Friday, February 1, 2013

Who Gets to be a Homicidal Clown? Anyone Who Wants to Be!

Note:  This post deals with problematic attitudes regarding comics and their film adaptations.  I mock these views by pretending to agree.  I do not support the idea that the Joker (or any character) must be portrayed by a white cis male.

Consider the Joker. Not the one on the playing card, the one in the Batman comics. What do you consider the defining traits of the Joker? A murderous sense of humor? A total disregard for human life? A purple suit?

What are you, new at this? All of that pales in comparison to the things that truly make the Joker the villain we know and love today: Caucasian ethnicity and a penis!

Sorry, Prince, you're just too awesome.

…This may require some explanation. So because I am a masochist who enjoys making my blood pressure do back flips, I occasionally head over to the Comic Book Resources forums in search of nuanced and rational discussion. And what to my wondering eyes should appear today but a thread entitled Should the Joker ever be played by women or non-whites, with ten whole pages of discussion. Oh boy, sounds like this will be as fun and painless as sticking my foot in a bear trap!

Now, you may be thinking that things like skin color or gender shouldn’t be the defining factor of a casting decision. After all, Denzel Washington did a much better job than Keanu Reeves did when they played brothers in Much Ado About Nothing and Cate Blanchett’s performance as Bob Dylan in I’m Not There was phenomenal.  So perhaps you’re under the impression that the ability to portray the character is the most important thing. But you’d be wrong. And if you need some convincing, allow me to summarize some brilliant arguments from the thread that could all be prefaced with “I’m not racist, but” in order to persuade you!

We start out strong with an important consideration:

“I'm Black, and I say keep the Joker as he's supposed to be. It was fine when Billy D. Williams played Harvey Dent and even when Michael Clarke Duncan played the Kingpin in Daredevil, but it's different when a character is as iconic and such a household name as the Joker is; would you want an Asian, Black, etc person playing Batman or Superman? I think you are just trolling with this post...” 

Yeah, definitely trolling. I mean, a black Superman? Who would ever let that happen?

Oh. But that’s Grant Morrison. That doesn’t count, right? Besides, we couldn’t have a non-Caucasian Batman! The story of an orphan out to avenge his parents’ murder by instilling fear in criminals would fall apart if he weren’t white.

Now, any actor who’s portrayed the Joker, from Romero to Ledger, has had all their visible body slathered in white makeup to match the unnatural, chemically bleached tone of the clown’s skin. So you may be asking what difference the color of an actor makes when they’ll be covered in greasepaint. Luckily for you, they’ve thought of that as well.

“I agree to a point, but The Joker's face is quite characteristically caucasian in that his nose is very thin and long.”

“The Joker is as iconic for his looks as he is for his actions. We do not need an origin story for us to know that he is white. His facial features are blatantly caucasian.” 

Well, that is what white people look like. Non-Caucasians don’t know the pain of constantly being asked if they can use our cheekbones to slice meat deli-style, or the care we have to take in turning corners to ensure our noses don’t put out the eyes of hapless passerby. Have a moment to reflect on how the features of all the Joker’s actors perfectly match the above image—I’m taking a break to open some soup cans with my chin.

 Okay, I’m back. Now that we’ve established that the Joker’s features are not a clownish caricature, but unmistakable ethnic markers that only white people have ever had, let us go move onto another point raised in that second quote: “ We do not need an origin story for us to know that he is white.” I’d like to point out that the Joker does have an origin story, and before we saw him with snow white skin, this is how he was portrayed:

Using your keen detective skills, you may have noticed that neither his skin nor his face is visible. But after careful examination, I have concluded that only a white person would wear that thing on his head, so there you go.

 Besides, in The Laughing Fish the Joker made a smart-ass remark about being Irish, and because the Joker is a trustworthy and upstanding gentleman, we should take that seriously. Also, only white dudes have ever lived in Ireland or claimed to be from there.

I wish I could tell you that people didn’t claim Cesar Romero doesn’t count as a Latino actor because he can pass as white. I wish I could tell you that—but this is no comic book world.

Let us assume that these flawless arguments have convinced you that the Joker of comic lore is in fact the whitest kid you know. But since the original question posed was about actors, you may be wondering why an actor’s ethnicity cannot vary from the character’s. Because the audience might confused, of course!

“What the hell? Really guys? That would just be weird as hell. He's been white for a long time and that would confuse a lot of folks. I remember going "WTF" when I saw a black Nick Fury, but then I read Ultimate Avengers and realized they must have been portraying that Fury. I cannot remember Joker being portrayed as anything other than a white person. I mean, he has Caucasian features.” 

Plus, casting a non-white actor as to play a white character just doesn’t work and is symptomatic of political correctness gone mad:

“In the Daredevil movie, the kingpin is African American, and at first i did not recognize the character. He did not seem the same as i the comics, and i believe this was a casting mistake.”

“In fact the idea of casting somebody against their culture could easily create some backlash against the movie. (Heimedal in Thor?)”

“I personally feel it would be either stunt casting to gain cheap media attention or trying to hard to be politically correct like the Thor movie.” 

Yeah, I remember the way my jaw dropped when I first saw Idris Elba as Heimdall in Thor. I gaped at the screen with only one thought in my head: Those are the damn fakest-looking contacts I’ve ever seen. This movie must have had a budget of millions and they couldn’t spring a pair that actually mimicked the texture of the iris?

It was generally considered wrong to make the characters in The Last Airbender white, so it must be equally wrong to make white characters into minorities. The controversy with Airbender was all about the race change in and of itself , and not that whites are overrepresented in Hollywood while everyone else is underrepresented. Why, I’m sure the exact same people who were mad about a white actor portraying Bane are furious about Laurence Fishburne playing Perry White in Man of Steel, because that’s apparently the exact same thing.

“Let me ask you this would it be fine to make a whit Falcon, or Blade of course not they're be a huge uproar, look at what happend with Last Airbender. If it's racist and wrong to cast a white person in a non white role then the reverse also holds true. Racism isn't a one way street, and it's not just white people who are racist. And yes I know there's a historically valid reason for it but even that amounts to litle beyond blaming a entire race for the actions of a stupider generation and the actions of a few.”

And why would we want more diversity in portrayals of preexisting characters when we should be creating new minority characters? It’s impossible to do both at once, you see.

“so instead of changing character make and support new ones. It's not a successful blow for diversity to go hey you know that one guy..he's black now. really I think that's a little insulting.” 

But at the end of the day, apparently white actors are just superior at some things?

“In general I'm against changing a character's race as I haven't seen it sucessfully done. Michael Clark Duncan's version of kingpin didn't work because you really needed that air of cold contempt and merciless ambition that only an older white male can pull off.”

 “Can [black actors] pull it off? Yes. Can they pull it off when being directly compared to someone like say Jeremy Irons or Alan Rickman? If you seen such a feat then please direct me to it.”

“Then they should have used make up to make [Michael Clarke Duncan] look white, and did a voice-over, because he came across as a big fat black guy, not a big fat white guy. I'm sorry, but that ruined the movie for me.” 

Yeah, holy shit. Those are so horribly racist I can’t even mock them.

But let’s not forget the other horror lurking on the horizon: What if the Joker were portrayed by a woman?

“To be fateful to the source, he should be male”

“I don't have a problem with switching the race, but I do agree with those that draw the line at changing the gender.”

“Never a woman though. Too much of a change.” 

Back off, women! You’d ruin the Batman/Joker dynamic with your feminine ways! Suck on that, Joker lady. 

Wait, who the hell is that freak? It appears that I just linked to myself in talking about gender roles in comic fandom for the sake of shameless self-promotion. Must have been a Freudian slip; I meant this Joker lady. 

And that’s the only time the Joker’s ever been portrayed as female.


Well, clearly those are isolated incidents from people who just don't get the character.  I mean, usually he's a bastion of masculinity.

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