And certainly being absolutely faithful to the original gender/ethnic make-up of these casts has the effect of boxing out the vast majority of the acting pool from being able to compete for these jobs. Yes, jobs. These are actual people, not just beloved IPs.
Exactly. Adaptations are under no obligation to keep everything from the source, including the mistakes. They're supposed to update and modify them to fit new audiences. The word "adapt" means "change for a new context." Changing things is what an adaptation is supposed to do. New adaptations of old things modernize them, and that means modernizing the demographics as well as modernizing the technology and the fashions.
And you're right about the audience. What some people will never understand is that hetero white males like them -- like me, as a matter of fact -- are no longer the majority audience in this country, or if we are, we won't be for much longer. They want things to stay the way they were because it's what appeals to them, but they're not the only ones who count. They never should've been.
And yes, absolutely, it is about jobs and fairness in hiring. It is ridiculous to value an imaginary character's superficial traits more than a real human being's ability to compete fairly for employment.
Yup. Jimmy Olsen is a redhead, period, but he's never been one in live action (at least not in color). Claiming that a difference in hair color is a trivial change but a difference in skin color makes him a completely different character is a nonsensical double standard. The things we use to define "races" are arbitrary to begin with. Why should we draw the line based on skin color but not hair or eye color? Why don't we refer to short people as a different race than tall people, or baritones a different race than tenors?
And Watson is not only female, but Chinese-American. And isn't even a practicing doctor. I'm sure RJ would say she isn't Watson at all because of those things that don't fit the checklist of surface characteristics. But what makes a character is their personality and their relationships. Joan is Watson because she's Holmes's stalwart companion and the person he respects most in the world. She's a variation on Watson in many ways, but again, the whole purpose of adaptation is to explore different variations on a work. If they were all exactly alike, what would be the point?
Elementary does have a very diverse cast, and no, that isn't "political correctness," it's demographic accuracy. A show set in New York City in the present day would be unrealistic if it had a cast dominated by white people. That's just not the reality of New York City anymore. Or of many major American cities.
This is something that bothered me about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. It was set in San Francisco, which does not have a non-Hispanic white majority, and yet the cast was nearly all white except for Kirk Acevedo (Puerto Rican-Chinese, although he's never played an Asian character) and a couple of minor black guys. Where was everyone else? If you took a representative sample of the San Francisco population, it wouldn't look like that. Meanwhile, Big Hero 6 posited an alternate "San Fransokyo" that differed from ours due to a large wave of Japanese immigration, and the percentage of nonwhite characters in its cast was almost as high as the percentage in the real SF population, albeit with the Asian contingent being entirely Japanese instead of largely Chinese as in reality. It's sad that when a Hollywood version of a major American city tries to be more multiethnic, it only manages to be almost as diverse as the real thing. I'm glad that so much of TV is finally catching up to reality, but movies still have a way to go.
I can't think of a reason, not in this day and age. If Metropolis is an analog for New York City, then non-Hispanic whites should be a minority. There would be plenty of young people of all ethnicities trying to break into journalism.
It's worth pointing out that the program that created Jimmy Olsen, the Adventures of Superman radio series, was a very strong promoter of racial equality at a time when that was fairly uncommon. From 1946 onward, it did quite a few stories where the villains were racists and hatemongers, and spoke out emphatically against the follies of racial and religious intolerance and in favor of the equality of all peoples. Jimmy himself was actively involved in fighting those racist groups on several occasions.
He was the only Superman character who appeared in the '84 Supergirl movie, for what it's worth. And I think the various Superman Family comics in the Silver Age shared much the same ensemble. Jimmy and Supergirl were both teen characters, and they were of the opposite sexes, so I wouldn't be surprised if Jimmy had often been portrayed as a potential love interest for Supergirl or vice-versa.
On the other hand, the conversation does not inspire any confidence in me that a black superman or batman would get the viewership it deserved - rather, I would expect the same arguments against to be trudged out. One could hope that's wrong... but...
Take heart. Yes, the few who care about such things always make a lot of noise, but the filmmakers and TV producers keep on casting diversely anyway. Like Scott said, what matters is money, and today's audience is diverse (well, it always was, but even more so now).
On the other hand, Marvel's shortlist of Spider-Man candidates for the MCU consists entirely of young white actors. Like I said, TV has made more progress than movies.