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When a Black Man Takes on a White Man’s Role: Justice Smith in All the Bright Places

Young adult books have been taking over the entertainment industry for years now, especially in the rom-com and dystopian niches. A typical fixture that dominates the cinematic universe? White people. Latin characters? White people. Black characters? White people. Asian characters? White people. Overweight characters? White people in a fat suit. You seem to get the picture, right? Well, not many see it. They only see it when a person of color takes on a white character.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven has become a young adult hit, gaining awards and slots on bestsellers’ lists. It follows Violet Markey who is beginning to question her world in the wake of her sister’s death. Alongside her is Theodore Finch, a teen boy who is allured by death. The pair takes on the dimensions of the world as well as within themselves.

In 2014, before the book even came out, it was announced All the Bright Places would be adapted into a movie. Set to play Violet Markey, Elle Fanning was the first to join the adaptation. Fans were thrilled with Fanning playing the girl of their dreams – but Fanning was not the only fan favorite. Many readers are head over heels with the actor playing Finch. Some readers hoped to see a white male like Cole Sprouse, Timothee Chalamet, or Asa Butterfield to portray a typical pale teenage hero. Instead, in 2018, Niven took to her social media to announce the actor who will portray Finch: Justice Smith, a young, black actor.

Justice Smith has acted in many widely-watched movies and television shows like Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Every Day, Paper Towns, and The Get Down. He’s a black actor who can sing, act and perform his best in every project he’s given. Now, we will see Smith take on Theodore Finch. It’s time to see him shine as the main character. Smith has the ability to play a lead character, and he can show everyone that he can bring a well-loved character to life. Many agreed, including the author herself, Jennifer Niven. Fans are excited about Smith taking on the role and trust Niven’s judgment.

Like any other TV show, movie and book, however, there will be critics and disappointed fans. Some fans are furious with the casting of their precious Finch, and many came for Niven, claiming that Smith is not right for Finch and that they will not be watching the movie because of his casting. Others pointed out how Smith is not the white teenager they imagined Finch to look like.

Fans quoted the physical description of Fitch from the book as well. In fact, they started the hashtag “#NotMyFinch.” It seems q(white)uite interesting for “fans” to start this hashtag – it looks like many did not want a black man to take on a typical white man’s role. They dragged Justice’s physical appearance for not being white.

Other fans pointed out the racism of the #NotMyFinch groupies, who were they were quick to defend themselves that they were not.

Book adaptations will have changes whether it pleases everyone or not. This change will affect young black aspiring actors. It will give them a boost to help them make it into the industry. Justice Smith is a young face with natural talent. He never failed to amaze the audience and critics in previous films. Justice Smith will bring himself recognition. The recognition he deserves.

Celebrate a black man’s role in an industry where blacks and other POC are having a difficult time to do so, where blacks, Latinos, Asians, and people of color are constantly being portrayed as stereotypes of drug dealers, gangs, nerds, etc. It’s a trashy trend that needs to end. People should build strong POC characters for the younger audience to look up to. They should not only make up new characters but also change some of the white characters, who have been overused as young adult heroes. With Justice Smith taking on a white character, it will challenge the industry. It will show people of color can be heroes, college students, CEOs, artists, and lawyers – diverse people who don’t have to stick to stereotypes. It will give POC the platform to relate to, to aspire to. It’s 2018. It’s time to change, don’t underestimate people of color.

Photo by Justice Smith on Instagram

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Written By

A seventeen year old from south Texas navigating her future through writing and school. Fiercely Latina. Email: dflorespec@gmail.com

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