There's been a debate raging in the heart of cyberspace about how classic comic-book characters should be depicted on the silver screen. The term race-bending is bandied about quite often in online debates. One group believes there is never justification to alter a hero's race. While the opposing view is that these characters should reflect today's society which is more inclusive of minority groups.
Enter Jason Mamoa who rose to fame by portraying Kal Drago on the hit series Game of Thrones on HBO. Mamoa is of Pacific Islander and German descent. Pacific Islanders are a very small group with a population of only about 1.3 million being counted as U.S. citizens (according to a 2015 census poll). Mamao is a proud member of this small group.
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When Jason Mamoa took on the role of Aquaman he brought his cultural background to the role. And quite frankly, Aquaman is all the better for this. The Pacific Islander culture is often associated with seafaring and they are regarded as warrior tribes. When we think of their group, we often associate them with ocean. Whether these are just simplified stereotypes is up for debate but these images are ingrained into the mass consciousness.
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I thoroughly enjoyed the Aquaman movie and looking back on it, Jason Mamoa playing Arthur Curry makes as much sense as Chadwick Boseman playing T’challa. It connects the character to something real that would be missing if a non-Pacific Islander took the role. It’s a prime argument for why altering a character’s ethnic background is sometimes necessary to get more out of that character. This is the much maligned “race-bending” done to the utmost benefit of the source material.
The box office agrees as well. Aquaman has just passed 1 billion dollars worldwide. Audiences seem to be eager to embrace these slight changes made to the character. Aquaman is a great film with terrific action scenes and relatable characters. With this film following up Wonder Woman, it’s good to finally see the DCEU on the right track.
Thomas K Davis
Author of the Versatile Layer series of books