The Rock took to social media to announce he will be playing the black folk hero John Henry. However, some users found this casting problematic.
Dwayne Johnson found himself in the hot seat when he took to Instagram to announce he will be playing the black folk hero John Henry in a Netflix film.
View this post on Instagram
WHEN THE MAN COMES AROUND. Inspired to bring to life one of my childhood heroes, John Henry, in JOHN HENRY & THE STATESMEN. In this movie, I’ll lead an ensemble of the most popular folklore figures and legends from different cultures around the world. @NETFLIX is the perfect partner & platform to bring these global folklore icons to life. The NETFLIX brand speaks directly to our @sevenbucksprod ethos of being bold, ambitious and game changing – and most importantly, always thinking “Audience first” in homes all around the world. The legend of JOHN HENRY’S strength, endurance, dignity and cultural pride was instilled in my DNA at a very young age. My dad would sing “Big John” to me every time he would put me to bed. At bedtime most children get loving nursery rhyme songs — I got this/ Every mornin’ at the mine, you could see him arrive. He stood 6 foot 6 and weighed 245. Kind of broad at the shoulder and narrow at the hip. And everybody knew you didn’t give no lip to Big John. Big John. Big Bad John. Directing this big ol’ tentpole is the talented and passionate, Jake Kasdan. Jake and I found nice success together in a little movie called, JUMANJI. Gonna be a lot of fun bringing these legends to life. My childhood hero. The steel driving man and his disruptive band of international folklore legends. JOHN HENRY & THE STATESMEN @sevenbucksprod @danygarciaco @hhgarcia41 @flynnpictureco @NETFLIX
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Many people did not support Netflix’s casting decision.
Before we dive into the backlash Johnson has been receiving here’s a summary of John Henry’s story:
Henry was born a slave but later granted freedom. One day a white man announced his steel drill machine could outwork any man. Henry accepted this challenge and versed the machine to create a railroad. He used two hammers to push through solid rock and ended up winning. In the end, he collapsed in his wife Polly’s arms. Polly recounts the whole story to their young son, to explain why his father was so great.
Henry’s character has been portrayed as over 6 feet tall, dark-skinned, and weighing 245 lbs. Some people believe Johnson is not dark enough to play the character.
One user wrote,
“John Henry has always been depicted as dark-skinned but o k a y.”
John Henry has always been depicted as dark-skinned but o k a y https://t.co/48Gq5KG9Vr
— Ira (@ira) October 9, 2018
Another user wrote,
“The Rock is black when it’s profitable and racially ambiguous when it isn’t. We need a proud, strong, all-day black man to play John Henry.”
The Rock is black when it's profitable and racially ambiguous when it isn't. We need a proud, strong, all-day black man to play John Henry.
— Rising Pupil (@risingpupil) October 9, 2018
The truth is, Johnson is the son of a Samoan mother and his father is of Black Nova Scotian heritage. In today’s society, this would make Johnson black. However, Johnson has never publicly identified with black culture. The former wrestler has starred in “Moana”–a film celebrating Pacific Islander culture–and has a tattoo symbolizing his Samoan heritage.
In his defense, some fans have said the John Henry role could potentially be Johnson’s opportunity to pay homage to his black heritage.
Keep in mind, there are already dark-skinned actors who’ve played characters around the time slavery was ended but racism was still heavily dealt with. Michael Clarke Duncan played a wrongfully convicted black man with healing powers in Green Mile. Denzel Washington paid homage to James Earl Jones in Fences.
Not to mention, these opportunities can also be used to bring new faces into Hollywood.
We’ve compiled a list of people that could also play the black folk hero John Henry.
Click the photo gallery below for more potential actors.