that he’s continually rebooted as a white actor. If these films were merely about whichever agent is 007 at a given time, it would be more egregious – but people have an image in mind for Bond, so it’s somewhat understandable that he’s always been the same type. Even so, the internet has made enough of a call for a black Bond that it now seems like a perfectly logical idea. Idris Elba is the popular pick (though he says he won’t do it), but frankly he’s getting a little old for it. We have a more outside the box idea: Alfred Enoch, who played Dean Thomas in the Harry Potter films. Enoch may best be known to us as a boy, but he was born in 1988 – meaning realistically he’ll be in his mid-30s by the time a post-Daniel Craig Bond film is released. He’d make for a great young Bond, and turned into a tall, imposing, good-looking young man who could perfectly embody the persona.