20 September 2009

Another Time Robin Was Almost Black

The last weekly Robin discussed the report of a proposal to give Batman “a black ghetto kid” as a new sidekick in the early 1980s. In the following decade a different set of Batman storytellers came up with a similar idea.

After the huge box-office success of Batman (1989), Warner Bros, and director Tim Burton planned a sequel. Daniel Waters’s working script from 1991 included “A scruffy Teen” who reads comic books and helps Batman fix the batmobile. Most of the script refers to this character only as “the Kid,” but then we see “an enigmatic R on his [repair-shop] uniform.” Toward the end comes this scene:

Batman squeals his Ski-boat to a stop and vaults off it. The Kid rushes up and flips him the pinwheel object.
Guess I won't be needing to borrow the descrambler anymore. At least not for a while...We save the city or what?

Getting there. I owe you two. Got a name?

Yeah.....but I like to be called...Robin...

Nice name...Oh Robin...
When Batman turns back around, the Kid, ROBIN, is gone. Batman smiles at the utilization of one of his own traits.
This isn’t the Robin we see in the comics, fighting close beside Batman and occasionally tripping over things. But he does fulfill another important “reason for Robin”: he’s a motor-mouth, expressing emotion and pointing out dangers that the stoic, monosyllabic Batman doesn’t deign to mention.

Though the script doesn’t describe the Kid, Burton liked the idea of casting a young African-American in the part. When the name “Robin” would finally be heard, it would carry a charge: why couldn’t Batman’s Robin be a black youth instead of a white teen with dark hair and blue eyes?

The Kid was left out of the final shooting script for Batman Returns, but slotted for the next sequel. That production went far enough that the studio cast young actor Marlon Wayans, with a screen test and costume fitting. Then Burton decided not to make the third movie, reportedly because the studio wanted him to tone down his vision so it would be more suitable for McDonald’s Happy Meal toys.

Director Joel Schumacher came on board for what would become Batman Forever. He preferred a more traditional Robin: white teenager, orphaned circus flyer, you know the drill. Schumacher reportedly considered Leonardo DiCaprio before deciding that he didn’t look like he could stand up to Chris O’Donnell in a fight. (Schumacher also decided to replace Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent/Two-Face after he’d appeared in the first Batman movie.)

Marlon Wayans received what in publishing would be called a kill fee, which was a lifeline for a young actor struggling to make it in Hollywood, as he explained in this 1998 interview. He went on to co-write and star in a series of successful movie parodies. In an interview earlier this year while promoting GI Joe, Wayans joked:
I get why they picked Chris O’Donnell, because it would be messed up to have Batman and you’ve got Robin, and his bulge is somewhat bigger than Batman’s. Batman would have a serious problem with that.
An analysis that recognizes one memorable feature of Schumacher’s Batman and Robin.


kittens not kids said...

a non-white Robin would have been pretty awesome.

J. L. Bell said...

I think the chances of a non-white Robin improve with each year. DC has shown itself it can modify the Robin look without disaster. It just has to get the character right.