I believe The Rock means well, but in casting himself in the lead role he’s ignoring history, and disregarding the issue of colorism.
Black Twitter and social media were up in arms about the recent revelations that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson cast himself in the Netflix version of John Henry, which will also be directed by Jake Kasden, who helmed Jumanji.
Johnson went on Instagram to share what he believed would be well-received news, but Black Twitter doesn’t care about what you believe.
History has always depicted John Henry as a dark skin black man. Johnson, as soulful and brotherly as he is, is not a dark skin black guy.
WHEN THE MAN COMES AROUND. Inspired to bring to life one of my childhood heroes, John Henry, in JOHN HENRY & THE STATESMEN. In this movie, I’ll lead an ensemble of the most popular folklore figures and legends from different cultures around the world. NETFLIX is the perfect partner & platform to bring these global folklore icons to life. The NETFLIX brand speaks directly to our @sevenbucksprod ethos of being bold, ambitious and game changing – and most importantly, always thinking “Audience first” in homes all around the world. The legend of JOHN HENRY’S strength, endurance, dignity and cultural pride was instilled in my DNA at a very young age. My dad would sing “Big John” to me every time he would put me to bed. At bedtime most children get loving nursery rhyme songs – I got this/ Every mornin’ at the mine, you could see him arrive. He stood 6 foot 6 and weighed 245. Kind of broad at the shoulder and narrow at the hip. And everybody knew you didn’t give no lip to Big John. Big John. Big Bad John. Directing this big ol’ tentpole is the talented and passionate, Jake Kasdan. Jake and I found nice success together in a little movie called, JUMANJI. Gonna be a lot of fun bringing these legends to life. My childhood hero. The steel driving man, JOHN HENRY. And his disruptive band of international folklore legends, THE STATESMEN. @danygarciaco @hhgarcia41 @flynnpictureco #ComingSoon @NETFLIX #JohnHenryAndTheStatesmen #TheSteelDrivingMan
37.3k Likes, 542 Comments – @therock on Instagram: “WHEN THE MAN COMES AROUND. Inspired to bring to life one of my childhood heroes, John Henry, in…”
The John Henry song is the first folklore song that most African-American children heard when I was coming up.
I didn’t know what the term “folk hero” meant well into middle school, but I damn sure knew who John Henry was. He was a black superhero immortalized in song.
The legend says his prowess as a steel-driving man, charged with hammering a steel drill into rock to make holes for dynamite to blast open a railroad tunnel.
The dark skinned John Henry of Black folklore? (A double jab) Yeah that’s a no https://t.co/l2tB9rKy3L
Dwayne Johnson & ‘Jumanji’ Helmer Jake Kasdan Reteam For John Henry Family Action Movie Set At Netflix https://t.co/bMc2KvnqUr
John Henry was a (likely unlawfully) imprisoned black man who was forced to work himself to death but OKAY. This @BackStoryRadio episode in part on him was very educational and heartbreaking. https://t.co/1eUJQpNKjQ
Though the story has many versions and translations over the years, most renditions of the folk song speak of a race against a steam-powered rock drilling machine. He won the race but, according to the tale, his heart gave out and he died.
Folklore is often filled with jagged facts whose edges of truth become dulled and rounded by time and retelling.
In 2006 College of William & Mary associate professor Scott Reynolds Nelson did an extraordinary job of researching the legend and gleaned that John Henry was actually a 20-year-old New Jersey-born freeman. Henry then traveled to Virginia to get a job cleaning post-Civil War damage that littered every corner of the south.
Nelson speculated that his actual name was John William Henry. He was arrested and tried for burglary and was leased to work for the C&O Railway.
Some versions of the story have it that John Henry “raced” the steel-driving machine because he didn’t want a machine taking a man’s job, but the revelation of a convicting leasing connection to the C&O Railway makes a lot more sense.
Like who would “want” to do something like that? No matter the reasons behind the legends, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s portrayal of the character would certainly energize and revitalize this legend for a new generation. But at what cost?