Mar 052011

Morgan Freeman made a great God in Bruce Almighty.  He had an aura of gravitas and wisdom and kindness.  You believed he was an all-powerful deity, and it mattered not one jot whether he was of African descent, or Chinese, or Indian.  He was just God.

But that’s God, for you —  if you can believe in a universal divinity, you can believe he’s any race you choose.

Now, Heimdall is a deity as well, so you might be wondering why I think Morgan Freeman worked well as God, but at the same time consider Idris Elba to be woefully miscast in Thor.

Simple.  Thor is a Norse god, and Norse gods have certain boxes to tick, not least of which is the requirement to be Norse.  Like it or not, it’s part of the job description.  It’s also a requirement for Heimdall to be male, which is why nobody suggested casting Beyoncé in the role, or Christina Aguilera.  Or Lady Gaga.

You’re looking for the right physical attributes to make the character believable.  Do you remember Pete ‘n’ Dud’s Tarzan sketch?

Now, Mr. Spigott, I couldn’t help noticing almost at once that you are a one-legged person.

You noticed that?

I noticed that, Mr. Spigott. When you’ve been in the business as long as I have you come to notice these things almost instinctively. Now, Mr. Spigott, you, a one-legged man, are applying for the role of Tarzan — a role which, traditionally, involves the use of a two-legged actor

Do I think  black actors should be cast as Scandinavians?  Yes I do.  There are plenty of black Swedes, Norwegians and Danes in the modern world, and they should be played by black actors.  Furthermore, Idris Elba is a tremendous actor and I love what he did in The Wire. The thing is, while I fully realise that Idris has two legs, Heimdall is a blond, blue-eyed goddam Viking!  There are no Chinese Vikings. There are no Maori Vikings.  There are no French Vikings.  No Mexican Vikings.  And there are no African Vikings.

We used to laugh at the ridiculous make-up the studios slapped on actors to make them look like Apaches and Commanches, until the studios  started using real Indians to play Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull.  That wasn’t racism and it wasn’t even political correctness.  It was just common sense.

That’s all.  It isn’t a race thing.  It’s a question of what works.  Casting Idris Elba in the role of a Viking is as ludicrous as John Wayne playing a Roman centurion.  Awe, surely this man is the son of God.

It’s the same reason Morgan Freeman wouldn’t have made a great Winston Churchill, and I don’t think he’d work as Chairman Mao or Stalin either.  Matt Damon wouldn’t be your first choice to play Muhammad Ali and you probably wouldn’t hire Dolph Lundgren to play Idi Amin just as you wouldn’t cast Arnold Schwarzenegger as Nelson Mandela.

I can’t see Kenneth Branagh selecting Brad Pitt to play an African god.


It’s all about the optics.

Why am I saying this?  After all, it won’t interfere with my enjoyment of the film, and some people would probably say this is just nitpicking.  Perhaps it is, but I think the details in a movie are everything.

Others have already been wheeling out accusations of racism against anyone daring to question the choice of actor, thereby distracting attention from the real racists, who object Elba’s selection on purely race grounds.

I just  think he’s a bad choice for the role.






The Guardian

  32 Responses to “Controversy Over Kenneth Branagh Casting Idris Elba As Heimdall in “Thor””

Comments (32)

    Heimdall has his own story in nordic sagas. He is a god alright, but he is more a guardian of the gods than one of the boys. He is according to mythology “born at the edge of the world by nine mothers” who represent all the seas far and near. Furthermore he is called the “father of all mankind” and “related to all peoples”.
    To cast an actor of African origin is not that far fetched, I think. It could be seen as a reference to his title as “father of all mankind”, since the origins of mankind are according to science in Africa.
    It’s a typical Brannagh intellectual thing, not too obvious to people who don’t know the details of nordic or germanic mythology, perhaps.
    But sure, in a movie with Viking gods you expect blond hair and red beards and blue eyes.


    I’m looking forward to Claudia Schiffer’s life story. I hear Bjork got the lead role.


    Claudia Schiffer/Bjork.. haha. Bjork being the better looking one.
    Bock we’ll just have to suspend our disbelief. Just pretend Thor went to Costa Dela Majaloof for a few weeks before filming.


    Thanks for the Pete n’ Dud piece. Peter Cook was undoubtedly the best of that bunch


    Morgan Freeman is particularly interesting. Not only did he quite successfully play god in two different fillums, but he also played ‘Red’ in Shawshank Redemption, who was written in the novel as a ginger-bonced irish dude; (you may remember when Andy asks Freeman’s character why they call him Red and he replies, “Maybe it’s because I’m Irish,” )

    Also in Clint Eastwoods’ masterpiece, ‘Unforgiven’ there is no mention of the fact that Morgan Freeman’s character is a black man, by anyone at any time, which made me wonder if this character was originally conceived as a Caucasian too. I remember the first time I saw it, I found it a little jarring that all these rootin’-tootin’ Cowboys, hunt, capture, torture and kill a black man without ever letting a single racial slur escape their lips. But upon reflection I thought, actually this is the way to do things, and Clint did right.

    I think that It’s good for us to see stories where race is not an issue, even if that is historically or mythologically inaccurate; it helps to remind us what an arbitrary load of crap race is at the end of the day.


    Sure why not give a go and see how it turns out.

    I remember seeing Patrick Stewart (astonishingly good btw)play Othello years ago with an otherwise all black cast. There was a bit of harrumphing,tut-tutting and even a poo-pooing or two from certain quarters at the time but I just loved the approach.

    A good tale very well told.


    Sorry, I just don’t see the problem. I’m not being PC but I can’t visualise it as a problem.

    He’s an actor. He does pretending. You know – Sir Ian, Gandalf, Sir Ian – kind of thing. Pretty well, from what I’ve seen.

    And a Norse God is not a million miles away from a Baltimore Gangster.


    Speaking of Morgan Freeman have you seen his ‘chain of command’ roles?


    Call me old-fashioned, but I’m not engaged by European guys playing Samurais or Fijians in the role of the Three Musketeers. Somehow, it just doesn’t work for me.

    I suppose Jean-Luc used the Universal Translator.


    Being old-fashioned is ok, but being not open-minded is not.

    Why, for example, is it ok when god in form of Morgan Freeman is speaking American English? Are all gods and heros Americans? Shouldn’t you complain about this as well?

    A good actor can impersonalise everyone and everything. As in the example of Morgan Freeman you don’t see anymore the skin colour because the actor is convincing. It’s about personality and art not about race.

    By the way I’ve seen Denzel Washington as Don Pedro in Kenneth Brannagh’s “Much ado about nothing”. I remember that I didn’t even notice that Don Pedro was black, because Washington was all Shakespearean and simply brilliant.

    And as for Björk playing Claudia Schiffer: If Björk really is a gifted actress, which I don’t know, it could actually work if she can go into the personality of a supposedly beautiful but essentially nondescript blonde. You can act blonde and beautiful. Really. You can even act dark-haired and fiery while being fair and friendly.

    Maybe we should all just wait and watch the film and then judge if the black guy (who’s name I’ve never heard before) can actually pull off the role of a nordic god.

    Nordic gods are dark by nature anyway. All thunder and hammer and death and black souls.


    To answer your point about Americans:

    By the way, why do you see this post as a complaint?


    Qf course its political correctness gone mad (but whats new!!).I wonder what the reaction would be if whites complained about all the Zulus in Zulu dawn being black!!.And as kids get much of their history education from such films its important that they get a somewhat accurate historical perspective and see the world through the eyes of the people who were there in that period of history


    Sorry William but I can’t accept that the ‘accurate-historical-re-enactment-for-the-sake-of-the-children’ argument carries much weight when the story depicted is a mythological one, and the mythology itself is via Marvel Comics.


    I suspect the Vikings were rather more racially diverse than the 19th Century stereotype we inherited. They got about a bit, as traders as well as raiders, even down as far as Byzantium. And their dating strategies, were, well shall we say ‘robust’.


    I think Idris Alba is a very good choice, Bit like the way John Malkovich has a cultivated evil presence, Idris has that cultivated power /pain mix , I think he will do it justice and for Brannagh it’s a great move manipulating myth.


    I’m looking forward to it. Great fun.

    By the way, has anyone seen Danny de Vito’s Michael Collins? Outstanding.


    I just saw it in the New Release section in Moviedrome next to Bjork’s latest project:
    “The inspiring true story of a Model who rises to the top,
    despite her average looks and lack of personality,
    through a series of fiendishly clever manipulations”

    it’s called “Schiffer brains”

    Seriously tho’ Bock,-comparing this casting decision to the one-legged Tarzan sketch; you can see how maybe it’s possible that this post might just be interpreted as a complaint about it.
    The idea we have in our heads of Vikings is of course big ‘n’ blonde, but the idea we have in our heads also includes horned helmets and they never wore them either. This fillum is only a fillum; based loosely on a comic, based even more loosely on a legend and ‘the realm of the Gods’ is sure to be depicted as an alternative universe anyway. Once you have the alternative universe thing going on I say anything goes. DeVito’s the perfect choice to play ‘the Big Fellow’ in an alternative universe, after all, he was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s twin brother in this one.


    Darren – You know full well that I’m aware of all these implications. It’s important to get a dialogue going.


    This is all very silly.

    See this is a movie based on Marvel’s Thor comics. In the comics, gods are space beings from another dimension. Asgard had a shopping mall and looked a little something like this.

    You can thank Jack Kirby for that. To even be splitting hairs over the casting of a movie based on a fifty-something year old comic book character, written and drawn by two New Yorkers, while referring to the Eddas seems…pointless? Almost like complaining that the dialogue is faux-Shakespearian English (why they’re ‘Norse gods!’) and the main character is an Australian.

    In addition audiences should be grateful just to see Idris Elba in anything. I’d happily watch him read a phone book to camera.


    Somnopolis:That link seems a bit dodgy: I presume this is the picture you meant though.
    *directions to shopping centre, bottom right-hand corner.


    Darren, cheers for that, yeah that’s the one.


    If the movie was actually about Vikings and their gods instead of Marvel’s take on the whole thing, then yes, having Elba cast as Heimdall would be as ridiculous as a blonde haired, blue eyed, pallid Jesus.

    “Nordic gods are dark by nature anyway. All thunder and hammer and death and black souls.” Just as Zulus are by their nature white. Purety of spirit and all that.


    “…as ridiculous as a blonde haired, blue eyed, pallid Jesus.”

    As seen in nearly every religious painting?


    Just as ridiculous. I touched briefly on that subject ,here.


    “As seen in nearly every religious painting?”



    Also mentioning Morgan Freeman in the opening paragraph only serves to remind us that he also played Red in the Shawshan Redemption, who was originally written as a red-haired Irish man by Stephen King.

    Not that it mattered a whit.


    I don’t think a character in a Stephen King novel has the same status as an entire mythology, even if that mythology is filtered through the prism of a comic series. Ultimately, I’m sure Elba will be excellent in the role and the film will make a cracking yarn, but that isn’t the point of the post.


    With any luck. Branagh is in his ‘work-for-hire’, mode and can be pretty hit and miss at times as a result. You’re right though, this is just a big summer blockbuster, with explosions aplenty, based on a superhero comic book. Frankly people who a) never read the comics, starting with ‘Journey Into Mystery’, all the way back in ’62 and b) don’t go in for the current glut of summer superhero films, shouldn’t care.

    In fact there are exactly two groups of people who got really hot and bothered by the news of Elba’s casting: pedantic internet comic book fanboys and racists*. You are neither, so why are we talking about this again?



    Youre right. I’m neither of those things. Therefore, it’s incorrect to say that these are the only people talking about it.


    Watched it last night, prompted, in part by this very post— get on to the Omniplex Bock: you deserve a commision.
    Not the worst flick. Elba was grand. Got me thinkin’ , I think the real reason that this casting never bothered me was there was never much of the real viking to Marvel Thor anyway.


    I always thought it would be an enjoable yarn. Sometimes it’s good to raise a question and see how people respond.


    Saw this the other night, in 3D.
    T’was good!
    Thor was a bit of a fine thing..
    Anthony Hopkins was great as Odin..
    I’d say there’ll be a sequel.. “where Odin will get the girl” ha.

    Trailors showed ‘Captain America- The First Avenger’ will be out soon..
    And an X-men prequel.

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