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With the new Fantastic Four (yet another Hollywood reboot) coming out soon, it's great to see that the actor Michael Jordan (nah... not that one) playing the Human Torch isn't another white actor portraying an original white character. I like how a number of directors employ actors not based on appearance or comparing them to an original character that they are playing.

So my question is: what is the earliest TV show/movie which featured an actor whose ethnicity did not match that of the original character in the comic?

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    Do Turkish Batman or Japanese Spider-Man count? – Politank-Z Jul 27 '15 at 13:27
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    Does a Welsh Reed Richards count (okay, probably not the earliest example) ? – Eike Pierstorff Jul 27 '15 at 13:53
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    +1. I wonder if the earliest such cases might actually be whitewashes, though, rather than the reverse? Or, worse yet: white actors in blackface. So if you're specifically looking for the earliest non-soul-crushing example, you might want to specify . . . – ruakh Jul 27 '15 at 14:18
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    I couldn't stomach the racism in the Batman serial films from the 40s, but I'd be shocked if there weren't some Caucasian actors in yellow face playing up Japanese racial stereotypes there. I imagine that at least a handful of those appeared concurrently in the comics. – Politank-Z Jul 27 '15 at 14:58
  • @Politank-Z - Haha love the trailers for those! I probably should have mentioned in the question but I meant TV shows or movies which stay true to the setting of the original character (e.g. Gotham is the main setting for Batman, don't think this is the same for Turkish Batman but I wouldn't be suprised if it was based in Batman, Turkey). – user35594 Jul 28 '15 at 0:32
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I believe the first major race-swap was Eartha Kitt as Catwoman in 1963 for the third season of the live-action Batman series.

Catwoman had originally been designed in 1940 (Batman #1) as a white woman.

Original design

Previous to Kitt, the role had already been played by two white actresses (Julie Newmar and Lee Meriwether). Kitt's portrayal was the first time Catwoman had been depicted to be a woman of color or of any other race (though, an argument could possibly made for Meriwether's Russian portrayal in the live-action movie). Of course, Catwoman's race would later be swapped again in the 2004 Catwoman film, when she was played by Halle Berry.

Kitt as Catwoman

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  • +1, fantastic answer! It's been a while since I last saw the Batman series with Adam West :). Thank you for your answer! – user35594 Jul 28 '15 at 0:42
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Does it count if the actor is pretending to be the character's race?

There was a Charlie Chan comic strip in 1938, but in film the character was routinely played by a Caucasian actor.

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