The world’s new Superman is almost ready to fly. After weeks of speculation, DC’s next big feature film, Superman: Legacy, has finally locked down casting on its title hero. Pearl’s David Corenswet was one of a handful of names circling the project from its inception: he was a fan favorite long before casting had even begun (likely for his uncanny resemblance to the blue-eyed, square-jawed Man of Steel) and it seems like he’s got the chops to match. The actor emerged triumphant in a race against a handful of other hopefuls, namely Nicholas Hoult and Tom Brittney.
I’ll admit I was less than enthusiastic about the pool of actors that writer-director James Gunn had picked for Legacy. A new Superman meant the chance to tell this story from a new perspective; perhaps with a hero that doesn’t fit into Big Blue’s archetypal, All-American visage. Superman has been around for nearly a century — and though the mantle has been taken up by heroes from different racial backgrounds over the years, the OG Superman, Clark Kent, has never not been a white guy. Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it’s difficult to get excited about yet another white Superman when non-white heroes still have to fight for their place in genres like sci-fi and fantasy, even in big screen adaptations.
DC is apparently still exploring the idea of Black Superman movie with Ta-Nehisi Coates and J.J. Abrams at the helm, but there’s no way that Superman will be Clark Kent. There’s no way that Clark Kent could ever be Black, Hispanic, or Asian — not without upsetting the predominantly-white fanbase that keeps the superhero industry afloat. And that can be frustrating, no matter how you slice it. Corenswet may be perfect for the role, but as a longtime genre fan that was hoping for a radical remix of the character, his casting just felt like more of the same.
That is, until I recognized that Corenswet’s heritage actually honors a very specific (if not overlooked) aspect of Superman’s origins.
Corenswet is the first actor of Jewish heritage to play Superman — and given the character’s roots in Jewish culture, it’s certainly been a long time coming. Superman’s creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, were Jewish, and they drew on countless folk figures — like Moses, Samson, and the golem — in crafting their hero’s origin story.
According to Roy Schwartz, author of Is Superman Circumcised?, Superman was “a personal avatar” for Siegel and Shuster, and a direct reaction to the anti-semitism brewing during World War II. His experience reflected that of their families, immigrants who likely felt torn between two cultures. That’s not something that should be discounted, especially given Hollywood’s practice of erasing many superhero’s Jewish roots.
“Superman is an all American icon, but he’s a Jewish American icon, and he also reminds us that being an immigrant is all American,” Schwartz recently told Unpacked. While the character has always represented the immigrant experience in some form, Superman: Legacy represents a promising step forward — even if it’s just behind the scenes.