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Marvel Actually Listens to Outcry Over “Runaways” Casting Call

27 Aug 2010

Thanks to numerous petitions spearheaded by and Asian-American advocacy groups, Marvel Studios has corrected its casting call for the prominent role of Japanese character Nico Minoru in its 2012 film adaptation of the comic series Runaways.

Though Minoru (pictured left) — the Goth-styled teenager leader of her ensemble mutant team — is featured on the cover of the comic’s first issue, the original casting description still conveniently forewent her Asian heritage.

On August 5, race advocacy website noticed the breakdown for a character assumed to be Nico’s had curiously failed to mention her ethnicity. The description for the male leader character Alex Wilder, conversely, noted explicitly that he was African American:

Boy 1: Very smart, natural leader, in need of a father figure
Male, African American, must play 16-18
Must be at least 16 by January 2011
(Name not listed, assumed to be casting call for Alex Wilder)

Minoru’s breakdown, however, read as follows:

Girl 1: Uniquely beautiful, nurturing but guarded
Female, must play 16-18
Must be at least 16 by January 2011
(Name not listed, assumed to be casting call for Nico Minoru)

At the time, Racebending’s Marissa Lee wrote:

A Hollywood agent trawling casting breakdowns for an Asian American client would not likely stumble upon this role that is tailor-made for an Asian American breakout star. It certainly doesn’t sound like Marvel is prioritizing actresses of color in this search. And readers of know that just recently, unclear and biased casting calls for The Last Airbender led to the erasure of characters’ ethnicities and reinforced Hollywood’s glass ceilings for lead roles.

Consequently, the website — supported by the Media Action Network for Asian Americans and other advocacy groups — directed phone calls and e-mails to Marvel Studios’ corporate communication department, Walt Disney Studios‘ Multicultural Initiatives division, and the Runaways production itself, voicing their concern.

Unlike Paramount and their botched attempt to disregard “racebending” concerns over their adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender, however, Marvel graciously acquiesced in a letter dated August 26:

Thank you for reaching out regarding your concerns over Marvel’s recent casting notice for THE RUNAWAYS. We appreciate your interest in our production and with Marvel Entertainment.

To address your concern over casting for the role of Nico, as we do with all of our films, we intend to stay true to the legacy and story of the comic when casting these parts. Thus, our goal is to cast an Asian American actress as depicted in the comic series and the casting notice will be adjusted accordingly.

We thank you again for your correspondence and the opportunity to clarify our process.

Marvel Studios

Since then, the open call has been amended on to read “Female, Asian-American, must play 16-18.” According to Lee, “[] felt [Marvel was] very open to feedback from the Asian American community.”

Somebody ought to teach the likes of Paramount and Columbia (specifically, the team behind 21) how you properly adapt properties: You honor them, and you engage with the dedicated fanbase, who often knows best.

Every savvy marketing department knows this. The willingness to negotiate with the niche audience is a trend we’ve seen succeed more often in the television department. The heavy writer-fan engagement throughout the production of Lost, for example, led to plot tweaks — including the untimely deaths of the much loathed characters, Nikki and Paulo. Especially when tackling a series praised for its diverse team of “African American and Japanese American team leaders, a girl who has a BMI above 20, a Latino Catholic, and lesbian and genderqueer characters,” Marvel’s decision to listen closely was a wise one.

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