‘The Dark Tower’: Will Idris Elba Make a Good Roland?

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DarkTower-ElbaI’ve written about the upcoming Dark Tower films and series before, and I’ll say again that I am looking forward to it more than anything else Hollywood is doing, including new Star Wars movies. The latest announcement about the possibility of Idris Elba being cast as Roland has now left me torn about my feelings, but not for the reason it is bothering a lot of people.

I started reading The Dark Tower at just the right age for it to make a lasting impression–I was 13 and had recently found Stephen King. After having devoured a dozen or so of his books, I stumbled upon The Gunslinger. Having not grown up with Tolkien or C.S. Lewis, I’d not been exposed to a grand saga like this before, and it was totally unlike any of his other work. I quickly moved on to The Drawing of the Three and then, like everyone else, patiently waited for the next volume in the series. Luckily for me, that was a wait of only a year for The Waste Lands. I looked forward to and snatched up every volume in the series after that and loved every page of every book. I’ve re-read the series countless times since then as well.

So why am I torn about the Elba casting? Yes, he is a great actor. And, yes, I think he totally has the gravitas and swagger to pull off being Roland. Seriously, look at that photo and compare it to Roland. He can be Roland. I don’t care one bit that King spent a, some might say, inordinate amount of time talking about exactly what Roland looked like with his blue eyes. That doesn’t matter to me at all any more than I cared when Susan Heyward was cast as Denna Pilgrim for Powers or when Michael B. Jordan was cast as Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four. I don’t care about the color of an actor playing a character when they can pull of the character well. And in my opinion, Heyward and Jordan did amazing jobs of capturing the characters they were playing.

The difference, to me, is that neither of those character’s races ever mattered to the storyline. Even though I had my own dream casting for Powers when it was first announced that did feature a white, blonde Deena Pilgrim, Deena’s race is never integral to her story or her interaction with other characters. However, in the Dark Tower series, Roland’s being a symbol of white male privilege (even on his own world he’s a white male born into a white male patriarchy with royal lineage) to Detta/Odetta/Susannah is a HUGE part of the story. Yes, they could absolutely change that part of the story so that it makes more sense with the casting, but should they?

Growing up as a young white male, although I was less privileged than a lot of my friends, with white male privilege, The Dark Tower was actually some of my first real exposure to race relation and civil rights issues. And in 2015, when #BlackLivesMatter needs to be a thing, and when crazies talk about a “white genocide” happening in Hollywood, these things still need to be taught and discussed and sometimes entertainment is the only place the general public will digest these discussions. I’d hate to see the evolution of Susannah and the relationship between her others and Eddie and Roland removed from the story because I think it’s such an important topic to keep in.

If they do cast Elba, and I’ll say again that I think he could do a great job as Roland (though I’d much rather see him as Bond), I hope they can find a way to keep the story mostly intact, but I’m just not seeing how they could and that’s what’s left me torn.

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59 thoughts on “‘The Dark Tower’: Will Idris Elba Make a Good Roland?

  1. Sorry, but Roland is a White guy who has a most interesting interaction with Detta Walker because of how much she hates him just for being white. Changing Roland to a Black man very much changes the storyline.

    1. Back to my original posts point, it is because it would alter the storyline too much changing Roland’s ethnicity that I oppose doing so. Now that I know what whitewashing claims are, I also don’t agree with the examples being given as being an important storyline change by having White actors playing roles of people of color, especially Latino which is still considered White.

      I had no issues with Will Smith’s portrayal of James West. In fact, I really enjoyed the change even though I was a major Wild Wild West fan. A Black James Bond? No problem. James Bond, 007 is more of a title so ethnicity doesn’t change the storyline. It is only because so much of the storyline of the Dark Tower revolves around Roland’s Whiteness that causes my opposing his ethnicity be changed.

      Those whining about racism simply have no rational argument, so they pull the hateful racism card. This is not about racism, it is about pertinent ethnicity. For those who whine about the “whitewashing” of person’s of color, how about originally White characters who were played by actors of color?

      http://www.toptenz.net/10-non-white-actors-played-previosly-white-characters.php

      1. As someone who has read the series 10+ times, I can’t see Detta Walker not calling Roland ‘white bread’ or demeaning him and Eddie for being white. I can also find over 100 references to Roland being white. The worst thing that could happen to this movie is to deter from basic facts. In his notes, even Steven King wrote that the gunslinger was written with physical characteristics something of himself. Personally, I’d go with Hugh Laurie’s bullshooter blue eyes and cold demeanor in acting skills but what do I know except I know the books and Susannah loses personality if her dinh is also black. No prejudice; just truth.

  2. I disagree. Detta hates Roland 1) because he has exerted power and authority over her by snatching her from New York into Mid-World, 2) because he’s a man, and 3) because he’s white. In my mind (and after having re-read the saga again this fall), Roland’s being white is a distant third.

    Assuming the Powers that Be cast a white actor to play Eddie, you can still get you “honky muh-fuh” in the story. In fact, it is Eddie’s race that is more important to Susannah’s relationships in the story than Roland’s because Susannah is able to get past her own prejudices and fall in love with a white Eddie that says more about Susannah’s changing perspective, not her relationship with Roland.

    The fact that Roland does come from Gilead’s elite AND looks like her opens up more storytelling opportunities than trying to stay slavishly faithful to the source material, which is a fool’s errand at best and a potential for disaster at worst. I think that this turn of ka’s wheel and this version of the quest cycle opens up the story to all sorts of interpretations. With that in mind, cast the best actors for the roles to tell the (slightly altered) story.

    1. I do agree with everything you said, and, like I mentioned, if they can change the story in a meaningful way without breaking the relationship I think he’ll do a great job. Movie adaptations of King’s work have been so hit or miss though that I’m worried and skeptical. You can bet I’ll be there on opening night no matter what 🙂

    2. Bull shit. She hates all white people. It makes that very clear in the books, which you obviously haven’t read.

      1. I have to agree that Detta’s hatred is for White people in general. Detta/Odetta is such an interesting character because of her extreme inner conflicts. With Detta’s extreme hatred for Whites, quite justifiable because of her vicious attacks by a White man, I could not see how she was ever going to be salvaged in the story. King pulled the old “love conquers all” card and played it very well. Without the racist conflict between Detta and Roland, a huge part of the story needs to be completely changed.

    3. I won’t see it if Roland is black, plain and simple. Am I racist? No. Do I believe in the new fascism that pretends to represent racial justice? Hell no. If they’re going to make plot changes, start with the demon sex or the lobstrocities. Those were stupid.

      1. I will most likely give it a try if Elba plays Roland, but I will need to convince myself it just is not the same story. I tried to watch Under the Dome with that attitude, but just could not get past how badly the core storyline was bastardized. Hopefully, if Elba plays Roland, they will just make it a movie loosely based on The Dark Tower.

        1. All indications I just found doing searches on this production are that Elba is going to be Roland. I changed my mind; I’ll just skip watching this one and be content with the books. I’m not quite as bad as Sheldon, but I don’t deal well with this much change of something I like so much.

    4. Maybe they’ll satisfy the racial component by making Detta a white woman from Alabama. Then her distrust of Roland will fit the more progressive views of racism. Then they could make her redeemed only when she gives up on her racist views.

      That would be perfectly progressive. I just came.

  3. I think casting a black Roland will do much more to reform a whitewashed Hollywood than pointing at a white Roland and saying ‘but don’t you see how *privileged* he is?’ The former says ‘all roles are up for grabs; there are no sacred whites-only cows here’; the latter is more ‘well, d’uh, of course he is – he’s a white male’.

    1. Whitewashed? What does that even mean? Roland Deschain was written as a White guy, played up as a White guy in the storyline and deliberately interacted with Black characters as a White guy. I don’t need being reformed, I want to enjoy one of my favorite stories as it was originally told.

      Would it be ok for some White guy to play Django, Uncle Tom or Martin Luther King Jr.? There are some characters who their ethnicity is too much a part of the storyline to just go changing them into some other ethnicity.

      1. ‘Whitewashed’ means – and I know you’re perfectly well aware of this – the use of white actors to play non-white roles, all the time, everywhere. Tonto. Khan. Tiger Lilly. The co-founder of Facebook. The Asian-American team that beat casinos through card counting. Johnny Rico. Here’s a list: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_films_featuring_whitewashed_roles

        No, it would not be OK for some white guy to play Django, Uncle Tom or Martin Luther King Jnr, because that would be whitewashing, and I thought I made it pretty clear I think that’s a bad thing. You might say ‘oh, but it’s not fair if people of colour can play white roles, but not the other way around’ – and I suspect you will – but that’s because you’re probably the kind of person who thinks affirmative action for women is sexist and discriminates against men.

        Funny how it’s always ‘too much a part of the storyline’ for white roles, but not for non-white roles. Want a big name white actor? Story, shmory, just change it. But a black guy as a white guy? Oh noes, we can’t change the story, because reasons.

        1. You are not comparing same to same, Matt. All of the examples of “whitewash” that you mentioned (not being a racist, I never even gave this a thought) are White people “acting” as a person of color, not changing the character from a person of color to a White person. If Elba were to portray himself as a White guy and the original ethnic dialogue were used (would be pretty funny), then “that” would be the same as what you are calling “whitewashing”.

          1. Did you even read the list? Casper Van Dien wasn’t playing a Filipino Johnny Rico – he was playing a white guy. Benedict Cumberbatch wasn’t playing an Indian Khan Noonien Singh – he was playing a white guy. Rooney Mara wasn’t playing an American Indian Tiger Lily – she was playing a white woman. Jim Sturgess and Kate Bosworth weren’t playing Asian MIT students – they were playing white MIT students. The characters were changed from people of colour to white people – in other words, the exact opposite of what you claim.

            So, got any facts? You know, real things that happen in the real world?

        2. Barely any of the whitewashed roles on the wiki page are black roles. shouldn’t asian/indian/native/middle eastern/latino actors get white roles?

      2. I am with Robin on this. I am not racist, not that me saying that matters, I am a purist. I read these books over decades, eagerly awaiting the next. I believe it’s more racist to put a black man in there to simply put a black man in there. The key character interactions depend on a black “detta” and a white roland. Guess they felt badly about having the man in black be black…can’t have a villain being black :-{

  4. You can talk about White Privilege all you want to and you can scream at me all day about how racist this sounds but Idris Alba talented as he is cannot and should not play Roland Deschaine. Quite frankly the fact that you would even attempt to hide behind racism as an excuse to allow this travesty And yeah whether you like it or not RACE does matter and it’s really going to matter when you to the Wastelands.

    So please take your holier than thou white privilege BS and go use it where it really matters like on the rates of incarceration and not some non existant whitewashing cultural marxist stand like making the gunslinger black when Stephen King went through great pains to describe Roland as white

      1. Kind of a prissy sort, aren’t you, Matt? Sounds like you are only going to accept what you want to believe anyway, so have fun playing this with yourself.

        I’ll just respond to more rational posters who don’t get their panties in such a wad. For the record, your life story could be portrayed well by Bruce Jenner.

      2. More than you do. I mean I’m not asskissing in the political correctness and just going with the name of the blog as a reason to dismiss what I’m saying doesn’t say much about you now does it.

        Tell me stupid have you even READ the Wastelands? No I’m betting you probably haven’t otherwise you wouldn’t be on here posting up inane stupid comments like the one you just did.

        Yeah, do tell me genius do you even have a f***ing clue who Odetta/Detta is? Probably not do you?

        That’s me DISMISSING you.

    1. Unfortunately, in my opinion at least, Stephen King states he is okay with changing Roland’s ethnicity. I don’t get why King is suddenly changing his ethics by allowing his stories to be distorted so much lately, but he did allow Under the Dome to be completely ruined by the TV series. King was so incensed about the way The Shining was done by Stanley Kubrick that he had it redone years later to be more like his book. King won’t even allow abridged versions of his books to be published. Now, he is allowing his works to be distorted in all sorts of ways. I guess it’s all about the money.

      1. The thing is I think Stephen King =may have sold the rights outright that means the studio can do what ever it wants with it. This though was going a little too far. I mean why don’t we have a white guy playing uncle tom then if they want to be so progressive

        1. Agreed. I’ve made the Uncle Tom comparison myself over this. Having followed Stephen King over the years though, I can’t see him giving up the rights to his works. King was directly involved in the TV series Under the Dome and on his blog is saying that the ethnicity of Roland does not matter to him. King does lean to the left, which is perfectly okay by me, especially for someone in the arts. The thing that is bothersome is that King used to be so possessive about the content of his stories, and now he is allowing studios to do whatever they think will sell better. I really appreciated that King had The Stand reissued without being abridged, as the first run of The Stand was. I seriously could not get into The Stand when it was first put out as a book, but when I was given the new unabridged version, I got hooked. That just goes to show what a difference omitting a characteristic or even small character interaction can make.

          I simply could not watch Under the Dome because the characters were not what they ingrained in my mind to be, so it seemed to me that the acting was just bad. In the mini-series version of The Stand, some characters were combined so we still felt the interactions of the storyline.

          Now they are making a TV version of 11/22/63 and fans are already chiding about if Kennedy is going to be played by some Black actor.

          1. I try not to misconstrue intellect and extreme leftist idealism as one and the same, but from rereading some of Matt’s posts, his situation may be a bit of both too much leftist PC and a few malformed brain cells.

  5. Keep flying those redneck colours, boys. You’re doing so much more than I could ever do just by typing. Do the one where you accuse Stephen King of selling out his pure white blood for money again. That was hilarious. Or the one where you used being a transsexual as an insult.

    Tiny, tiny men, beating your tiny, tiny fists against imaginary walls while the world just flies on by. Look forward to hearing your views about a black woman being cast as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter sequel. Do your best for straight white mandom, lads! If it’s black actors today, forced sodomy camps for Republicans can’t be far away, right?

    1. You do realize there are meds that can help you, don’t you, Matt? Seriously dude, you are making a racist thing out of something that is absolutely not racist. No one is accusing King of being some kind of cracker writer, we all understand King leans a bit to the left and we all seem to appreciate that in his writings.

      So, before you post again, Matt, try taking a few breaths, maybe a few sips of a good tequila and understand that those of us who prefer movies at least try to stay true to book stories have no agenda other than keeping the story in tact as it was originally written.

      No one but you has posted anything racist.

      1. Oh look, RoBoTeq, you’re using the really original passive-aggressive technique, RoBoTeq, of saying my name over and over again, RoBoTeq. You might think, RoBoTeq, that it makes you sound considered and even-handed, RoBoTeq, but it actually just makes you sound really, really fucking creepy.

        I’m a fan of the story. You don’t speak for me.

        And neither do you, Will, with your clickbait ‘it’s not about him being black’ headline followed by an ‘actually, it’s all about him being black, but I’m not being racist because won’t somebody think about the *story*’? article. The story is bigger than Roland’s skin colour; even if it wasn’t, stories change all the time, and have done for thousands of years. This almost always makes them better, because they’re refreshed for a contemporary milieu and so resonate better with a modern audience. And when the only time white men bitch and moan about it is when a white male role is on the line, it’s very, very hard to take your claims about it not being a race thing seriously. It reeks of ‘no, actually, it’s about integrity in gaming journalism’.

        Hope you’re pleased with the wretched hive of scum and villainy you’ve managed to attract here.

        1. LOL! I guess Matt didn’t like my suggestion. I suppose I also should not have posted Matt’s name twice. I was afraid to post it three timed for fear he would suddenly appear. Looks like repeating Matt’s name just twice does the trick.

          Sorry to all for provoking Matt into posting his tirade of juvenile obscenities. That’s the chance one must take on social media.

          Hope everyone had a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays or what ever you call your days off this time of year. Passively aggressively yours, RoBoTeq; aka Robin Boyd.

          1. Matt is only capable of throwing back ad hominem comments. Hopefully someday that girl s/he’s trying to impress will actually sleep with him. I’m guessing probably another 2658 more comments or so should do it

    2. Oh Look guess who came back here to play the race card and throw around BS ad hominem?

      Why it’s Matt.

      Who likely has absolutely no fucking clue how much rewriting has to be done to fit Idris into the movie. Nope that would actually require you to think. Nope instead numbnuts here is going to throw racist comments at us because he’s got nothing around addressing the actual content of the books.

      Because SJW morons like you are truly that stupid. By the way NOT WHITE moron

    3. HEY thought just crossed my mind here Matt! Just another couple thousand more dumber than bricks SJW/White Knight comments and there a WHOLE .00000000000000000000000000000000006658% chance SHE’LL SLEEP WITH YOU!

      GO MATT YAY!

    4. Matt…by making Roland black it changes the book substantially. It will make it a movie loosely based on the series. Key character dynamics and interactions require Roland to be white and detta to be black…their entire life before they meet depends on it.

      I have the same difficulty with Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher…It just doesn’t fit the book and I am a purist. Tom Cruise measuring in at 5’7″ and 165lb is a far cry from a 6’5″ 240lb 50″ chest Jack Reacher.

      Will the movie be entertaining? maybe. Will it be the Dark Tower? Absolutely not!!!

  6. Will,

    It is disappointing that you chose to publish this article and worrisome that you do not recognize the racist view you are depicting. As you write for a magazine espousing science and technology, I ask you to look at your writing and judge if any of the examples you cite truly impact the hypothesis of Mr. King’s story. You are arguing harm for a story by casting someone who is not white by using themes you as a reader are bringing to the narrative. The themes you mention are not the driving force of the narrative, nor are they precious plot points. They are observations of character interactions that may have been intentional, but as others have pointed out could surely be represented by other character interactions.

    If you apply some basic logic to your reasons against a talented actor playing a role described in the text as white, and simply ask…does this materially impact or derail the story(I.e. If we use your example of privilege, if that is removed, does Roland’s story change, the answer is no)

    Mr. King does not plot out his stories or novels, or build into them purposeful themes as subtext. He discovers his story as it is told to him (as he relates in his book “on writing”)

    For the record, I think this is the first time I have ever posted in a comment section. I appreciate your columns, but this post where you use a similar argument of “I am not racist, I have black friends” is truly bothersome. You can’t say “He could play him very well, but” and then feel you are not espousing a racist view.

    I hope you will relook at your article and reconsider if your words were wisely chosen. Roland’s story is not a story of a Caucasian man. It is the story of a man whose world has moved on. Perhaps your world is also moving on.

    1. Thanks for writing and reading, Scott. I never argued against Roland being a black man. And I did say that I think Elba could play the character very well. My only hesitation is that I do think it will change a big piece of the story. The story and relationship between Roland and Detta WILL be materially changed. However, and I did say this as well, if the writers can make that change well while still serving the story, then I’ll be happy. I don’t agree with the comparison of using a white actor to play a black character. To me this is not at all about skin color but part of the story IS about race. As for this world moving on–I wish it would happen faster. This isn’t a political site so I won’t get into it here but there is plenty daily that makes me sick and ashamed of the world we somehow still inhabit.

      1. Very well expressed, Will. I agree, the way you wrote your post in no way depicted this issue as being racist or had any political intentions. It is simply a matter of will changing the ethnicity of the portrayer of a character alter the intent of the storyline. I would miss the racial interactions between Detta and Roland as well as make Roland’s youth and family history awkward.

  7. I mean Detta/Odetta has the whole paranoid schizophrenia thing going and I don’t think it’s a stretch to have her hallucinate Roland as white even while Idris plays (read “knocks it out of the park”) as Roland. The only argument I’ve heard that holds any water about why it shouldn’t be Idris is the idea that his dynamic with Detta would be ruined but there are so many ways they could play out the distrust between the characters while still maintaining the essence of the story. Eddie is presumably still going to be a white actor and I’m sure they could have him carry the dynamic in Roland’s place, or they could focus more on the idea that Detta was taken completely away from the world she knows by this gunslinger and focus her distrust on that. Her screaming honky at Roland really isn’t that integral to carrying on her dynamic with him.

    Frankly there are a ton of ways that this non-issue could be waylaid (and I hope to the gods of Midworld that the director does it well). So long as Idris goes a little leaner, gets slapped with some steely blue contacts, and the writers don’t butcher the overall plot, I’m satisfied as hell

    1. In other words, you want the plot to be changed in order to defend changing the main character’s ethnicity. That is exactly what fans of the story don’t want to happen. Roland’s entire family, which is extensively mentioned throughout the story, needs to also be changed. There is just no sense to doing this when Idris certainly doesn’t need more creds and there are so many others who will fit the character so much better. In all of the top picks for the character of Roland, not one person entertained the notion of changing the main character’s ethnicity. Who even came up with this idea, and why?

      http://www.toptenz.net/top-10-actors-play-roland-dark-tower.php

  8. The reference to Roland’s bombardier’s eyes are frequent, and are of relevance in my opinion.
    This has nothing to do with ethnic equality- this is an adaptation of a book series.

    1. Agreed. To change the ethnicity of Roland is to cause this movie to become more a story loosely based on The Dark Tower, which is also what happened with Under the Dome.

      1. It is also a bit ironic that the picture heading this conversation shows Idris Elba sitting in front of a mural depicting what Roland is very well described in The Dark Tower to look like. If this goes over well, someone should remake I’m Gonna Get You Sucka with an all White cast.

        1. Every movie or show ruins the books. I can’t even watch game of thrones anymore because they changed so many of some of my favorite parts. But hey, let’s start coloring the bulk in blue in the comics just because there aren’t enough blue characters in the comic book. And we will make the hobbits feet with no hair in the movies because that didn’t matter to the stories either. But when things like that get changed it often distracts the viewer and you lose your emersion in the story. Which is why we all loved the story to begin with.

  9. Roland is white! Detta spends most of his time calling him a “honky”. He has blue “gunslinger’s” eyes. He looks like Clint Eastwood. All of these points are established facts.
    If they mess with the main character this much what else are they going to change?
    Idris Elba is a great actor. But he is NOT Roland. I am really upset at hearing this news and it makes me really wary of these adaptations. Have they even read the books?

  10. Big shout out to my homies neroke and roboteq! Did you hear the news? Idris Elba is Roland. Stephen King gives it a big thumbs up. The real world keeps moving forwards despite the backwards, inbred ranting of a bunch of whiny, racist redpillers.

    Can I embed a Nelson HA HA gif in here? No? Oh well, this will do:

    HA HA POINTY FINGER

    (No seriously keep whining. Your pain is like sweet, sweet brownies for my soul.)

    1. And this is what’s wrong with the world today, anti racist being racist, only reasons I don’t like is 1. These are my fav books of all time, have spent a lot of time thinking about them, ruined now
      2. Half of a book can not be used now, Detta
      3. A lot of the books talked about him his eyes, very descriptive of him his mom, and Dad. Gone now
      4. The boy how many references of is he Roland son,
      5. Roland and Susannah relationship, different now

  11. Aww. Look, whenever you’re confused about which guy on screen is Roland – you know, because his eyes are a different colour, and that’s totally how we keep track of people in movies – just remember this:

    It’s the black guy.

    (They could give him blue contacts tomorrow and you’d still whine, though.)

  12. Did no one who made this decision see the Fantastic Four reboot. Changing a character which the majority of readers see in a certain way so drastically alienates a great deal of your audience. Arguing about the race issue here is irrelevant. Its simply a bad economic decision as it will mean less ticket sales and in Hollywood this means the story will never be completely told on screen as profits are the driving force and makes it more likely no more then the first movie will be made.

  13. I think Mr. Elba is a very legitimate choice. He’s a wonderfully skilled actor and has a very appropriate demeanor. He’s being black I think is plausible INTERPRETATION. No, agreed, he wasn’t portrayed as black in the books, but it could be reconstructed in a way to still hold the spirit of the saga. The only thing I feel that is a defining characteristic of Roland are his eyes. I think Mr. Elba could pull off blue eyes honestly, and strikingly at that. (why not? It’s an alternate world. There are no laws that sat that cannot be.)

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