Black Roland in The Dark Tower – Genius or Disaster?

By: Amanda Sparks –

When books are turned into television series or films, the plot may change, and the fictional characters from those books are often re-imagined as writers and directors envision them. While these changes often go on with little mention, other than statements such as “the book was better than the movie,” or vice versa, once in a while they strike a discordant tone with some, and a public controversy results.

Evidently, Race Strikes a Discordant Tone

Putting non-white people in roles that people have considered to be white has resulted in such public controversy in recent years.

When it was announced that the Harry Potter heroine, Hermione, would be cast by a black woman, there was a public outcry, primarily by parents, not kids. The kids didn’t seem to care. J.K. Rowling took to Twitter over this one:

Likewise, when the character Finn in Star Wars: The Force Awakens was cast with John Boyega, a black actor, some fans were provoked and went to Twitter with calls to boycott the film. Their reason?  Finn’s casting was anti-white propaganda. They were quickly shut down by a host of others, with Tweets such as:

Audra McDonald

✔ @AudraEqualityMc

#BoycottStarWarsVII folks,
Lemme get this straight:
Wookies, Ewoks & Droids are fine but a BLACK PERSON is a problem?
Go home. You’re Drunk.

Enter Idris Elba as The Gunslinger

A majority of readers and moviegoers know Stephen King for his works of horror – Pet Sematary, Carrie, It, etc. But for those who are true aficionados of this author, his Western Fantasy Series written in the 1980’s holds real value too. Here is a combo of a Western “shoot-em-up” and Science Fiction, a series that showed King as an amazingly talented writer, perhaps a bit ahead of his time. The series almost seemed a natural for a movie, a chance to highlight a totally different King – a good vs. evil theme set in something totally different from the horror tales for which he is most known.

And so, The Dark Tower became a movie goal.

In the movie, there is only one gunslinger good guy left, Roland (Idris Elba), who must duke it out with the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), to save the Dark Tower which holds the world together. He is accompanied by a young teenager with some special powers.

It’s a classic tale of good vs. evil, but instead of civilizations and armies, it is down to two men. There’s lots of action and adventure too.

So, what could be wrong?

Well, what could be wrong is that Idris Elba is black.

After almost 10 years in the making and a series of writers and directors, Sony Pictures finally began filming the picture in South Africa in early 2016, with Director Nikolaj Arcel. When the cast was announced, some fans went crazy, and not in a good way. Roland, after all, was white. His entire backstory was as a white man. How could the director do this?

The controversy waged for months. Finally, Stephen King himself entered the fray, stating emphatically that the color of Elba’s skin was of no consequence. What would matter, said King, was how he embraced and carried the role of Roland.

And the Verdict is In

Last weekend, The Dark Tower opened, along with Detroit and Kidnap. August is typically a pretty slow month for movies, and the weekend was no exception. Still, Dark Tower out-performed the other two, grossing $19.1 million.

The critics are weighing in now. And the general verdict is that the movie as a whole is rather average overall, if not “awful.” Critics from Variety, New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, and the Chicago Tribune are all painting a pretty negative picture, in fact, even including McConaughey’s performance as the Man in Black.

What stands out among all of these reviews, however, is the praise for Idris Elba and his stunning performance amidst a plot and surrounding actors that are pretty much “Ho-Hum,” and, as one critic says, is a disjointed series of events, with apologies to Stephen King, for the bastardization of his work.

And perhaps the series just does not lend itself to film, as one critic said.

It’s Not Elba

The apparent “flop” that critics see in The Dark Tower, then, has nothing at all to do with Idris Elba, as some angry fans insisted it would. It has everything to do with the writers and the directors. Elba did his job and apparently did it exceptionally well. It was everything else that went horribly wrong. The attempt to translate King’s great series into a feature film has failed. We are left to wonder if the anticipated television series will ever happen.

It’s a Changing Environment and Elba is Only One Example

So, Hermione and Finn are now black. And now that Captain America is black and Thor is a woman, in the comics at this point, diversity has hit the arts in a big way. And how great is this for kids too? Their superheroes can be non-white and non-male. And how much more reflective of society this really is.

In many ways Elba, along with other actors who are cast in traditionally white roles, are pathfinders. They are charting important new territory, they are weathering the negative comments that could be taken quite personally, and they are going on to perform their roles admirably.

Idris Elba has many years of acting ahead of him. He will be a highly-sought actor because of his talent, and skin color will not be a factor. He has already proved his versatility for roles in Mandela, American Gangster, Pacific Rim, Thor and more. He has maintained that reputation in The Dark Tower.


Author Bio: Amanda Sparks has a lot of roles to play as a writer. She currently works as a pro writer and editor at Essay Supply and also as a lifestyle writer at Huffington Post. In her own words, “I love everything about writing, and I love everything about improving lifestyles. Being able to do both at the same time makes my life pretty perfect.”

About MovieBoozer Staff

International Network of Volunteers, Movie Buffs, and Lushes. Movieboozer is a humor website and drinking games are intended for entertainment purposes only, please drink responsibly.

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