I’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.