Dwayne Johnson and Netflix face backlash over black folk hero movie

The Rock has been hit with criticism for accepting the role of dark-skinned African-American folk legend John Henry

Dwayne Johnson

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will play African-American folk hero John Henry in a new Netflix movie – but not everyone is pleased with his casting in such an iconic role.


For those not familiar with the legend of John Henry, he’s a mythic African-American steel driver who is said to have successfully raced against a steam-powered rock drilling machine with just his bare hands and a hammer, a contest which killed him but earned him his victory.

Traditionally he has been portrayed in cartoons and TV shows as a dark-skinned black man. That’s why many have taken issue with the fact that Johnson is mixed-race and light-skinned – when opportunities for dark-skinned black actors in Hollywood can be much more limited.

Others have hit back, arguing that Johnson’s skin colour should not limit the roles he can play.

Describing Henry as one of his “childhood heroes”, Johnson told his Instagram followers: “I’ll lead an ensemble of the most popular folklore figures and legends from different cultures around the world. Netflix is the perfect partner & platform to bring these global folklore icons to life.”

He also stressed the personal significance of John Henry, writing: “The legend of John Henry’s strength, endurance, dignity and cultural pride was instilled in my DNA at a very young age. My dad would sing ‘Big John’ to me every time he would put me to bed.”

The controversy has centred around Johnson’s heritage, with a Samoan mother and a black father, and the issues of “colourism” and whitewashing.

But others have weighed in, arguing that it shouldn’t be about the shade of his skin colour…


No release date has been announced, but Netflix says John Henry and the Statesmen is “coming soon.”

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