Yes, my people, it is I, he who typically slams everything the DCU does with its movie franchises. But look, if this all but confirmed news that Dwayne Johnson will portray Shazam comes to fruition: I like this one. I really, really like this one. If we’re being 100% honest, I think the actor formerly known as the wrestler known as The Rock would be a great Black Adam. Besides the comically-not-really-him-CGI depiction in The Mummy Returns, have we really had Johnson play a villain?
If the news is to be believed, Johnson hasn’t decided which character he’ll portray, but the smart money is on Shazam, and I can’t blame him. As far as franchising, being a good guy on the Justice League is going to afford you many more opportunities in the franchise than a villain who might appear in one flick. But I digress. For the first time since Zack Snyder started signing off on costume designs, I actually like a casting choice for this Justice League universe without having to have seventeen think-pieces to convince me of it. Johnson has proven he can be heroic, goofy, lighthearted, and certainly looks the part of being a “superman-ish” hero.
So, what if Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson does pick Shazam… then what? Here’s the interesting thing, unless all the trolls are too busy condemning the protesters in Ferguson, there hasn’t been much — if any — backlash about the prospect of Dwayne Johnson playing Shazam. And you might be scratching your dome right now, wondering, but Will, why would there be backlash? Well, you sweet innocents, because Dwayne Johnson isn’t white.
But Shazam traditionally in the comic isn’t white eit–… oh yeah. He is. Well, well now. If Johnson chooses Black Adam, then DC and all the bigots are off the hook. Black Adam is of ancient Egyptian origin and Johnson actually “looks like” him. It gets a lot more interesting if he goes the other way.
Now look, I’m thrilled about this (theoretical) casting. I am not trying to awaken the beast that is the Manifest Destiny League of Nerds, but it is interesting that an actor/athlete born of a Samoan mother and Black Nova-Scotian father isn’t being peppered for having his pick of being cast as a traditionally white superhero. Like Michael B Jordan was. Or Idris Elba was. I suspect that the combination of Johnson’s specific skin color, his uber-popularity in a sport with a largely white audience, and the fact he does a family movie where he runs around with white children every 18 months has numbed the masses to Shazam being racebent in its casting.
It could very well be the Samuel L. Jackson effect. The general audience (i.e., white people) have become really comfortable with him because they have seen him in so many things that they never had to leave their comfort zone for. Like Will Smith. Or Don Lemon. So, I’m actually not only excited that Johnson may be cast as Shazam but also that there hasn’t been a freak-out about it. So, why am I even writing this column? Because there’s another shoe to drop. There’s always another shoe.
For those that don’t know, Shazam is not only one person. Well, he is one singular entity, but the reality is that Shazam is the magical superhuman form of an adolescent boy, Billy Batson. Given the old power of the six mythological figures, Billy Batson speaks the word “Shazam” to become the costumed hero that Dwayne Johnson might become. So, that begs the question, who will play Billy Batson? This isn’t a Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne situation, folks. No glasses or $3,000 tailored suits are going to make Dwayne Johnson into a 12 year old boy.
So what does DC do? Are they going to try and “match” Johnson with an aesthetically similar teenager? If so, will THAT send the “I don’t understand why they have to change stuff” bigots into a frenzy? Do they cast a white actor and hope no people of color notice? Will they play that off like this white kids superhero projection of himself is a 6′ 4″ Samoan man? It’s a pretty interesting situation with quite a few possibilities. I wouldn’t normally trust DC to intentionally be diverse in their casting choices, but they did just cast Jason Momoa as Aquaman, so hey, maybe change is gon come. I would love to see Johnson play Black Adam because of how great of a fit it would be. But I’m also hoping he chooses to play Shazam with the possibility it forces DC’s hand to even further diversify their movie roster.