Media Consumers for Entertainment Equality
Relativity Media is remaking the cult classic film The Crow (1994). Although this iconic story is being brought back to the silver screen, the breakthrough progress made by The Crow in terms of minority representation will not be brought back.
As part of development for the film, the studio appears to be throwing upcoming (affordable) young white male actors at the project in hopes that one of them will stick. Over the past three years, the lead role has passed through Mark Wahlberg, Bradley Cooper, Channing Tatum, Ryan Gosling, James McAvoy, and Tom Hiddleston, with the latest casting rumors floating around Alexander Skarsgard.
All of these failed casting attempts point at one direction: it looks like twenty years later, The Crow will be rebooted without a lead actor of color.
The movie version of comic book character Eric Draven was originated by actor Brandon Lee (son of legendary martial artist Bruce Lee) in the 1994 film The Crow. Lee tragically died in an on-set accident before filming was completed. Draven was later portrayed by another multiethnic Asian American actor, Mark Dacascos, in the 1998 television series The Crow: Stairway to Heaven.
The character of Eric Draven was not solely, if at all defined, by the ethnicity of the actor portraying him. This was significant to actors from communities of color, who must struggle to avoid racially stereotypic roles.
“Brandon Lee’s Eric Draven was recognizably Asian American without having a particular reason for being Asian American. Then — and now — Asian American characters in cinema often seem to require some excuse written into the script to justify their ethnicity, as if the character was only made Asian American for a reason…Sometimes it’s refreshing to see an Asian American character who can just be.” – Jenn, blogger at Reappropriate.com
In addition to Draven–easily the most iconic “Crow”–several characters of color have also assumed the “Crow” persona in the franchise, including Joshua, a Native American farmer of the Crow Nation, and Mark Leung, a Chinese detective. There have also been a number of female Crows (Amy Carlisle, Iris Shaw, Hannah Foster) in the comics and also some white male Crows in direct-to-video movies and in the novels.
[It’s interesting to note that one of the Crows, Jared Poe from The Crow: The Lazarus Heart, was a gay photographer who becomes the Crow after he is framed for the murder of his lover. Poe then seeks justice with help from his lover’s twin, Lucrece. When the plot of novel was adapted to a movie, The Crow: Salvation, all LGBTQ elements were removed, including the Crow’s sexual orientation and Lucrece’s identity as a trans woman. (“Straight-washing” didn’t help the film, which was unceremoniously dropped by it’s theatrical distributor and had to go to direct-to-home-video.)]
“While, no, the Crow doesn’t HAVE to be Asian-American, it was one of the few, if any, American entertainment series/franchise that had Asian-Americans playing the lead. There are no shortage of roles for white actors. But for Asian-Americans — especially Asian-American men — there are pretty much zero.” – comment on Racebending.com Facebook page
The Crow is a superhero persona that has been embodied by a broad array of chracters, and there is a lot of precedence for having a unique lead when adapting this diverse franchise to the movies. A studio wanting to make a The Crow movie could make a film starring a male actor of color, a woman in an action role (still pretty rare these days), or even a action movie starring a gay anti-hero with a transgender heroine–all existing Crow characters in the books.
Understandably, changes will be made to franchises as they evolve and new creative talents will emerge to play iconic roles. But it’s hard not to view the proposed casting of white actors–who already have more opportunities than non-white actors–as a regression, particularly given the significance of Lee’s casting twenty years ago and The Crow franchise’s continued willingness to break the mold with diverse characters.
Twenty years later, The Crow remake does not seem to be going against the Hollywood mold when it comes to casting. It’s a loss of opportunity and doesn’t do justice to the franchise. If the studio is having difficulty securing a white male lead to play The Crow, it should extend the casting net to a more diverse pool of actors.