When it was announced yesterday that British actor Jimmy Akingbola had been cast as the villainous Baron Reiter in Arrow season 4, it raised some eyebrows, as Akingbola is black, and Baron Reiter is better known in comic books as the Nazi supervillain Baron Blitzkrieg.
But now Arrow executive producer/co-showrunner Marc Guggenheim is getting out in front of those questions, telling Entertainment Weekly he wants to “disabuse people of the notion that we cast a black man as a Nazi, because that’s not actually what we did.”
Guggenheim goes on to explain that Baron Reiter will appear as a villain in flashback scenes, but will be different than his portrayal in comic books.
“We wanted a really great villain for Oliver in the flashbacks,” Guggenheim tells EW. “We wanted to come out of the gate strong with someone great and we wanted to, quite frankly, cast the best actor. As it turns out, our best actor was African-American.”
Akingbola is actually British with Nigerian ancestry, but EW didn't catch the oversight by Guggenheim.
“We took the name Baron Reiter without any intention of turning him into Baron Blitzkrieg,” he continues. “Baron Blitzkreig is the evil Nazi super villain. Baron Reiter is not going to become Baron Blitzkreig in the show.”
According to Guggenheim, the Baron Reiter that appears in Arrow season 4 has only a name in common with the comic book character, as well as his affiliation to the villainous Shadowspire organization.
“We never planned on actually telling a story about a bad guy who is a Nazi,” Guggenheim says. “In fact, when people meet this character, he’s not German, he’s not a Nazi, he doesn’t subscribe to any Nazi philosophies. We were attracted to an organization that actually in the comics had been associated with Deathstroke called Shadowspire. In the comics, Baron Reiter became associated with Shadowspire.”
As for the fan reaction, Guggenheim expressed understanding at the confusion felt by many fans.
“It’s all good. We were surprised because we mistakenly assumed that everyone was on the same page as we were, but why would they be? We haven’t told anyone anything about the flashbacks, but this was so obviously not our intention to do Baron Blitzkreig. If we were, in fact, doing a Nazi being played by an African American, I would expect us to be very duly Internet chastised.”
Regarding the flashbacks in which Baron Reiter will appear, Guggenheim remained mum.
“We have a really great surprise for the season premiere for the flashbacks, and it’s made talking about the flashbacks very difficult. We pick up basically in real time. It’s been a number of months later since the last flashback. Oliver is in Coast City, as eagle-eyed viewers noted when he boarded the boat at the end of season 3. What happens there and how he comes to cross with Reiter, that we need to keep secret because it would spoil a pretty big twist in episode 401.”
Arrow season 4 premieres October 7, 2015.