A hero of another color in Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center" has some people again balking at the whitewashing of a black character in a Hollywood film.Bebeto Matthews/The Associated Press
Jason Thomas of Columbus, Ohio, helped rescue Port Authority police officers John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno on 9/11. In Oliver Stone's movie, "World Trade Center," a white actor was cast to portray Thomas.
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This time it's the character of Marine Sgt. Thomas, one of two former Marines who help rescue New York Port Authority Officers Will Jimeno and John McLoughlin from beneath 20 feet of twisted metal, broken concrete and sparking debris in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.
In the film, white actor William Mapother -- who's Tom Cruise's cousin and who played Ethan Rom in the first season of "Lost" and Quecreek miner John "Flathead" Phillippi in ABC's "The Pennsylvania Miners' Story" -- plays Sgt. Thomas.
Last week, the real Sgt. Thomas -- a black, former Marine named Jason Thomas of Columbus, Ohio -- came forward and told his story.
"Someone needed help. It didn't matter who," Thomas told the Associated Press. "I didn't even have a plan. But I have all this training as a Marine, and all I could think was, 'My city is in need.' "
So, instead of heading to class at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at City University of New York that fateful morning, he headed toward the devastation. At ground zero, he ran into another ex-Marine and Connecticut accountant, Staff Sgt. David Karnes, and the two decided to search for survivors. Eventually they found Jimeno and McLoughlin.
Karnes, who couldn't reach Manhattan's 911 from his cell phone at ground zero, called his sister in Munhall, Joy Karnes. She helped relay information to New York emergency services that helped them pinpoint the trapped men's location.
Film producer Michael Shamberg apologized to Thomas for the racial inaccuracy in the film, saying they realized the mistake only after production had already begun, the Associated Press reported.
That apology comes a bit late for Paradise Gray, 42, of Wilkinsburg who sent out e-mails to hundreds of thousands via African-American list serves and Internet groups, such as the Luv4Self Network yesterday calling for a boycott of the film.
"You want to apologize to me?" Mr. Gray says. "Stop it."
Black men so rarely are portrayed or presented as heroes in popular culture and the media that when the opportunity to do so arises, they should be, he says.
"It's so natural for Hollywood to assume that every hero is a white man," Mr. Gray wrote in his e-mail. "Hollywood has always changed facts and edited history. From Charlton Heston as Moses and Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra. They are only continuing their tradition of whitewashing our history."
He also criticized the black community for not speaking out more. The Jewish community's mantra is "never forget" while the black community's mantra is "forgive and forget," he said. The black community should speak up every time this happens.
Six years ago, there was a similar controversy surrounding color-blind casting in the film "Pay It Forward." Kevin Spacey's white burn victim in the movie actually was a black Vietnam veteran in the book.
Though disappointed his character in the "World Trade Center" movie wasn't black, Thomas, who lived on Long Island during the attacks and now works as an officer in Ohio's Supreme Court, told the Associated Press he's not upset.
"I don't want to shed any negativity on what they were trying to show," he said.
The movie is much bigger than him, Thomas told the New Pittsburgh Courier, and it's the people who lost their lives who need to remembered.
L.A. Johnson can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-3903.