Monday evening, it was reported that actress Kiki Layne, who gave a tremendous performance in If Beale Street Could Talk, was “actively plotting” to step into the role of Ororo “Storm” Munroe for the inevitable new X-Men franchise that will be under Disney/Marvel in a post-Disney-Fox merger world.
Immediately, Layne’s interest in portraying the X-Men mutant (and arguably the biggest female superhero in comics) was met with much enthusiasm on Twitter.
Peter Ramsey, who became the first African-American director of a major animated film in 2012 when he directed Dreamworks’ 3D-animated film Rise of the Guardians and won a Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature for Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, seemed to echo Twitter’s sentiments that Layne would be a perfect choice to play Storm.
I saw her in person at the Critics’ Choice Awards…I think she actually IS STORM
— Peter Ramsey (@pramsey342) January 14, 2019
However, actress Alexandra Shipp, Storm’s current portrayer, seemed to have a more critical response to Twitter co-signing that Layne would be an excellent choice to play Storm, as emphasized by the following tweets:
I won’t ever bad mouth a fellow actor. I won’t ever actively try to take another hard working actors job. Y’all can keep trying to pin black women against each other but it won’t work on me, honey. Stay blessed.
— Alexandra Shipp (@AlexShipppp) January 14, 2019
Black twitter is so powerful. One second we’re trying to rally and define why our lives matter, the next we’re making each other feel like we’re not worthy of one. I’ll only spread and give love, no matter what tone my skin falls under. Bless up y’all ima go back to work x
— Alexandra Shipp (@AlexShipppp) January 15, 2019
Many users interpreted Shipp’s tweets as a response to Layne’s vocal interest in playing Storm. Shipp has incurred backlash of her own regarding the role of Storm. In the comic books, Storm has always been depicted as a dark-skinned, weather-bending Kenyan-American goddess. Since taking over the part of Storm in the 2016 film X-Men: Apocalypse, Shipp, who is significantly lighter-skinned than what the character was depicted as in the comics (as was Halle Berry, who portrayed the first live-action Storm), has garnered criticism on all fronts for her tone-deaf remarks on colorism.
In a 2018 interview with Glamour, Shipp responded to the valid criticism surrounding her casting.
“I tweeted back at people who criticized me for not having dark enough skin for my role in X-Men because we’re not going to have this conversation about a cartoon character,” she said. “You’re not going to tell me that my skin color doesn’t match a Crayola from 1970. Growing up, when I was reading the comics, I pictured her looking like me. For any Black girl, for there to be a Black superhero, we picture them looking like us.”
Reducing Storm’s dark skin to “a Crayola from 1970” was viewed by many to be dismissive, and Shipp was criticized for not understanding how colorism works in Hollywood to her benefit at the expense of darker skinned actresses.
While roles for Black actresses in Hollywood are still far and few between, a closer look at casting announcements would reveal that dark-skinned Black actresses get fewer opportunities than light-skinned Black actresses. Media industries, including Hollywood, still operate by the Eurocentric standard of beauty. Therefore, colorism expressly benefits lighter-skinned actresses like Shipp and shuts out darker-skinned actresses or slows the rise of their careers.
Actresses like Viola Davis, for example, have only recently gotten their chance to shine and lead TV shows and movies, even though they’ve been acting for years. This also isn’t the first colorism controversy over the past year, as fans were criticizing the casting of Amandla Stenberg as Starr Carter in The Hate U Give even though she was depicted as darker-skinned on the book cover.
Shipp will reprise the role of Storm in Dark Phoenix, which is slated to be the final X-Men film under 20th Century Fox before the famed mutant franchise will most likely be included in Phase 4 of the MCU due to the much-publicized Disney-Fox merger. Whether this means that our fave mutants will get recast with new actors remains to be seen, but we are all but sure that they will. Fans across social media have been very vocal in their interest of seeing a dark-skinned Black actress fill Ororo Munroe’s shoes.
Apart from Layne, names being lobbied around include How to Get Away with Murder actress Aja Naomi King, Dear White People breakout star Ashley Blaine Featherson, She’s Gotta Have It star Dewanda Wise, Star standout Ryan Destiny and Layne’s Beale Street co-star Teyonah Parris.