A Thor of a Different Color

Apparently there’s some hullabaloo over the fact that an black actor is playing a Norse god in the Thor movie:

The casting of Elba has nothing to do with the cultural authenticity of 8th century Scandinavian seafarers, but instead hails from a mid-20th century American cinematic tradition. A few years before the sit-ins and freedom rides or the passage of the Voting Rights Act, the Viking movies produced with American stars and financing had started the march toward integration with the casting of Trinidad-born Calypso singer Edric Connor as Sandpiper in the 1958 Kirk Douglas epic “The Vikings.” However, Connor’s role in “The Vikings” is closer to a slave narrative than a berserker’s saga as he and Tony Curtis escape their Norse bondage by stealing a ship and sailing it for England. This one sequence of “The Vikings” has an alarming parallel to “The Defiant Ones,” Curtis’ other major film of 1958 where he and Sydney Poitier are chained together as they make their getaway from a brutal Southern chain gang.

During the same year that Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law, Sydney Poitier’s Moorish king in “The Long Ships” (1964) was an antagonistic equal to Richard Widmark’s Viking treasure hunter. Poitier and Widmark had already faced off from opposite sides of the color line in the tense racial drama “No Way Out” (1950), which was also Poitier’s first film. “The Long Ships” would see the two replaying this conflict only with more sword play and Viking panty raids on Portier’s harem. Although the conflict between Moor and Viking is unlikely to upset even the most bigoted “Thor” boycotter, “The Long Ships” shows a reticence on the part of producers to place Vikings in a mono-ethnic setting.

While a nice overview of racially integrated viking movies and Hollywood hiring practices, it’s immaterial.

The Mythology of Marvel’s universe is embellished, to say the least, bearing only a cursory resemblance to Norse mythology or anything else, even. Thor is a clean shaven blond, rather than a ginger with a bushy beard. He fights robots and dragons and aliens as often as he fights frost giants and trickster gods. In fact, the gods of Valhalla aren’t really gods, but sufficiently advanced aliens form another dimension, celestial beings who are thousands of years old and wield advanced weapons that just happen to look like magic hammers.

Thor hangs out with a bunch of toughs nicknamed the Warriors Three, one of which is named Hogun the Grim and is a mogul. In the current miniseries, “Fear Itself” the wielder of Skadi’s hammer is Sin, the daughter of the Red Skull, a Nazi mad scientist. So yeah. Thor is part of a wildly diverse and racially mixed universe, bearing only glancing similarity to the Norse Mythology. A revelation I know disappoints the Racists like the Concerned Citizens Clatch mightily. But tough shit. If going to see a movie will disappoint racists, looks like I have even more incentive to see Thor. And here I was going for Kenneth Branaugh and Natalie Portman.