Batman’s Latino Nemesis, Bane, Gets Airbent in New Nolan Film

Hollywood's up to its whitewashing ways once again.

By Channing Kennedy Jan 21, 2011

On Wednesday, the nerd-Internet lit up with casting news about the final installment in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy; Catwoman will be played by Anne Hathaway, and Bane goes to British actor Tom Hardy. Hathaway as Catwoman has been getting more buzz, but Hardy as Bane should raise some eyebrows as well. To coin a phrase, it’s a casting choice that represents the airbending of one of the comic universe’s few Latino characters, and a fascinating one at that.

io9 has a good primer on Bane; the essentialized version is this: Bane’s a luchador-masked supergenius who spent his entire life, from birth, in jail on a fictional Caribbean island. His parents met during an armed rebellion against the nation’s government; his father, a white British mercenary, fled the country, while Bane and his rebel mom were imprisoned for his father’s crimes. Bane watched his mother die in prison; he grew up to become king of the jail while giving himself a classical education, got hooked on a super-strength serum, got out of jail, and deduced Batman’s identity by being smart. Though he’s faded since his initial arc, Bane’s still famous among fans for his gray-area sense of duty, and for breaking Batman’s back, forcing his retirement and reshaping the DC universe.

Bane’s seen his country ravaged by colonialism, dictatorships, incarceration, and drugs, and he rose above it all, working three times as hard as any other supervillain to be taken seriously. And then he came to the United States and continued to make something of himself, while embracing his heritage. And then he was forgotten about as soon as election season the story arc was over. And, you know, his mother was a Caribbean revolutionary. In other words: Bane is Latino! And Bane’s been Latino, being voiced at different points in the animated series by Danny Trejo and Hector Elizondo.

So why, in the franchise’s most critically-lauded manifestation, give the role to a white dude? It’s not as though Hollywood is so bristling with scripts featuring supergenius Latinos with complicated backstories that this one can get a pass.

Nobody doubts that Nolan and Hardy will do great things with the character; Nolan can do no wrong after The Dark Knight and Inception, and Hardy played a not-dissimilar role as real-life British prisoner Charles Bronson. But so what? Why not take advantage of this perfectly canonical opportunity to give audiences a Latino actor playing a complex Latino character (i.e. not a gardener) in a blockbuster film? It seems unlikely that Nolan couldn’t find a single Latino actor in a city that used to be inside Mexico.

Over at the American Prospect, Adam Serwer makes the case that Bane is a dull dude anyway, and shouldn’t even be in the film. He also reminds us of the "not a racist, but" backlash to Donald Glover’s Twitter campaign to get to audition for the role of Spiderman; check out the comments on the linked post to see unenlightened nerd rage in action. Will the defenders of comic-book racial accuracy rally around Bane’s heritage, as they did when Idris Elba was announced as Norse god Heimdall in the upcoming Thor adaptation? Spoiler: probably not, since the protest against Elba was spearheaded by white supremacists.

Relatedly, check out our roundup of great moments in Hollywood whitewashing, including the boycotted bomb The Last Airbender. And for more on the impact of on-screen representations of people of color, the story of how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. asked Nichelle Nichols to stay on Star Trek is always a treat.