There’s a weird trend starting up in Hollywood, as if someone higher up in the chain hates redheads. People are starting to notice that redheaded characters from comics and cartoons are being replaced by blonds, brunettes, bald people, and even people whose skin color doesn’t have redheads so they don’t even bother. There are exceptions. Amber Heard went red to play Mera in Aquaman and Scarlett Johansson plays Natasha Romanoff with her proper shade of hair but this is becoming the exception rather than the rule. At least that’s what you hear.
For the record I don’t count Zendaya as MJ in the Spider-Man MCU movies. As part of Sony insisting Marvel Studios ditch as much of Spidey’s iconography as possible in case they want to go back to ruining the series (until Into The Spider-Verse they hadn’t made a well-received Spider-Man movie since Spider-Man 2) Zendaya doesn’t play Mary Jane Watson but Michelle Jones, a new character who shares the initials of Joe Quesada’s hated Mrs. Parker. The original April O’Neil is a brunette and became a redhead in the first cartoon. In fact when looking up characters being replaced, some of the lists I found got their hair color wrong or was just complaining that the actress wasn’t redhead. (Though I could have sworn Mystique wasn’t a redhead in live-action I was wrong.) I don’t mind if they change their hair color. Gwyneth Paltrow and Kirsten Dunst both did so to play Pepper Potts and Mary Jane Watson respectively, and the girl who played Gwen Stacey in the more recent Amazing Spider-Man is naturally a redhead but dyed her hair to play the blond Gwen. However, while the trend may not be as serious as it looks people are noticing a trend.
Let’s start with a character whose live-action counterpart has NEVER been a redhead…at least in live action. While the animated versions have gotten this right, live-action Jimmy Olsen is usually a brunette…except for the last guy, who doesn’t even have hair. He was also race-swapped with absolutely none of the character’s personality traits but that’s a whole other topic, which is why little orphan Annie isn’t on this list. They missed their chance to have Ron Howard play Jimmy. I give The Adventures Of Superman and the serials a break because they were in black & white (the TV show eventually moved to color) but ever since then you can’t break out a wig or some hair dye?
The current Cyclone in the DC universe (unless they killed her off) is Maxine Hunkel, the latest victim of de-redheading. Quintessa Swindell I’m not sure could pull off the redhead look as easily as Zendaya. Going back to that other topic Swindell is non-binary and that is how…they? Are you a group of people in one body? I really don’t understand what these kids today are up to, so thanks for finally making me feel old. At any rate Maxine in the comics is quite binary and a woman. It’s like they slapped a name onto whatever character they want. Yes kids, it’s not just a practice for not-stalgia anymore. Again, this is a quality of adaptation listing and clearly they just didn’t care about the source material. They just want The Rock as an anti-hero in a tight black costume, and they’ve wanted it for years.
I saw lists include Wally West, a redhead in the comic but played by a black kid on the CW’s The Flash. Except there is a black Wally West. Here’s where things get confusing. Dan DiDio, publisher of DC Comics at the time, hates legacy characters. This included Wally West, who had replaced the deceased Barry Allen as the Flash back in the 80s. (Yes, John Wesley Shipp was playing the wrong Flash in his TV show.) So he had Barry return from the dead (long story), completely ignoring that Barry himself was a legacy character; the original Flash was Jay Garrick, from back when DC Comics was still called National Comics. So when DiDio forces his own reboot Wally was tossed out, but Wally’s fans wanted him back. DiDio’s poor attempt at compromise was Wallace West, which would also fill the ranks of minority heroes. (DC’s not always been the best at that.) This is the version that the CW used for their Kid Flash. So he’s technically legit but it means that the original Wally has NEVER had a live-action counterpart. And frankly I’m not convinced he had a proper animated adaptation since the Filmation series except for maybe Young Justice.
The change that was really responsible for getting people to notice the incoming trend is Ariel, Disney’s version The Little Mermaid. I haven’t read the Hans Christian Andersen book so I don’t know what color her hair is supposed to be. I’m not even sure she had a name in the book. There are other incarnations where she was a blond (notably in the Saban series that ignores the ending and has the mermaid and prince as trying to be together…and her name there is Marina because they wanted to be cute I guess) so the character herself doesn’t necessarily have to be a redhead. Defenders of Haley Berry taking on the role even try to make the case that she doesn’t have to be white, and admittedly I have seen underwater denizens be blue, green, part fish upstairs as well as downstairs, and so on.
I would counter however that this isn’t some other incarnation of the mermaid. This is specifically Ariel, Disney’s Caucasian redhead, so the detractors are equally right to be annoyed. This isn’t the book incarnation or Marina or whatever the Shelley Duvall Fairy Tale Theater version played by Pam Dawber. This is Ariel, and her being swapped out simply continues Disney’s trend of ignoring their animated legacy because Hollywood hates animation and they want THEIR incarnation to get awards. Nevermind that usually when Disney does a version of a public domain fairy tale character it’s their version regardless of accuracy to the source material that becomes the dominant version in the public consciousness.
So the question is whether or not Hollywood is tossing out redheads. Do we count the race-swapped Annie movie when they’re more interested in the musical than in the comic it was based on? Let’s just say I have concerns but thus far I’m not sure redheads are being specifically targeted…yet. I have seen tweets of people happy that a redhead is being replaced by a black person so there is clearly some anti-redhead bias out there. It’s just I couldn’t find a proper list of redheads that included redheads being replaced specifically that isn’t more of a race swap complaint. Even Titans Starfire has a red wig but not her signature orange skin or anything close to her iconic costume. Some characters were listed as redheads that were actually brown-haired, at least in the source material. There may end up being a trend but we aren’t there yet. However, with so few redhead characters I’m not surprised that the redheads and those of us who love them see the fiery-haired characters as being slowly wiped out.