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.