Given all that’s going on in the world right now, the ethnicity of a superhero in a blockbuster comic book movie seems like a trivial issue, but there was initially huge backlash when it was first announced that Michael B. Jordan had been cast as Johnny Storm in Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four reboot, based purely on the fact that the character has always been white in the comics.
While it was a very small and undesirable section of the fanbase that had an issue with the casting of one of Hollywood’s brightest young stars in the role, it nonetheless furthered the rising wave of toxic fandom that recently led to Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige describing today’s internet culture as a hell pit.
In a recent interview, Trank admitted that it wasn’t just the trolls who were against the idea of him deviating from the Fantastic Four’s Caucasian origins, with the filmmaker claiming that the studio flat-out vetoed his proposals of casting a black actress as Johnny’s sister Sue Storm, with the role eventually being filled by Kate Mara.
“There were a lot of controversial conversations that were had behind the scenes on that. I was mostly interested in a black Sue Storm, a black Johnny Storm, and a black Franklin Storm. But when you’re dealing with a studio on a massive movie like that, everybody wants to keep an open mind as to who the big stars are going to be.”
Ultimately there were no big stars in Trank’s Fantastic Four, as the cast was mostly comprised of rising talents and veteran character actors, but Trank still regrets that he didn’t fight harder for his convictions and should have just walked away from the project entirely once he realized he was fighting a losing battle.
“When it came down to it, I found a lot of pretty heavy push-back on casting a black woman in that role. When I look back on that, I should have just walked when that realization hit me, and I feel embarrassed about that, that I didn’t just out of principle. Because those aren’t the values I stand for in my own life, and those weren’t the values then, or ever for me. Because I’m somebody who always talks about standing up for what I believe in, even if it means burning my career out, and I feel bad that I didn’t take it to the mat with that issue. I feel like I failed in that regard.”
The director certainly seems to have returned from his exile as a more mature and introspective person that will happily admit to the problems that dogged him earlier in his career, but at the time Fantastic Four was in production, there was no chance that a filmmaker that had just turned 30 and was making only their second feature-length movie would have been able to butt heads with the studio’s higher-ups without losing their job over it.