The Two Rhodeys

by Ian Ridley

So, Iron Man 2. A fun, light summer action flick, which I have already had a fannish flailing over here. However, whether you loved it as madly as I did, or were as disappointed as some of my friends, there’s one thing I’m sure we can all agree on. Something unpleasant was up with that Rhodey recast.

First of all, the studio seems to have handled it quite poorly. According to an interview Terrence Howard (Iron Man 1’s Lt. Rhodes) gave to NPR, as reprinted in this article:

“It was the surprise of a lifetime,” he said. “There was no explanation. [The contract] just…up and vanished. I read something in the trades implicating that it was about money or something, but apparently the contracts that we write and sign aren’t worth the paper that they’re printed on, sometimes. Promises aren’t kept, and good faith negotiations aren’t always held up.”

According to an article over here, it seems Rhodes was recast, in large part, to save money, as well as that the studio wasn’t satisfied with Howard’s performance in the role. Of course, it’s their prerogative to recast and renegotiate as they see fit, although one always hopes they’ll approach it in a more civil way than this case seems to have been.

However, the recasting itself aside, there’s an aspect of this which I haven’t seen covered. While it’s probably not a huge issue, I couldn’t help but notice it.

Some curious photoshopping has gone on with our dear Rhodey on the official Iron Man posters. While Don Cheadle (Lt. Rhodes 2.o) is noticeably darker skinned than Howard, the two Rhodeys on the posters appear with almost the same skin tone:


In comparison, here is how they appear in their respective films:


It seems to me this is likely a subliminal marketing trick to make you believe this is the same guy you saw in the last film. Filmmakers know that audiences are prone to take recasts of their favorite characters rather hard, as happened with the Clarice recast in Hannibal. Viewers may feel betrayed, sometimes enough to boycott the sequel in question, and this may have been the producers attempt to ease us through the transition.

Now, that’s a little weird, and rather condescending to us as viewers, but, if that were the case, their intention were, if not pure, no worse than naive.

What the creators have failed to take into account, if that were the case, is that any time one alters someone’s skin tone on a computer, there are some racial issues at play. Regardless of whether those designing this poster thought about it at the time, the alteration is unfortunately reminiscent of the But Not Too Black casting approach and more offensive examples of photoshop white washing, such as this Loreal ad featuring Beyonce.

Now, I want to be clear. I’m not accusing anyone at Marvel Studios or Paramount Pictures of racism. After all, if they were somehow against a darker complexion on one of their leading men, why would they have cast Don Cheadle at all? No, all I’m saying is, while their intentions were probably innocent enough, I doubt they considered the larger historical issues they can be brought into play by such an apparently tiny thing as the computerizing altering of an actor’s appearance on a poster.

And perhaps they should’ve.

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