While comics fidelity is always important to die-hard fans, it’s also important from a studio perspective to reflect the world we live in. Representation of non-white heroes wasn’t exactly rampant in comics throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s, and so in adapting some of these stories for the big screen, studios and producers have to take initiative. Which is why it was so exciting to see that Tessa Thompson was cast in the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok as the traditionally white, blonde-haired character of Valkyrie.
Honestly, changing the ethnicity of a comics character isn’t much different from the wildly different interpretations of these characters we’ve been getting over the years. Hugh Jackman looks far different than the original version of the Wolverine, but does that mean his performance is any less iconic? We now look to Jackman as the definitive Wolverine, so why wouldn’t we want to see what other talented performers can bring to the table even if they don’t fit the visual aesthetic of the character to a T?
For Thor: Ragnarok, director Taika Waititi tells EW that casting Thompson wasn’t simply a diversity hire, but was more about reconceiving the character for a modern context:
“I’m not obsessed with the idea that you have to cast someone just to tick a box. You should cast people because they’re talented. [With Valkyrie] I wanted to make sure we weren’t making a female character that was boring and pretty. What I wanted was someone who was going to play the opposite and be even more of the ‘guy’ character than the guys. Ultimately I thought Tessa was the best person we found.”
Thompson says she looked to Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2 for inspiration, adding that they made a concerted effort to really make the character of Valkyrie their own:
“We have so many conversations particularly now about representation in film. I think the unfortunate thing about a lot of these fantasy movies is when they’re based on source material a lot of these comics were written in a time when that wasn’t a part of the conversation as far as having representation. Not just having characters that reflect the world we live in but how we represent the characters. If we were also dedicated to the source material, Valkyrie would potentially be a female Thor but she’s fighting in basically a bathing suit, which is also absurd. So we had a conversation of, what is a strong look? Like, she should probably be in pants. That probably makes more sense for the kind of work she’s doing. And we had conversations about her sort of feeling like a tomboy and having a certain masculinity about her while still being very much a woman.”
And in terms of seeing more black superheroes onscreen, Marvel’s Black Panther is currently in production with a nearly all-black cast and a black writer/director in Ryan Coogler, so Thompson—who also starred in Coogler’s Creed and the HBO series Westworld—adds that there’s some really exciting stuff ahead:
“It’s such an exciting time to be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, like you look at a cast like Black Panther. I think it’s really important for little boys and little girls to go to these movies and see themselves reflected on screen. I’m really excited about this generation of young women that can look at a screen and see some brown people in space. I’m happy to join Idris Elba so he doesn’t have to be the only one. He’s lonely!”
As for whether we’ll see Valkyrie in Marvel’s culminating Avengers: Infinity War, Thompson says “you never know” when folks will pop up and that she’s looking forward to sharing the screen with the next generation of MCU characters played by Brie Larson and Michael B. Jordan.
Thor: Ragnarok opens in theaters on November 3rd.