Another casting announcement, another collective nerdy white boy meltdown. This time, they are directing their ire towards the rumblings that Idris Elba is “the frontrunner” for Roland Deschain in the movie adaptation of Stephen King’s brilliant (well, except for books 5 and 6) The Dark Tower series. I won’t go into why I love the series or what it is about, but for those of you who are unfamiliar or want to know more, click here. Needless to say it is Stephen King, so the series is a masterwork of imagination, storytelling, and world building. I think folks were fancasting this series in the early ’80s, with Clint Eastwood being the near unanimous choice for Deschain. Back in the day, the choice was spot on. Hell, even King alluded to it. The only clear choice for Deschain is Viggo Mortensen, not Elba.
Viggo has the looks, the menace, the grit, and the chops to nail the character. Shocker of shockers, I agree with the nerdy white boy contingent — not just their thinly veiled (and sometimes overt) racist reasons. But in the case of the Tower series, Deschain being white actually has bearing to the story.
As much as I am #TeamIdris, I think that I’ve reached “peak-Elba” in geek/nerd spaces. Every franchise that is announced — especially anything in the SF/Fantasy/Action realm — Idris Elba is mentioned as a possible lead. Is it because he is handsome, charismatic, built like a traditional (stereotypical) Hollywood man, can act his ass off, and has a gravitas that most other actors would kill for? Or is it because there is a dearth of fantastic properties for people of color (in this case men of color) to both star in and experience that we find ourselves participating in the laziest form of diversity and inclusivity because POC aren’t being served in this way? Whatever it is, let’s slow the Elba-train.
We can all agree that Idris Elba deserves his own franchise. Not part of a franchise where he isn’t the sacrificial Negro, an Afro-Norse toll operator, or a drunken monk who was way more compelling than the fiery lead. His most visible participation (aside from the Marvel Cinematic Universe) in fantastic films, Prometheus and Pacific Rim, were pretty crap. Idris has yet to star in a film where he, and the material, are equally great.
See The Losers for evidence. Even in his most mediocre films, he was stellar, despite the material lacking. He did a Tyler Perry movie. ‘Nuff said. On television, he has fared much better. Between The Wire and Luther his television cred is unimpeachable. But film super-stardom, which he richly deserves, has eluded him.
In another post, I’ve suggested franchises that Elba could take the reins of and make them his own. Yes, they are franchises that originally had white leads, but raceswapping in these particular franchises would make them that much more interesting. If you aren’t upset about any of these, your anger is as invalid as it is impotent.
If we wanted to “keep it black,” I would love to see Elba as the new Blade, or a non-corny John Henry Irons, or even Spawn. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be established cinematic properties. Look to Steven Barnes, N.K. Jemisin, The Shadow Police novels by Paul Cornell and a host of others for worlds that Idris and company could bring to life in a spectacular fashion.
Nerdy POC have to stop being content with the shoehorning and crumb nibbling. We have our own properties, our own worlds, and more are being developed every day. We don’t have to beg for inclusion in an industry that has routinely shown that we are not valued, or are only there to make the white man or woman look good — or die so they can live. We have our own worlds, they only need supporting to thrive and flourish.
Idrissa Akuna Elba deserves to be a movie star. He has earned the right through hard work and dedication to his craft. But can we be a bit more discerning when cheerleading him for genre properties? He doesn’t have to be up for everything. He only has to be given the right vehicle.
By the way, Idris, I have this script I’ve been working on…