On Tuesday, Hollywood superstar and media darling Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson announced via his Facebook page that he would be playing the titular role of John Henry in an upcoming Netflix adaptation of the legendary folk hero, John Henry and the Statesmen.

Johnson’s production company, Seven Buck Productions, will be producing the film, which allowed Johnson to cast himself in the role.

Along with this teaser, Johnson also discussed how excited he was to play the role and why it was important to him:

In folklore, John Henry is an African-American man with a reputation as a “steel driving man,’ due to his occupation of making holes in mountains to allow for construction of rail road tunnels. This reputation leads him to compete against a steam-powered drilling machine. Though he is victorious, Henry dies immediately after, as his heart gives out due to the stress of the competition. The legend of John Henry is an extremely popular folk lore tale and is consistently heralded as a symbol for civil rights champions.

The legend and character have also seen numerous adaptations, such as DC’s John Henry “Steel” Irons, An episode of [easyazon_link identifier=”B0058ZZSGI” locale=”US” tag=”boundingintocomics-20″]Tall Tales & Legends[/easyazon_link] starring Danny Glover, and even as a playable character in [easyazon_link identifier=”B00UY0XBAC” locale=”US” tag=”boundingintocomics-20″]Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.[/easyazon_link]. The most iconic of these adaptations, however, is the Walt Disney animated short released in 1999, [easyazon_link identifier=”B0145KI56Q” locale=”US” tag=”boundingintocomics-20″]John Henry[/easyazon_link]. This animated short is routinely cited by many as their primary exposure to the legend.

In 1999, Disney released their own adaptation of the steel driving man. This short, titled simply John Henry, quickly became a celebrated adaptation of the story, and remains popular to this day.

As is inevitable when attempting to bring a character of color to the big screen, Johnson’s casting sparked outrage by the more social justice inclined. This was due to the fact that many believe that Johnson is not ‘black enough’ to play the African-American folk hero:

These tweets, however, effectively erase his African-American heritage. As one twitter user points out:

These photos, posted by Twitter user @JAY_KOFA, show Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson with his father, legendary wrestler Rocky Johnson. Rocky Johnson, along with his partner Tony Atlas, made up “The Soul Patrol,” the first black tag team to win the Tag Team Championship in the WWF.

This is not the first time a social justice-oriented mentality has erased someone’s heritage simply because they did not meet an arbitrary, unmeasurable level of a ‘proper’ trait. Actress Ruby Rose was recently driven off Twitter due to a barrage of attacks from people who believed that Rose did not deserve to play the role of Batwoman because she was not ‘gay’ or ‘Jewish’ enough. Peter Dinklage received backlash after he announced he would be playing Herve Villechaize because some believed Villechaise was Filipino, despite the fact that Villechaise has no Filipino heritage.

Thankfully, many other fans of Johnson’s, including many fans of color, took to calling out the hypocrisy of such criticism and the baselessness of the outrage it sparked:

To cast a character of an appropriate race in an adaptation of an important cultural mythos is not only respectful, but it shows a true commitment to authenticity. However, if actors are cast based on arbitrary and subjective ‘levels’ of race, this not only hurts the chances of hiring someone based on talent, but also displays an alarming level of racism and cultural gate keeping. This can also lead to the very people the social justice inclined claim to fight for being harmed, as actors could begin to be denied roles simply because their melanin levels are lower than another actor’s or even typecast as a ‘dark skinned black man’ instead of focusing on his acting skills and performances.

John Henry and the Statesmen will be directed by Jake Kasdan ([easyazon_link identifier=”B07816NJV9″ locale=”US” tag=”boundingintocomics-20″]Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle[/easyazon_link]) and will be available for exclusive streaming on Netflix. No release date has been announced.

  • About The Author

    Spencer Baculi

    Spencer is the Editor for Bounding Into Comics. A life-long anime fan, comic book reader, and video game player, Spencer believes in supporting every claim with evidence and that Ben Reilly is the best version of Spider-Man. He can be found on Twitter @kabutoridermav.