Among the controversies surrounding the upcoming-ish film New Mutants has been the casting of Henry Zaga as mutant Sunspot. During an interview, director Josh Boone was asked about the choice, and his words were less than satisfactory for many fans.
In the comics, Roberto da Costa, a.k.a. Sunspot, is a Brazilian mutant with an Afro-Brazilian father and a white mother. The character’s origin story includes being the victim of a racial attack that activates his mutant abilities.
io9 writer Charles Pulliam-Moore spoke with Boone and directly asked him about the criticism that has been brought against the film for casting Henry Zaga to play Roberto.
“It’s like my thing was my goal was to cast a real Brazilian and I saw 300 of myself black, brown, lighter-skinned,” Boone said. “My goal was to find the best actor who, because they’ve done so little work, was at least the closest to kind of what I saw in my head for the character. There was nobody who hold a candle to Henry. It’s like maybe if Henry didn’t exist, I would have found somebody who was darker skinned who exemplified what I needed. But it was never about the color of their skin for me.”
The deep sigh that came out of my mouth.
Pulliam-Moore followed up by asking, ” Did that just not fit into your vision for Roberto’s story in the film?”
“I didn’t care so much about the racism I’ve heard about in Brazil, about light-skinned versus dark-skinned,” Boone responded. “To me, it was I wanted to represent Brazil in a positive way and I wanted to find somebody who seems like he could look like a guy who’s had the silver spoon in his mouth, who has like a really rich dad and [Henry] just exemplified all these things.”
He added, “I sort of defy anybody who wants to say that Henry’s not a good Roberto simply because he’s lighter-skinned.”
There is so much to unpack here, and I think that Boone wants to say his choices are simply based on Zaga’s talent (no one is arguing whether he is talented or not), but everything in how he expresses his rationale hints at a cultural ignorance he was just not interested in unpacking.
He wanted to cast a “real Brazilian” and didn’t care about the racism in Brazil, even though it was literally part of how the character’s powers activated. So his vision of a “real Brazil” meant ignoring something that is a serious part of the reality of the character. Also, he then says he wanted to find the kind of guy who looks like he has a “rich dad,” and that meant picking … a white guy?
This issue surrounding Sunspot is beyond just this film, because even in the comics, you can see his skin complexion and phenotype changing over time towards a lighter-skinned, more Eurocentric design, which is an erasure in itself. At the root of this constant erasure of Sunspot’s Blackness is ultimately the idea that it doesn’t matter to the people at Marvel (unless it’s Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod, who created and colored the original darker-skinned version), so until that changes, we will have these lighter and whiter versions of Sunspot.
(via io9, image: Marvel)
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