Michelle Rodriguez's comments heat up racial diversity debate

Racial diversity is a major issue in Hollywood, with so many major blockbusters dominated by white men. Fast and Furious actor Michelle Rodriguez recently shared some controversial thoughts on the casting of minorities in these movies.

TMZ recently asked Rodriguez if she was interested in playing the Green Lantern in DC's upcoming reboot. Rodriguez responded by saying she thought it was ridiculous for minorities to be cast as white superhero characters. "Stop stealing all the white people’s superheroes," she said. "Make up your own."

Rodriguez came under a lot of fire, with fans taking these comments as meaning she was in support of keeping Hollywood dominated by white actors and not trying to diversify.

Rodriguez later clarified her statement on Facebook, saying that she put her foot in her mouth and that her comment was taken out of context. She clarified that she thinks it's silly to try to change superheroes to fit different actors, like turning a guy into a girl or a white character into a black character. Instead, she said that we should develop new minority characters rather than adapting existing characters to be played by minorities. "I think that people should stop being lazy and make an effort to develop their own mythology," she said.

So Rodriguez definitely isn't saying she doesn't think minority actors should play superheroes. Instead, she's more in support of developing new superhero characters for minorities to play rather than changing the mythology of existing characters.

Rodriguez has a point in that there is definitely a lot of mythology from other cultures that could be explored on screen, and it would be nice to see more of that in Hollywood movies.

On the other hand, is there really anything that wrong with changing the ethnicity of a character when their ethnicity isn't really important? Nick Fury is a white man in the Marvel comics but is played by Samuel L. Jackson in the movies. Can you even imagine any other actor playing Fury at this point? If Jackson had not been cast simply because the character needs to be white, we would have not only not been fostering more racial diversity in Hollywood, we would also be missing out on an incredible performance just because the actor happens to look different than the original character did.

This issue has come up recently with talks of the new Spider-Man reboot, and the rumor that the new Spider-Man would not be white, according to Slashfilm. The thinking is that Marvel might instead adapt the Miles Morales as Spider-Man storyline where Spider-Man is a black man. This is a little different because it wouldn't be turning Peter Parker black but rather having a totally different person be Spider-Man, but it's the same basic idea. Is there any real problem with this? Is being white really important to the Spider-Man character whatsoever? By deciding that Spider-Man must always be white, we'd be avoiding greater racial diversity in Hollywood, missing out on a potentially great performance from a black actor who might be perfect as Spider-Man, and we'd be avoiding an opportunity to try something fresh and new with the character.

So Rodriguez is really more taking issue with the lack of creativity in Hollywood rather than having a problem with racial diversity, but it still does strike a common debate about "racebending" in Hollywood movies.

Racial diversity is definitely a serious issue in Hollywood. A recent study found that ethnic minorities, despite making up 40 percent of the U.S. population, were cast in only 17 percent of lead roles in Hollywood films, according to NPR.

With that in mind, should we encourage the casting of minority actors as characters who were originally white if they're right for the part? Or instead of casting a black actor as spider-Man or a Latina woman as Green Lantern, should we focus on creating totally new minority characters instead?

photo via Walter McBride/INFPhoto.com

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