Another day, another crop of fans angry about a diverse casting decision.
On Thursday, Netflix announced via its social media channels that the upcoming sequel to last year’s adorable rom-com hit To All the Boy’s I’ve Loved Before had cast its most important new role. Actor Jordan Fisher will play John Ambrose McClaren, a new love interest for main character Lara Jean Covey. While a number of fans were excited about Jordan Fisher’s casting (honestly what’s not to love?) several others were immediately (and unsurprisingly) against it.
To All the Boy’s I’ve Loved Before and its upcoming sequel are based on the popular young adult book series of the same name. In the books, John Ambrose is a fun, handsome, and charming guy that Lara Jean originally knew back in middle school before they meet again as high school students.
John is described as having blonde hair and blue eyes and is presumably white. Jordan Fisher definitely comes across as fun, handsome, and charming, but he also happens to be a person of color. For some fans, this is apparently a deal breaker.
Jordan Fisher’s casting is an example of a recent (but still relatively uncommon) trend in Hollywood of casting people of color as characters who were originally white. Characters like Ashleigh Murray’s Josie and Camila Mendes’ Veronica in Riverdale and Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie in Thor Ragnarok add some much-needed diversity to an entertainment landscape that’s still overwhelmingly white.
In all of these cases, however, many fans have been quick to respond negatively, their argument being that changing a character’s race is too much of a deviation from the source material. Of course, these are the same fans who will often excuse plenty of other adaptational changes.
With the Jordan Fisher casting news, much of the fan backlash has been focused on the fact that another actor briefly played John Ambrose in the first film. This first actor, Jordan Burchett, is white.
A quick survey of the comment section under the Netflix casting announcement will reveal plenty of posts from fans claiming that Jordan Burchett was the “perfect” choice to play John Ambrose.
This response makes little sense for a number of reasons. For one, Jordan Burchett was in the movie for all of a second, appearing only in the film’s mid-credits scene, and with barely a full line of dialogue. No offense to Burchett, but this is hardly enough time to form any real opinion of his performance, let alone decide that he is “a perfect match” for John Ambrose’s character.
What’s more, while many fans made a fuss about John Ambrose originally having blonde hair and blue eyes, Burchett doesn’t seem to have either of these features. Burchett’s hair is dark, and his eyes don’t appear to be blue.
So, if we don’t really know much of anything about Burchett’s potential performance as John Ambrose and his defining features don’t match the descriptions in the book, then what exactly made him such a “perfect” choice? Why is it okay to change his hair and eye color, yet his race is just one step too far?
Looking at the controversy around Jordan Fisher’s casting, it’s hard not to think about the times when fans seemed to be completely fine when the roles were reversed and characters that were originally people of color were played by white actors.
When Scarlett Johannsson was cast to play the originally Japanese lead in 2017’s Ghost in the Shell, many fans rushed to her defense. In the 2013 film Warm Bodies, the character Nora, a close friend of the main character, was played by a white actress, despite the fact that the character was black in the book that the film was adapted from.
Even the Hunger Games series is guilty of this to some extent, with Katniss Everdeen described as “olive-skinned” in the original novels, a descriptor that doesn’t quite fit the white and blonde Jennifer Lawrence. (And this is to say nothing of the controversy that occurred when Amandla Stenberg was cast as Rue, a character who many readers apparently didn’t realize was described as black in the books.)
As much as these fans would like to pretend that their issue with casting a person of color is simply a question of staying true to the source material, it’s clear that there’s something deeper going on here.
This kind of thing happens all the time, and honestly, it’s just exhausting to watch these fans tie themselves into knots, trying to find ways to justify their issue with casting people of color in these roles. Because when it comes to the point where even your “perfect” casting choice doesn’t fit the original description of the character, save for his skin color, it’s time to really ask yourself why you’re so offended.