Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Can a Norse deity be black?

I don’t see why not. But a number of comic fans are not so sure.The question is prompted by Kenneth Branagh’s decision to cast Idris Elba, English star of The Wire, as the mythical Heimdall in his upcoming adaptation of Marvel’s …

Wed, Apr 28, 2010, 18:41

   

I don’t see why not. But a number of comic fans are not so sure.The question is prompted by Kenneth Branagh’s decision to cast Idris Elba, English star of The Wire, as the mythical Heimdall in his upcoming adaptation of Marvel’s Thor. Obviously, the world of comics is not the sort of arena in which you’d expect to encounter pedantry and literal mindedness, but, amazingly, some Marvel enthusiasts have suggested that Mr Elba, who is, indeed, black, is not the right sort to play a Scandinavian deity.

idris-elba.jpg

It’s ridiculous. He‘s not even wearing a hat with horns on it.

To be fair, asking the question does not make you a racist. But it does, at the very least, make you seem a bit unadventurous. Though it has long been common in the theatre to cast black and Asian actors (and women for that matter) as Hamlet, a Danish youth, the cinema — even when wallowing in fantasy — seems less inclined to be flexible. Obviously, it would be eccentric to cast a black man as Hitler in a naturalistic biopic, but, when dealing with Marvel’s version of Asgard, it seems absurdly pedantic to quake at the decision to use an actor of colour. The Marvel Gods are not entirely like the average Scandinavian. Thor, for example, can create thunder with a big hammer and, when not making the weather or fighting crime, inhabits the body of a frail medical student named (yay!) Donald. All that noted, the colour of the characters’ skin hardly seems like an issue worth fretting about.

“I was cast in Thor and I’m cast as a Nordic god,” he said this week. “If you know anything about the Nords, they don’t look like me but there you go. I think that’s a sign of the times for the future. I think we will see multi-level casting. I think we will see that, and I think that’s good.”

The frequently suggested notion of a black James Bond is another interesting one. Certainly, you can imagine the current, cinematic version of the character being played by, say, Colin Salmon or Chiwetel Ejiofor, but any attempt to have a person of colour play the 007 of Fleming’s weird books would be riddled with complications. Why? Well, the man was a raving racist. That’s why.

Anyway, I think Branagh’s done a good thing. I don’t say this because Elba is black. I say it simply because he’s a damn fine actor and should make a cracking Heimdall. Let’s just hope the film is more of a Henry V than a Dead Again.

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