by Marc Bernardin | Originally posted at Playboy.com

Fox wants to bring the BBC’s award-winning, frankly awesome detective thriller Luther to the U.S., but they’ve got a problem: Finding an American Idris Elba — who brought a ruthless intelligence and rugged sexuality to the role of haunted detective chief inspector John Luther — has proved too daunting a task. So, according to The Hollywood Reporter, they’ve put their remake on hold — after, apparently, entertaining the thought of Marlon Wayans as the lead.

When writer Neil Cross was first creating the character of DCI John Luther, he didn’t write him as a black man, he just wrote him as a man. As Cross told BBC Radio 4:

It was cast as a character, purely and simply, which is one of the aspects that attracted Idris to the role. I have no knowledge or expertise or right to try to tackle in some way the experience of being a black man in modern Britain… It would have been an act of tremendous arrogance for me to try to write — and you have to try to imagine the quote marks around the words — a black character because I don’t know what a black character is and we would have ended up with a slightly embarrassed, ignorant, middle-class, white writer’s idea of a black character, which would have been an embarrassment for everybody concerned.

Cross and the BBC did what we now call “colorblind” or “race-neutral” casting: They went after who they thought was the best actor for the role and, wouldn’t you know it, landed the best actor for the role. There is absolutely something that Elba brings to the part, a knowledge of what it’s like to be a giant black man in a smaller white world, but the things that make Luther who and what he is have nothing to do with race. Here’s how John Luther is described in Cross’ script for the Luther pilot:

A SHABBY FIGURE appears. Implacable. Eyes that burn with lunacy and murder. Incredible as it seems — this is DETECTIVE CHIEF INSPECTOR JOHN LUTHER.

And:

Less a man than a FORCE OF NATURE. Vengeance personified.

Luther is a man apart. Gifted with a taste of madness. Born in the wrong time, but with the right gifts. But nowhere does it say that he’s black. So why should Fox’s American John Luther be black, too? Much has been made in the past couple of years about race and iconic roles, kicked off with the question, Does Spider-Man Need to Be A White Guy? (which I might have had something to do with). The thing that makes Spider-Man unique is that he’s a science nerd from Queens, living in a house riven by death and abandonment — and that he’s got the proportionate strength and speed of a spider. Marvel eventually understood this and gave us the Miles Morales Spider-Man.

But colorblind casting should also go the other way, so long as it retains fidelity to what makes that character special. As the old saying goes, what is good for the goose should also be good for the gander. For example, the DNA of Foxy Brown is such that you couldn’t just get Ann Margaret to play her, but God can be played by people besides Morgan Freeman (weird as it may be to ponder). The characters on shows like Empire, Black-ish and Jane the Virgin are specific to those worlds. But the desire to “keep what’s ours” among those black viewers who fell in love with Luther isn’t a valid reason to not broaden the search.

Why couldn’t John Luther be, say, Hispanic?

Benjamin Bratt

Or Indian?

Naveen Andrews

Or Israeli?

Oded Fehr

Or Arab?

Said Taghmaoui

All Luther needs to be is a man apart. A bull in a china shop. Different. And sexy as hell.


Bernardin Head ShotMarc Bernardin — formerly of The Hollywood Reporter — is the deputy editor of Playboy.com, where he manages the site’s entertainment and pop culture news. He had the chance to interview Idris Elba once but turned it down, claiming “I’m not sure my self-image can withstand being in the same room as Idris Elba.”

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12 thoughts on “Luther Remake Stalls: What Happened to Colorblind Casting?

  1. I see your point. My problem I guess would be if they cast a White man for the role. That would only make it indistinguishable from the billions of other White, male detectives, (who are a*holes), on TV.

    A man of color, any man of color, would be able to bring a certain dynamic to the role, that would be missing if they cast just another White guy. Any of the guys you listed would be acceptable, even an Asian actor.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. For what it’s worth, the four actors suggested for non-Idris Luther would all have been better choices for Ra’s Al Ghul on Arrow. Definitely better than the white dude they ended up with.

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    1. Living in Australia right now, I’m proud Matt Nable is playing the part. He’s said it fits into his type of schedule since he has to deal with a bipolar disorder.

      But I also wonder if casting white people, or non-Asian people for these comicbook Oriental roles is just some inside joke about the West’s history with Orientalism.

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  3. Regardless of what the American Luther looks like I don’t expect it to be nearly as gritty or addictive as the BBC series (like every other series that we hijack and Americanize). The idea of color blind casting is great except when you are doing a re-make. People are so invested in the original that casting a white actor in the role would lead to conversations about the actor’s race and not the validity of the series.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Initially there will be comments about the character’s ethnicity if it is changed and there will be calls to boycott and eventually the dust will settle and the show will survive or fail on its merits No need for Luther to be Black.

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  4. Okay, I hear you. I read your entire post and I am just now realizing this show is on Netflix and I will definitely add it to my list,

    I actually agree with everything you’ve said simply because it makes a valid point about being colorblind while casting characters.

    I think about roles that blacks have not gotten in the past and I am actually ecstatic Elba is playing the role of a detective- I think I would be happy with any man they choose, but Elba seems perfect in my opinion for a role such as that. Again, I have not seen the show so I am being biased here.

    I think the same can be said of The Last Airbender. What makes that situation more looney, is the fact that the animation itself featured darker hued characters and instead Caucasians played those roles-everyone in any shade was not happy about that. I enjoy diversity and when films “keep it real”- I don’t need to have an all black cast, but I need genuine humans there, period. Thanks for a great post though. Liked this one!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I very much agree with everything said in this article and I would love to see Bratt of Fehr as John Luther. But this colorblind casting works for actors or color about 10% of the time. Look at all the police procedurals, cop buddies, and forensic shows. Law & Order: SVU, CSI, CSI:NY, Castle and the Mysterious of Laura are really the only shows that have one or two minority characters amid five or six white cast members. We have three shows with minority leading ladies, two of them written by the same woman, a woman of color herself.

    So I get what your saying, but it never works out that way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly! We have umpteen bajillion cop, forensic, law and various civil servant and detective shows with White male protagonists. Casting Luther as a White guy would make the show no different from the hundreds of other shows starring White men. It’s not that I don’t like White men, but we got enough of those. Give some other people a chance.

      I think if they really wanted to be adventurous, they’d cast a woman. Why? Because female detectives, cops, etc, rarely get to be a** holes on TV. They always have to be sexy and likable. Radical, would be casting a female detective, as the lead, that none of the other characters like, sorta like Sherlock.

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  6. My issue is that for Hollywood Colorblind casting means replacing characters of color with white actors. Not the other way around most often. I think the options you laid out are sublime, let’s hope Fox sees it that way. Benjamin and Naveen easily come to mind. And Said is a great choice too.

    I honestly don’t see how Luther would translate stateside, but with the actors mentioned above it has a chance. Boadchurch’s remake as Gracepoint was a huge disappointment whereas Cracker was more than decent with its U.S. remake. One example has the same lead actor the other a different actor playing the same character. Most BBC remakes strike me as odd since they are generally the literal translation which I find lazy and exhausting. Anyone can remake something. Why not reference the best of the original characters and progress from there in their new circumstance, city, scenario. Better yet why not keep tackling original programming with Ben, Naveen, Oded or Said at the helm of some great new shows.

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