Less than a week ago, Kenneth Branagh's Thor took a surprising turn with its casting. Idris Elba was cast as Heimdall, the all-seeing and knowing god who guards the city gates of Asgard. A mere week earlier, Tadanobu Asano was cast as Hogun the Grim, one of the steadfast Warriors Three. Both choices caused a bit of stunned silence among the great geek forums, and some verbally protested the casting as being heavy handed and politically correct. Asgard is a Nordic pantheon, after all, and everyone residing in it should be white. Very white.
Now, I can understand the reaction. Casting other ethnicities can often be a token and misguided effort, less about the role than about a director wanting to prove they don't recognize a man or woman by their race. That's commendable, but it's often so clumsily done that it's clear that they saw it very, very well. I've argued strenously against that kind of casting. I still remember the shocked looks I earned in a college class when I didn't see anything wrong with the fact that the Lord of the Rings cast was white. I pointed out that Middle Earth was supposed to be a prehistoric England where, unfortunately, no other ethnicites would have existed. Everyone looked at me as though I had started talking about Aryans and the superior race instead of feebly defending the history of Hobbiton. I still stand by my argument, but though I'm willing to defend the "whiteness" of a prehistoric England, its hobbits, and its elves, I don't believe there's any reason to have Asgard be populated only by white Europeans. Fans are confusing Nordic and Marvel mythology, and it's to the detriment of really fantastic casting.