Last week amidst all the wrong in the world, a really seemingly terrible thing struck at the hearts and conscience of the American people. Ben Affleck had been chosen to don the cape and cowl of Batman, Gotham City’s Caped Crusader. The Internet became an angry beehive of the negative commentary aimed solely at the two-time Oscar winner. If you were to cruise through the Twittersphere, Facebook and all the various websites, you would have witnessed the righteous anger of a mob wanting blood for what many comic and films fans alike-considered blasphemy.
But why? Does it even matter?
Sure it matters. To most of us comic fans, Batman is the hero of heroes. He has been a part of most our daily lives since the 60s when Adam West Bat-danced his way into the imaginations of the American public. He has taken on different looks through the years, some good some bad, but for all of us who collects the comics, action figures and support the films, whoever plays the Dark Knight is extremely personal and important.
You don't need to tell Natives how it feels to have the wrong person playing your heroes — and I'm not even talking about Johnny Depp attempting to reinvent Tonto (who wasn't anyone's hero to begin with). But maybe if we'd had the internet back in the day, we could have kicked up a fuss over Victor Mature as Crazy Horse (in Chief Crazy Horse, 1955) or Chuck Connors as Geronimo (Geronimo, 1962). These were not comic-book heroes, dreamed up by writers and artists — these were real, American Indian heroes.
But Hollywood felt if you threw a little face paint on a man, and got him to be either stoic or a screaming banshee, that the movie audience would accept them as Indians. The sad thing is for the most part they did.
With these pathetic dime store costumes, we were portrayed as looting, murdering savages who had no honor. The perfect faceless villain in an era of the all-shiny cowboy, we were red men out for the red blood of the hero. And although none of the events that were ever shown was what really happened, that is how many, thanks to the images on the silver screen, viewed us.
Later on, as people became more sensitive to our proper representation, producers, directors, studios started casting more Natives. We would start seeing Natives as the heroes, and less and less as the villains. This was a huge deal. No more bad costumes, no more fringe, and accents, we were now being seen as some of the good guys and no one is happier for that than I.
My mom likes to tell the story of the time she told me that I am Native. I was little, maybe three or four years old. I remember we were sitting in a parking lot, waiting for my dad, when she dropped the huge bomb on me. “Jeffrey” my mom said lovingly, “Do you know that you are an Indian?” When those words left my mom’s lips, I was stunned, and scared poopless. You see, I had watched all those old cowboy-and-Indian films as a child. My dad was — is — white, so I thought his job was that he was a cowboy, and I had a three-year-old's perception of what a cowboy does. A cowboy kills the bad guys — who were Indians, thanks to TV. My response was a whispered ”Don’t tell Dad” as I thought for sure he would shoot me. Lucky for me, my dad was a crane operator, and not the town sheriff.
It’s a funny story, but sad as well. No one should have to fear for their safety or feel any shame from someone else’s ideas of who or what they should be. So although the casting of who will be the next Batman, may seem trivial to some, to others it is a powerful reminder, that the things we love, the way we want to see things portrayed are extremely important. A reminder that perception goes a long way in creating or negating reality. That what we see on our film screens and TV sets better be well thought out and properly executed. We don’t need any more three-year-olds thinking their dads may be out to gun them down because they were born villains.
As for Ben Affleck as Batman, here is my thought, if you are interested. My initial response was negative and quite salty. But after sleeping on it, I awoke with a new perspective. Warner Brothers, Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder, I feel, are far from stupid. Is it possible for any one of them to make a mistake? Sure. But all three, at the same time? No way. I think Ben most likely tried on the costume, read some script, stood next to Henry Cavill and proved to them he could be Batman. Plus, Ben Affleck is not the same actor he was in his “Bennifer” days, No more Gigli or Reindeer Games — his track record in the past 6 years shows how much he has grown. I say give him a chance, as I think he’ll kill it as Bruce Wayne/Batman, showing us all he was the right man for the right job all long.
Jeffrey Veregge, Port Gamble S'Klallam, is a graphic designer and lifelong comic book fan based in Seattle. To see examples of his Native/superhero art, read the ICTMN story "Superheroes Meet Native Design in Jeffrey Veregge's Work" or visit his personal site, jeffreyveregge.com.