This summer sees the release of Fox's rebooted superhero film Fantastic Four, introducing an all-new cast as the titular heroes. Following the movie's extensive marketing campaign, some controversy has broken out regarding the casting of Michael B. Jordan, as the African-American actor is set to portray the classically white character of Johnny Storm/The Human Torch.
However, Jordan's casting is not only a great step forward in diverse casting, but an important reminder that source material can be revised and modernized.
In the case of Fantastic Four, casting a racially mixed team makes perfect sense for a modernized take on the story. The 1961 origin of the Fantastic Four characters represent a different time, and a 2015 approach to the characters must represent that. An ethnically diverse family of characters, including the mixed race siblings of Jonny and Sue Storm (Kate Mara) modernizes the storyline for a new generation, and also gives a more ethnically diverse film.
It's important to remember that in any adaptation, elements of the plot or characters will be subject to change. Unless the race or gender of a certain character is instrumental to the plot or story of the source material, it can be changed in an adaptation. For example, the traditionally white character of Perry White was played by the African-American Laurence Fishburne in 2013's Man of Steel. There was also Jeffrey Wright's casting as Felix Leiter in Casino Royale. As the race of the character is not instrumental in the characters' backstory, it makes sense that actors of different races played these characters.
Of course, sometimes race is an important element in a character's backstory. An historically African character like Black Panther or a historically Hispanic character like Zorro will remain true to the source material.
However, changing up the race on an iconic character can be a major step in diversifying Hollywood, especially in such a blockbuster-driven age. It also allows for an actor to take a unique character that would've normally remained very similar to the source material.
Casting diverse actors is also a great way to change up a pre-existing series. Following the next two James Band films starring Daniel Craig (which is what he's currently contracted for), many have suggested Idris Elba should take the helm as 007. Not only would Elba's casting be a great movement forward for ethnic diversity, but it would also offer a completely different Bond than we've seen before. A steely, darker version of 007 played by Elba would be a different character than we've seen before would offer an interesting look at such an iconic character.
The film industry is facing a more diverse era, and opening up iconic roles like The Human Torch to ethnically diverse actors is a huge step forward. Source material does not always have to be identical to a film, and diversity in the casting of iconic characters is a major step forward.