Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Sherlock Holmes as a barometer of our progress.

Looking forward . . .

I was watching a favorite CBS show of mine this morning and contemplating its race-bending casting in a particularly iconic role. (This would be Supergirl and Jimmy Olsen, if you were thinking of a certain other show.) The difference between the characters of Superman and Jimmy Olsen made me consider race and nationality-bending as we've seen it with Holmes and Watson, and what I would really look forward to seeing one day in the casting of that pair of friends, much like Superman and Jimmy.

"Oh, but surely we've covered all the combinations there," one might think. We've seen African-Armerican Holmes and Watson in comics, we've see an Asian female Watson on TV, and we're seeing female Sherlocks popping up all over the place.

But have we seen a black Holmes with a white Watson . . . ?

A dominant, African-American male Sherlock Holmes with a mildly subservient white male Watson. Not a "he's an equal partner who solves as much of the case as Lucy Liu on Elementary" white Watson. No, an actual, "Gee whiz, isn't Sherlock the smartest guy ever!" admiring white Watson.

Because it isn't just having racial diversity present in our stories, whatever the medium. It's the roles as well. We're letting female Sherlocks dominate male Watsons now, because the female audience for Sherlock has become a target market writers can aim for and hope for success. But the day we can see a great black Sherlock Holmes with a ginger Watson and they're both guys without blinking an eye?

That day, I'd say we've come somewhere as a culture. Man, I wish that BBC or CBS would have tried that one for their modern Holmes and Watson, where Victorian historical issues don't get in the way.

Of course, it's had to think of such a thing without immediately screaming "IDRIS ELBA!!!" After his success as BBC's Luther and that tantalizing (and sadly, controversial) rumor that he could have been James Bond, his name immediately comes to mind. As with Benedict Cumberbatch, the best actor for a part is often the guy we never heard of before some brilliant casting director put him in the part.

There's an aspect of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson that is totally Superman and Jimmy Olsen -- the wonder hero and his admiring friend. And I think we'll see non-white actors take the role of Holmes long before we get to Superman, that whitest of the white guys even though he's not even from this planet. But until we get teleporter technology, we still have to make our journeys one step at a time, even with casting, and I think we'll get to Holmes first.  Because we're already on the way.

Still, I'm looking forward to when we get there.


  1. I like this idea, but a GINGER Watson? That's not believable.

  2. This is a great point. If you check out "VOICES FROM THE DARKNESS; African-America & Sherlock Holmes" by Howard Ostrom & Ray Wilcockson at:
    you will see how, other in the comic book you mentioned, a short more recent Vimeo clip “Disguise” (2013) w/ Vauxhall Jermaine, and some very recent stage plays there hasn't been a serious black Sherlock Holmes. We've had many Bollywood Holmes, Russian Holmes, German Holmes, Spanish Holmes, even Japanese & Korean Holmes. We have never had an Afro-American Holmes other than as lampooned, satirized, parodied, caricatured, and burlesqued characters. In that essay it was suggested Nollywood should have produced such a film by now, yet it hasn't, why? Perhaps the boycott of the Oscars will help channel someone to conceptualize the production of a genuine Afro-American Sherlock Holmes film or TV show.