Another day, another internet boom and bust.
First, there came the elation of Michael B. Jordan’s superfine GQ photoshoot. Then, the rumblings of a #AllLivesMatter video sent from Jordan’s Snapchat account. And finally, we were let loose on the nonsense of the actual interview, which saw Jordan claim to be an equal opportunity color-blind ladies man to women he refused to call women, but instead referred to as “females.”
Between Jordan and his Fantastic Four costar Miles Teller, it seems young Hollywood’s publicists are out for lunch these days, and the kids are not exactly all right.
That Jordan might be an #AllLivesMatter booster—joining his That Awkward Moment costar Zac Efron in another unfortunate enterprise—is disappointing because this is one actor we trusted to know better. Two years ago Jordan starred in Fruitvale Station, a film about the real-life police killing of unarmed citizen Oscar Grant—a role that Jordan clearly didn’t take lightly, as even now it remains a focal point in his profile with GQ. Fruitvale Station opened doors for Jordan as a leading man that continue to reverberate in his career now, especially in the next few months, as next on Jordan’s docket is the Rocky sequel Creed—led by his Fruitvale Station writer-director Ryan Coogler.
But Jordan’s relationship to issues of race and inequality goes beyond just one film. His breakthrough performance as Wallace on The Wire, David Simon’s televised answer to the great American novel, became one of the most iconic storylines on that show. As quarterback Vince Howard on Friday Night Lights, Jordan got to explore the kind of friction that comes with being QB1.
Jordan has avoided stereotypical casting, and he’s yukked it up with Efron and played superheroes in parts that have nothing to do with race. But this is the young actor who penned an op-ed about “torching the color line” in playing a superhero who happens to be black in Fantastic Four, and who gave a Black Lives Matter speech at the BET Awards this summer. It’s not just that he should know better, it’s that he does know better.
But then again maybe we would know better too if we took the time to actually sit down and read the whole article.
The portrait that GQ interviewer paints of Jordan isn’t exactly flattering, but he doesn’t come across as thoughtless either. The comments that sent Twitter into a tizzy—about “not seeing color” and possibly dating Kendall Jenner—is just one quote removed from context in an interview where Jordan, rather forcefully, states his ambitions as a young black actor in Hollywood. He doesn’t want to play stereotypes, he doesn’t want people to get used to watching him die onscreen, he wants to present a new vision of what black life can be.
They’re lofty ambitions, and frankly, Jordan sounds more than a little douchey talking about wanting people to forget about that other Michael Jordan when they hear his name. But what Jordan has to say is ultimately more interesting and more nuanced than what the backlash was responding to for most of the day.
Maybe it’s just me, maybe I’m just tired of the culture wars, but it’s exhausting opening up Twitter every day to find another celebrity being dragged for comments that don’t live up to our idealized version of them. Would I like for Michael B. Jordan to be the perfect gentleman, the up-to-the-minute politically minded but still down for a party bae that all the magazines and all the movies promise? Sure!
But the reality is that Michael B. Jordan is a young actor working in the Hollywood bubble, and when you’re in a bubble it can be hard to see the outside clearly.
It’s not an excuse for Jordan’s statements, but when you can turn on HBO and watch longtime liberal Matt Damon talk down the importance of diversity to Effie Brown—the producer of films like Dear White People and a black woman herself—maybe it’s time to consider the culture. Considering Hollywood’s track record, is it any wonder that lifers like Jordan—or Raven-Symoné or Keke Palmer—seem confused when asked to answer to the interests of the larger black community?
In that interview with GQ, Jordan talks a lot about growing up in Newark. He shows the interviewer around his hometown, includes him on discussions with his family. People call his mom for his autograph, the high school wants him to show up for homecoming. Jordan’s a hometown hero now and he makes it clear that the responsibility he feels towards his family and his home never leaves his mind.
“I always tried to use my best judgment,” Jordan says, “even though sometimes my best judgment wasn’t the best judgment. I had a lot of people looking out for me, making sure I didn’t do too many dumb things... I was a good kid at heart. My mom and dad raised three intelligent kids, so we tried to do our best, make them proud.”
Jordan is the kind of movie star that the words “movie star” was made for. He’s a natural onscreen, he’s bold and appealing and capable of real emotional depth. Interviews aside, he’s the kind of movie star America needs right now.