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It’s no secret that Hollywood studios and the directors they employ frequently butt heads over creative decisions. From core decisions about who will work on a film to the final cut, filmmakers and executives often can’t agree on the best way to bring a movie to the big screen. Directors speak about it all the time -- but the director of Fantastic Four’s recent revelation that he was forbidden from casting a Black actress as Sue Storm has raised some bigger questions about why the studio pushed back.
Josh Trank, who directed 20th Century Fox’s Fantastic Four, recently confirmed that in addition to casting Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm, he also intended to cast a Black actress to play his sister, Sue:
I was mostly interested in a Black Sue Storm and a black Johnny Storm and a Black Franklin Storm. When you're dealing with the studio on a massive movie like that, everyone wants to keep an open mind to who the big stars are going to be.
However, the director confirmed that he received some pushback from the powers that be on this front, and the role of Sue Storm eventually went to Kate Mara. Some would argue that a Black actress wasn’t required because Sue is adopted. Despite that, Josh Trank said on The Meaning Of podcast that in retrospect, he wishes that he had made a different choice regarding Fantastic Four:
When it came down to it, I found a lot of pretty heavy pushback on casting a Black woman in that role. When I look back on that, I should have just walked when that realization hit me, just out of principal. Those aren't the values I stand for in my own life.
Josh Trank’s revelation comes at the heels of a recently revived conversation about representation in Hollywood. He is far from the only person who has spoken to changes that many feel are long overdue in the film and television industry. As Black Lives Matter protests have occurred in all 50 states this week following the death of George Floyd, several discussions have arisen about how Black actors are treated - both by studios and by their castmates - in the film and television industry.
By speaking openly about his own experience with Fantastic Four, Josh Trank has showcased just one example of a time in which Hollywood shied away from casting a person of color in a prominent role. Studios like Disney and filmmakers like J.J. Abrams have used social media to affirm their commitment to racial justice and equality. Other brands and celebrities have spoken out and donated money to organizations devoted to effecting long-lasting changes. These statements - both verbal and financial - are an important step, but it’s currently unclear whether that commitment will extend to the people they put both in front of and behind the cameras in their future projects.