Movies & TV / Columns

Is Dwayne Johnson Right for John Henry?

October 13, 2018 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
Skyscraper The Rock Dwayne Johnson

Dwayne Johnson announced on Instagram that he would be portraying American folklore figure John Henry in an upcoming movie for Netflix.

“Inspired to bring to life one of my childhood heroes, John Henry, in JOHN HENRY & THE STATESMEN,” Johnson wrote. “In this movie, I’ll lead an ensemble of the most popular folklore figures and legends from different cultures 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,” Johnson continued, adding the lyrics to the rhyme his dad would sing.

Reaction was quick and not very favorable. CBS News reported the reception to Johnson, a light-skinned, mixed race man, playing an undeniably black-American folk legend was a mistake and that he should step aside for someone who could portray the character more accurately.

As many fans know, Johnson lineage includes the Samoan wrestler Peter Maiva (his grandfather) and Dwayne’s father, Rocky Johnson. Dwayne Johnson himself has celebrated his father’s career as a black wrestler who “broke color barriers” in the business.

Many have pointed out that John Henry has been portrayed as dark skin and also take issue with Johnson never embracing his African-American roots in any of his roles. Previous film adaptations of John Henry starred Danny Glover (in the television series, Shelley Duvall’s Tall Tales and Legends) and Roger Aaron Brown (in the 1995 Disney film Tall Tale).

On social media people posted that actors like Michael Jai White, Luke Cage’s Mike Colter, and Black Panther’s Winston Duke would be more suitable to play the tall tale hero. Many also pointed out that this role would be a perfect opportunity to cast an unknown instead of a well known, super busy actor who pulls in $20 million for a movie.

Johnson also spoke to Variety about it. “Netflix is the perfect partner and platform for us to continue entertaining our global audience in a disruptive way,” Johnson said. “These diverse characters speak to a legacy of storytelling that is more relevant than ever and span across a worldwide audience regardless of age, gender, race, or geography.”

Johnson will definitely bring his charisma to the role but is he the right man for the job?