When Keiynan Lonsdale was first cast as Wally West on The Flash, there was a rather negative and racist response, which emotionally hurt the actor. Lonsdale, who has since moved from The Flash toLegends of Tomorrow, was added to The Flash in season 2. Although typically Wally West is the nephew of Iris West in the comics, the show made the decision to make Wally Iris’ long-lost brother and the change prompted some rather nasty responses.
Obviously, Lonsdale being cast as West isn’t the only time The Flash has taken a typically caucasian character and have them be portrayed by a person of color. Iris and Joe West both are white in the comics, but were re-envisioned as black for the TV series. It’s only after seeing that his co-stars, particularly the actress who plays Iris, were dealing with the same racist response that Lonsdale felt more comfortable.
Lonsdale opened up about his casting as Kid Flash in an interview with the LA Times (via CBR). The actor, who currently costars in the LGBT teen rom-com Love, Simon, talked about the fan response to his casting in the Arrowverse. Since Love, Simon is based on the book Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Lonsdale was aware that fans would have a very different picture in their head of his character. Yet, it was much harder to deal with the hate when he was cast as Wally West, according to the actor:
[Wally] is originally Caucasian [in the comic books], and so when I got cast — they had changed the character in the most recent comic books and his father and sister are black, but people still didn’t put two and two together. It was interesting. I was upset and hurt and I couldn’t understand it.
Lonsdale continued, saying that coming from Australia, he had dealt with racism before, but that it’s different in the United States. It wasn’t until after he saw that his costar Candice Patton had received a similar amount of hate, for much longer, than Lonsdale was able to move beyond that. As he explained:
It was an education. I needed to experience that. There were definitely things that have tested my emotions, and just learning how to not respond to really awful [stuff], and learning to be like, ‘It doesn’t matter. I’m good, good exactly as I am.’ I learned a lot about that by joining a show.
It is encouraging that Lonsdale has learned to accept himself and ignore the racist reactions, while he’s still working in the Arrowverse. However, it’s not something he should have to deal with at all. Wally West has typically been a caucasian character. However, as Lonsdale mentioned, shortly before he was cast on The Flash, a new version of Wally West was introduced in the comics. This Wally is still the nephew of Iris West but is of mixed race, just like Lonsdale.
This new iteration of Wally was added to the comics in large part because of the popularity of The CW’s Flash and the depiction of the West Family on the series. Keiynan Lonsdale might not be playing the most famous version of Wally West (the red-headed sidekick turned hero), but his version is comic accurate, just not to the most well-known version. There’s no reasonable excuse for being upset over Lonsdale’s casting because of his looks, from any angle. Even if there wasn’t a Wally West who was a person of color in the comics, some of the best material in the Arrowverse has been of stuff that was changed from the source material.
Of course, not all the criticisms against Lonsdale’s portrayal of Wally West have been centered around racial concerns. Wally was, for a very long time, one of the most troubled characters on The Flash. The series seemingly no idea what to do with him. However, now that Lonsdale and Wally are on Legends of Tomorrow the character is being put to far better use. Lonsdale’s character is much more like the Wally West that fans have loved for decades, all talk of his looks aside.