Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Gail Simone on the casting of Tom Hardy as Bane in the next Batman movie

By now, everyone should have heard the news that Tom Hardy has been cast to play Bane, the villain in Christopher Nolan's sequel to The Dark Knight. People who aren't currently reading comics probably know Bane mostly as the villain in the Knightfall story in Batman comics, where he famously broke Batman's back. But these days his most role is as one of the members of the Secret Six, under Gail Simone's pen. Understandably, therefore, a lot of people have been asking her for her opinion on the news. Here's what she had to say in a recent post on her message board:

First, I'm pretty much pop culture ignorant. I don't know much about the actor in question.

And second, I'm conflicted. Here's why.

I don't know Tom Hardy, I don't know much about him. I'm told he was in Inception and Star Trek, but I don't recognize him or remember him in those films. What I DID see him in, is Branson.

And he was FANTASTIC in that. He had many qualities that would fit Bane perfectly. The calm intelligence, the ferocious rage and calculated violence, and of course, his amazing body, all those would make him perfect for being cast as Bane. Honestly, I think for those reasons, he would likely do a spectacular job as the character, particularly in light of some upcoming developments coming up in the book. I think he may be an inspired choice for those reasons, and his bravery as an actor could be the fuel that makes it happen.

However, Bane is a Latino in the comics. More than that, his origin is VERY SPECIFICALLY about a very poor, very brutal South American prison, and being born into that rotten place. I never think of him as a white guy.

Bane isn't the kind of person to think much about his national heritage. It wouldn't mean anything to him. He doesn't talk about it. He doesn't have any interest in it. There's nothing particularly Latin about him, except his origin and the mask, perhaps.

But I think there IS a (probably unintentional) power to him being Latin, particularly coming from poverty. The fact that this man is so much the OPPOSITE of privileged, wealthy Bruce Wayne, son of successful, loving parents, and that he comes from a brutal dirt third-world prison, I think that is always in the back of the heads of the readers, and I think it's powerful. In a big way, Bane is the underdog, in a way unlike any of the other bat-villains. I think that message, that socio-economic revolution is out there, is part of what makes Bane different, and even a little bit threatening to the status quo.

I don't think you get that same friction if Bane is an educated English guy. Where's that class tension? It evaporates.

There are other issues, of course...as we've seen time and again, there's a tendency to whitewash characters of color when taking them from other media to film, and a real history of de-ethnicizing characters in comics themselves. I say again, I don't think being Latin means anything in particular to BANE, but it does mean something a little bit powerful to his CHARACTER.

So, I'm conflicted. I think Hardy is a tremendous actor, and may bring a grace and terror to the character that really makes him sing. In that way, he may be the best possible choice. But I do think Bane is South American, and should be portrayed that way.

I'm not much help on this one, I guess.
What follows is an 18-page discussion, with a lot of people missing the point and derailing the thread into annoying nitpicking and jumping to ridiculous conclusions. I don't particularly recommend reading through the whole thing, but feel free to do so.

As for my own take on the issue, I'm just going to repeat what I said on page 18 (which isn't so much a response to Gail Simone as a response to the discussion that followed):
To me, casting actors that have the same (or at least similar) ethnic background as the characters they play is simply a matter of respect and credibility. I don't buy the argument that there is a "best actor for the role" and if they happen to be of a different race, then they should get the role anyway. Who's the "best actor" is so subjective it becomes meaningless.

I think there are two separate issues that people in this thread are confusing, or trying to treat as a single issue, which hurts the discussion.

The first issue has to do with the link between the actor and the character, and whether they are (or should be) of the same race. This can be applied to every role in every movie ever made.

The second issue only concerns movies that are adapted from some other source material (whether a comic book, a novel, or a previous film). It concerns the link between the character in the source material and the character in the film adaptation, and whether they are (or should be) of the same race.

These are two completely separate issues.

If we take the case of Tom Hardy playing Bane, then, and we take for granted that (a) the character of Bane in the comics is Latino, and (b) Tom Hardy is not Latino, then there are two different ways this could play out:

1. The makers of the next Batman movie have decided to change the ethnicity of the character of Bane. The character is Latino in the comics, but the character in the film won't be. This is a case of whitewashing the character. It doesn't really have anything to do with the casting - it's a writing decision - but it's of course reflected in the casting choice.

2. The makers of the next Batman movie have decided to keep the character's ethnicity as Latino, but they decided to cast a white actor to play the role. This is a case of... mmm, I don't know exactly what to call it. But clearly, it's not the same thing as the above case.

For now, we don't know which of these two scenarios is the correct one. But if we're going to comment on the decision to cast Tom Hardy as Bane, we have to keep these two possibilities in mind and recognize that they are different. Otherwise, the discussion gets incredibly muddled and confusing.

Personally, I feel that both of these possibilities are rather unfortunate. I would have preferred for them to keep the character Latino and to cast a Latino actor to play him. But that didn't happen and it's disappointing. I'm not calling for a boycott. I'm not saying Nolan is a racist. I'm not saying the movie will suck. And I'm not even saying Tom Hardy won't play a great and compelling Bane. I'm just disappointed, that's all. I think people have a right to be disappointed.

I'm going to say that I will be more disappointed if it turns out to be #1 than if it turns out to be #2. Because I think the character loses something special if you take away his ethnic background. And because, as many people have pointed out, a lot of people from Latin American countries do have pale skin, blond hair and blue eyes, I think they can more or less get away with it as a realistic portrayal of the character. That doesn't make it the ideal casting choice, in my mind, (and it doesn't mean that this isn't part of a larger trend or "problem") but it's probably one that I can live with.


3 comments:

Eb January 26, 2011 at 11:03 PM  

I only just quickly perused that msgboard thread, and this does seem to have been addressed to some degree, but I think it's worth reiterating that Latin American people are often just as "tabula rasa" as some dude from London. Certainly there is a very fine line between acknowledging something and reinforcing its stereotype. This line of inquiry is totally righteous, but possibly misplaced here.

Yan Basque January 26, 2011 at 11:12 PM  

Eb, it's addressed not just in the thread, but right here at the end of my my above comment:

"And because, as many people have pointed out, a lot of people from Latin American countries do have pale skin, blond hair and blue eyes, I think they can more or less get away with it as a realistic portrayal of the character. That doesn't make it the ideal casting choice, in my mind, (and it doesn't mean that this isn't part of a larger trend or "problem") but it's probably one that I can live with."

That pretty much sums up how I feel about it. And why I disagree with you that this line of reasoning is "misplaced."

The Reviewer August 26, 2011 at 6:04 AM  

Gale knows what she is talking about - within reason of course - as illustrated in this comic book series - http://www.comicbookandmoviereviews.com/2011/08/secret-six-36.html

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