As far as celebrities go, Dwayne Johnson is largely beloved, but not everyone is cheering on his latest project.
With much social media fanfare, the actor also known as the Rock announced Tuesday that he’ll be making and starring in the film John Henry and the Statesmen about the folk hero, an African-American steel-driver among a team of railroad builders who literally worked himself to death. Johnson said the project held a special place in his heart because Henry was one of his “childhood heroes” and his father, former pro wrestler Rocky Johnson, used to sing “Big John” to him before he put him to sleep as a kid.
However, soon after Johnson announced the project, which will feature “an ensemble of the most popular folklore figures and legends from different cultures around the world,” there was backlash over whether Johnson, whose father is black and whose mother is Samoan, should be playing a character that has been depicted as a dark-skinned black man. (Other actors to have played the role include Danny Glover in TV’s Shelley Duvall’s Tall Tales and Legends and Roger Aaron Brown, in the 1995 Disney film Tall Tale.) In animations — like the 2000 Disney animated short — the character is typically dark-skinned as well. Twitter was quick to react to Johnson’s decision to cast himself.