Ryan Potter has a pitch for Warner Bros. and current Batman Ben Affleck.
What if Batman’s partner Robin were reimagined as Asian American in the upcoming Justice League movie? What if this Robin were played by a biracial actor who’d spent eight years studying and training in White Tiger kung fu? Soon, what began as a simple tweet picked up steam and the 21-year-old was inspired to turn his idea into something a little more concrete.
On Saturday morning, Potter uploaded a minute-long concept video of himself as Tim Drake, the third Robin, showing off his impressive martial arts skills as he takes on a group of men armed only with a staff. Within hours, the video racked up nearly 500,000 views on YouTube and #RyanPotterForTimDrake officially become a Thing.
When I spoke with Potter, who is half Japanese and half European/Native American, he explained that as much as he would love the opportunity to bring another superhero to life on the big screen, his goal was to show people just what it means to see a person of color playing this sort of role.
"Anybody being cast as an iconic character from any sort of comic book universe whether it's DC or Marvel is a huge weight because every fan already has a cast in their mind that they want to want to play their favorite characters," Potter told me. "It'd be a huge honor. But I'm really fighting for diversity here."
In the comics, Tim Drake becomes Robin after deducing that Bruce Wayne is secretly Batman and taking it upon himself to learn the necessary skills to be his partner. Unlike other Robins before him, Tim isn't introduced as being preternaturally gifted in terms of fighting, but instead brings a sense of moral balance back to the Dynamic Duo after the second Robin is murdered by the Joker.
Even though there have already been a number of iconic racebent characters in comic book movies, it didn't take long for the issue of Tim Drake being canonically white to pop up in the discussion of whether Potter or any other actor of color should portray him in a film.
When I asked Potter about the knee-jerk negative reactions that some fans had to his proposal, he explained that as a self-identified nerd, he understood that idea of wanting to preserve something you love as it is. But in the grand scheme of things, Potter said, comic book characters like Robin or Marvel's Mary Jane are exactly the kinds of roles that should be racebent more often because their stories are meant to be universal.
"Take a film like Cloud Atlas," Potter explained. "If Jim Sturgess can be Korean, I should be able to play a fictional character of another race because it's not always about what a character's ethnicity or race is, it's who they are as a person."
Potter was quick to add that the people who couldn't wrap their heads around an Asian American Robin were the same people breathlessly defending Marvel's decision to cast Iron Fist, a character many fans campaigned to be played by an actor of color, as a white man.
"Canon-wise, yeah, Iron Fist is a white dude, but for a hero so influenced by Asian culture, it feels weird when people are genuinely not willing to bend the story to fit the character better," Potter said. "There are so many Asian and Asian American actors out there with legitimate kung fu experience and that was basically like saying 'no, we're just going to stick with the white guy.'"
Ultimately, Potter told me, his push for a racebent Robin is tied what he feels is his responsibility to keep fighting for inclusion in Hollywood, something people sometimes lose sight of when studios make progressive casting choices.
"Whenever you see Asian American characters in movies you always know that that character just as easily could have been cast as white," Potter said. "Asian American actors don't want to be looked at as a whole, but for us to be able to make it in Hollywood and have our own Japanese American or Korean American stars, we need to stand together first to say 'Hey, we're still here. We deserve to be in these movies, too.'"