The Rock’s Shazam Isn’t White, and Doesn’t Need To Be

BY AXEL BOADA

 

Since his days as a WWE superstar, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has let it be known that he is the most electrifying man in sports entertainment — maybe even all of entertainment due to his Hollywood success.

But after a few days of hinting at playing a DC Comics character, it seems Johnson will literally become the most electrifying man and portray Captain Marvel, a.k.a. Shazam, in an upcoming film.

Yes, Johnson is bringing the red tights and golden lightning bolt to the big screen for mainstream audiences. Shazam, a criminally underrated character who once rivaled Superman in popularity during the Golden Age of Comic Books, is making his return to the forefront of the genre.

Naturally, superhero fans were filled with joy by the news. Right? Wrong.

So what’s the problem, then? It’s simple. Shazam likely will not be played by a white male, which goes against his portrayal in the comic books.

People voiced their displeasure across the Internet, citing that the character has always been white. After all, how logical could it be for little Billy Batson to transform into a big black Samoan?

Some have even said that it is a trick to hide the real reveal, and Johnson will actually be playing the villainous Black Adam, an ancient Egyptian who shares similar powers to Shazam’s.

Yeah, apparently the similarity in skin tone between Johnson and Black Adam makes it okay to lump them both together but not Shazam, even though Johnson is just as “white” as he is Middle Eastern.
Such is the problem with comic book fans, a group constantly accused of sexism and racism for its combative resistance to change. Any tweak to a character’s appearance, gender or backstory is met with such grief that often times writers and publishers refuse to take creative risks.

Wonder Woman artist David Finch recently said he wants the character to be “beautiful, but strong,” but not a feminist. It’s likely that Finch isn’t against Wonder Woman being a feminist, but rather tried to shield himself from the ire of fans that would reject such a notion, albeit doing it very clumsily.

But some are brave enough to make changes. Marvel Comics recently announced that a yet-to-be-revealed woman will soon take over the Thor moniker, and The Falcon — played by black actor Anthony Mackie in Captain America: The Winter Soldier — is the new Captain America. Both moves were heavily criticized as publicity stunts aimed at selling more copies.

While those examples are changes in books and not movies, the similarities in reactions are very similar. The superhero genre continues to grow in popularity, giving bigger and more diverse audiences a laundry list of characters to identify with. However, many still see just the colors of these characters’ skins, not the qualities they embody.

Hopefully Johnson is in fact Shazam and not Black Adam. He has portrayed a wide variety of characters in his career, from a hockey-playing tooth fairy to a Greek demigod-turned-mercenary.  Only an actor as versatile as Johnson can accurately represent the essence of the man-child Billy Batson.

And if he doesn’t look like him? So what. He certainly acts like him.

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