Dwayne Johnson is set to play African-American folk hero John Henry in an upcoming Netflix movie, but is already facing a big backlash against his casting.
In folklore, Henry was a steel driver who successfully raced against a steel machine to drill into rock, only to die in the process.
Yesterday (October 9), the actor posted a teaser for an upcoming Netflix movie John Henry and the Statesmen, which will be directed by Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle‘s Jake Kasdan.
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WHEN THE MAN COMES AROUND. Inspired to bring to life one of my childhood heroes, John Henry, in JOHN HENRY & THE STATESMEN. In this movie, 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. The NETFLIX brand speaks directly to our @sevenbucksprod ethos of being bold, ambitious and game changing – and most importantly, always thinking “Audience first” in homes all around the world. 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. At bedtime most children get loving nursery rhyme songs — I got this/ Every mornin’ at the mine, you could see him arrive. He stood 6 foot 6 and weighed 245. Kind of broad at the shoulder and narrow at the hip. And everybody knew you didn’t give no lip to Big John. Big John. Big Bad John. Directing this big ol’ tentpole is the talented and passionate, Jake Kasdan. Jake and I found nice success together in a little movie called, JUMANJI. Gonna be a lot of fun bringing these legends to life. My childhood hero. The steel driving man and his disruptive band of international folklore legends. JOHN HENRY & THE STATESMEN @sevenbucksprod @danygarciaco @hhgarcia41 @flynnpictureco @NETFLIX
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Describing Henry as one of his “childhood heroes”, Johnson explained on Instagram: “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 added: “The legend of JOHN HENRY’S strength, endurance, dignity and cultural pride was instilled in my DNA at a very young age.”
However, Johnson’s casting in the lead role has not been met well on social media, many taking issue at the fact that folklore has depicted Henry as a dark-skinned black man, whereas Johnson is mixed-race – his father is black and mother Samoan.
“Y’all I love the Dwayne Johnson but him playing John Henry has me in my feelings … not in a good way,” one person wrote.
“Nope. He’s great, but he’s definitely not John Henry. This is a wonderful time for someone new to break in. John Henry was dark skinned & young,” another added.
A third wrote: “Is he playing John Henry? Like he’s ready to claim his blackness for a minute because it’s convenient?”
Digital Spy has reached out to Johnson’s representatives for comment.
John Henry and the Statesmen will air on Netflix.
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