Josh Trank, in the time surrounding the release of his latest movie, Capone, has been more open than ever about his troubled experiences directing big-budget superhero fare with the disastrous 2015 version of Fantastic Four. Now, he’s being frank about the racial politics of casting that film.
Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four is played by Michael B. Jordan, but in Trank’s initial conception Johnny wasn’t the only Black member of that family. They were all Black. What happened? As Trank explained to Geeks of Color, the studio happened.
“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,” Trank said. “But also, when you’re dealing with a studio on a massive movie like that, everybody wants to keep an open mind to, like, who the big stars are going to be. ‘Maybe it’ll be Margot Robbie,’ or something like that. But when it came down to it, I found a lot of pretty heavy pushback on casting a Black woman in that role… When I look back on that, I should have just walked when that realization sort of 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; 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. I feel bad that I didn’t take it to the mat with that issue. I feel like I failed in that regard.”
Trank doesn’t go into detail about why the studio pushed back so hard, but it seems like the prospect of having more than one Black protagonist in a superhero franchise traditionally depicted as all-white was allegedly, at the time, too much for 20th Century Fox. If accurate, it wouldn’t be surprising—the bias against Black actors in Hollywood, and particularly Black women, is well documented. While these biases may have improved marginally in the last few years in Hollywood, the idea of a studio rejecting a Black woman superhero is incredibly plausible.
As Trank explains it, this should have been the moment he knew that Fantastic Four was a doomed project. It stands to reason: if the studio executives are willing to let their racial biases get in the way of the quality of your film, they probably don’t care about the quality of your film in general.
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