Earlier this week, Warner Bros. and British actor Henry Cavill parted ways in their DC Comics movie franchise—leaving the character Superman, the anchor of the operation, without an actor to play him. And as rumors swirled about a potential replacement, one unlikely name was floated: part-time Austinite and Friday Night Lights alum Michael B. Jordan.
Casting Jordan as Superman would be a fine use of the actor’s prodigious talent. Few actors pull off charming, sensitive, and kindhearted as well as Jordan does without coming off like a cornball pile of mush. He’s also got an entrenched relationship with Warner Bros., having just pushed the studio to add an equity and inclusion rider to all of its projects going forward. His role as the villainous Erik Killmonger in Black Panther proved that he can excel in a superhero setting and that his movies can make boatloads of cash.
He’s also black, which means that any decision to cast him as a superhero who—outside of some alternate-reality stories over the decades—has always been depicted as white would not be free of controversy.
There’s no real reason Superman should be white, of course. He’s an alien from the planet Krypton, an undocumented immigrant in the U.S. sent here by parents who believed he would have a more secure future if he left his place of origin. It’s not exactly a story that screams “Caucasian.” But that doesn’t mean that certain segments of the internet wouldn’t erupt should Jordan end up as the Man of Steel. (The comments on the Deadline article that originally reported the news were just the beginning of what that backlash might look like.)
Still, oddsmakers found the notion of Jordan as Superman surprisingly plausible—over on the gambling site BetOnline.ag, the list of potential last sons of Krypton has Jordan at the top, with a +125 chance of getting the part (meaning that betting $100 will get you $125 if it happens). Right behind him? Armie Hammer, at +350. Most of the rest of the list is a random collection of names of famous men—Mark Wahlberg! Nicolas Cage! Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson! Idris Elba!—who face longer odds to get the part.
Typically when casting a Superman, Warner Bros., which has controlled the property since 1978, has favored unknown actors. In the seventies, that made sense. Few A-list stars were willing to risk their reputations by donning blue tights and a red cape and pretending to fly—Robert Redford, Burt Reynolds, and Paul Newman all turned down the role. When it came time to recast in the 2005 semi-reboot Superman Returns, One Life to Live star Brandon Routh got the nod. And when the property was fully rebooted in 2012 with Man of Steel, Cavill—who’d appeared primarily in small films—took the spot. Christopher Reeves, himself an unknown when he originated the role in the 1978 film, told reporters when consulting on later films that “the character is more important than the actor who plays him, because it is an enduring mythology. It definitely should be an unknown.”
Casting Jordan (or Hammer or the Rock or any other famous name) would be a break from that tradition, but not an unreasonable one. With the exception of Wonder Woman, Warner’s DC Comics movies have been underachievers at the box office, so taking the franchise’s most iconic character in a different direction might be a way to reinvigorate the property.
In 2015, Jordan made headlines after he told GQ that he wanted to play roles that were written for white actors–that he didn’t want to be choosing from the limited number of parts that African-American stars tend to compete for. Roles like Adonis Creed in Creed and Killmonger in Black Panther were created with Jordan specifically in mind, but his parts in films like 2015’s Fantastic Four and this year’s HBO adaptation of Fahrenheit 451 seem to indicate that he can accomplish what he had in mind. And nothing would further cement that Jordan can play any part in Hollywood more than signing on to play Superman.
It’ll be a while before the next Superman movie is made. Warner Bros. currently has nine films in the franchise in various stages of production, and the character isn’t expected to appear in any of them. Last month, the studio announced plans for a new film starring someone with an S on their chest—but it’ll be a new Supergirl film, and the timeline for the film indicates that her famous cousin is unlikely to make a guest appearance, played by Jordan or anyone else.
Jordan is a unique talent who’s likely to be in blockbusters for years to come. Whether he ends up one day flying faster than a speeding bullet on our screens, his career is already more powerful than a locomotive.