EDITORIAL: The Conundrum of Black Superheroes In Film

A recent editorial on this site posed a hypothesis that a black superhero movie stands a very small chance of being made in Hollywood regardless of the source material (notably Marvel or DC). But their problem is not their race, it's the lack of rogues in their galleries

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By Robb M. - 10/9/2012



A recent editorial on this site posed a hypothesis that a black superhero movie stands a very small chance of being made in Hollywood regardless of the source material (notably Marvel or DC). The issue is making certain that the character transcends the color barrier as most black heroes have now done. There should be some veneration and acknowledgement of the black heroes that have already been a success on the big screen.

Will Smith is the contemporary action hero stand who is able to stand toe to toe with anyone starring in an “Expendables” movie, Tom Cruise, Matt Damon (as Jason Bourne), or the “Lethal Weapon/Mad Max” Mel Gibson. Repeatedly, Smith has portrayed the everyman protagonist liked by the greater cinema’s audience. The testament to his success can be seen in total box office dollars or merely his action film resume, which should include tentative sequels to “I, Robot,” “Bad Boys,” and “Hancock.” The argument could be made that the movie sold because the cast wasn’t majority black. There isn’t an argument that Smith didn’t pull off each role and enhance its success with his performance. Again, the focus is the black hero bringing in box office revenue.

“Blade” is the first comic book, superhero movie that appealed to a greater audience in the post Reeve as Superman era. Why was it so good and successful? It was the traditional swashbuckling hero movie wherein the hero, though himself dysfunctional, is defined by how evil his nemesis is. Wesley Snipes showed a grittier side and broke from making his version of the “Die Hard” movies.

Denzel Washington, of course, has quite the resume of heroes on film. The focus here is cinematic comic book/sci-fi heroes (after all, superheroes are very much a part of science fiction).

What is the real hindrance in the advancement of the black superhero? Most of these characters originate in a time when it was progressive or popular to create a black superhero or a black version of a known hero. This was done in the previous twenty plus years with super heroines. The 1970’s are the best example of such production: Power Man/Luke Cage in a very ‘70’s garb, the Falcon sprung from Harlem, Black Vulcan (Lightning) shot to fame on “Superfriends,” and John Stewart as Green Lantern. The secondary issue is creating black or African-American superheroes with ‘black’ in the name (include Black Goliath in the list). Now this isn’t meant to disparage the creators or these creations. These characters aren’t silly, lame, or overly redundant. At one time or another, certain black heroes were seen only as sidekicks or partners, rather than stand-alone heroes.You cannot simply make an established hero black, nor can you simply add black in name to that creation. Fortunately, that time is over much in the same way super heroines are increasingly stand-alone now. Their common weakness is the lack of a good nemesis. It has nothing to do with who they are, their skin color, or their point of origin. Most of these characters stand on their own today, yet you are hard pressed to name each one’s villain. Aside from Panther's Klaw, who is the antithesis of Luke Cage, War Machine, or the Falcon?



The lack of an arch nemesis that the audience is able to loathe is the sole reason that black superheroes on screen are so hard to find. [Side note: Again, this is the same problem with female superheroes.] The villain defines the hero. It is the villain that illustrates how good, powerful, and triumphant the hero can and will be. Batman is never more brilliant than in the face of the Joker’s ‘jokes.’ Spider-Man is never better than when he bests the Green Goblin. Superman is at his finest in the face of Lex Luthor’s sinister machinations. Captain America is lucky enough to have an arch nemesis who is the epitome of the world’s nemeses: the Nazi’s Red Skull.

Where does that leave the refined and interesting plethora of black superheroes hoping to make the screen? In wait. Only the Black Panther possesses a rogue’s gallery with the potential to develop a big screen villain that would be vile, sinister, or despicable enough to counterpoint how amazing, skilled, and brilliant the Panther is. Static Shock may be a distant second. His rogue’s gallery will take a lot more refinement. He has the environment to make it on screen.

Chuck’s editorial regarding the questionable nature of the African setting of Wakanda and a white villain is correct in mentioning a potential lack of reception. Yet, Wakanda is not an existing nation. It has all of the elements of a land of wonderment between technology, magic, and the reality of being in an African environment. It can represent so many concepts and allegories to so many. It may be the perfect setting for a superhero movie and potential setting for a sequel to “Marvel’s The Avengers.” Its offerings are as great and varied as “Thor”’s cinematic portion of the universe…except for snow.

In conclusion, race and gender are two delineations which enrich superheroes. These are not enough to make a hero super. It is his (or her) villain that broadens the appeal and deepens the character in books and on film.
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DrDoom - 10/8/2012, 12:23 PM
Luke Cage's archnemesis is Chemistro, and Spider-Man's is Venom, not Goblin.
Wallymelon - 10/8/2012, 12:29 PM
now this is an article i dont have much to say to cuz i agree 100
RedHood13 - 10/8/2012, 2:02 PM
I agree 100% except Luke Cage's arch nemesis is Diamondback(Willis Stryker). Why? They were partners and crime and they got separated by the woman. He also is the reason Luke Cage got and jail and was the first Luke Cage villain. Diamondback is a knife throwing expert. Chemistry is a cool character but wouldn't pass for a superhero movie now anyway.
fortycals - 10/8/2012, 2:02 PM
I believe we all leave out spawn when we talk of black heroes. That movie set the cause back years. They went for camp when they should have went serious. The violator and Wynn are great villians but they screwed the pooch hard with that movie.

Blue Marvel would also make for a good period film, where society itself is the villian.

The best way to go, or best chance we will get is in tv. HFH show would rock, and you could have two strong black character in Misty knight, and luke. It wouldnt be considered a "black" show because of iron fist. It would probably be the most diversified comic themed show ever.

Luke Cage nemisis would be purple man if you go by who effected his life the most, and made him who he is today. That would make for a good flick, wrongly imprisoned luke.

MisterMagurlypse - 10/8/2012, 6:00 PM
You're completely correct, there isn't a need for the hero until an evil rises. Fortycals nailed it with Purple Man and Luke Cage. I agree Spawn needs a second chance, but his story is more supernatural like Ghost Rider and may seem kinda unrelatable to most. Black Panther needs to be done ASAP with Klaw as the villian and build up to a sequel with Man Ape. If people dont accept a Panther movie cause the villian is white that's straight up BS. I'm white too. It doesn't matter. Race isn't the issue when it comes to that story. This is a shame this day and age.

Will Smith is IMO gets hated on for no reason. He's a very deticated actor who has been perfecting his skills as he goes from movie to movie. Ali, Bad Boys, I am Legend and Bagger Vance are some of my favorite flims. Hated Hancock though. I grew up on Fresh Prince, funny as hell show.

Great article!!
Tainted87 - 10/8/2012, 7:49 PM
Green Goblin killed Gwen Stacy - he's Spider-man's arch nemesis.

The problem with black superheroes is that they were all written with stereotypes in mind at their conception. John Stewart was an annoying racist who blamed all his problems on white people. Sam Wilson was a pimp. Luke Cage was a delinquent. T'Challa's dad and king was murdered by a white supremacist.

In order for these characters to develop like the rest of the superhero population, they have to discard their roots. Luke Cage needs to come out of Harlem. Black Panther needs to come out of Wakanda. But then, what is left?

Luke Cage was one of my favorite characters in Bendis' New Avengers, and it had nothing to do with his origin, his enemies, etc... but just his personality. He was an intentionally unintentionally funny straight man to Spider-man's wise-cracking.

It's all about personality. Charm.
fortycals - 10/8/2012, 8:33 PM
I would love to see a black panther movie. I just dont think they are going to do a movie that is too black. I just dont think they will do a movie that would be considered a "black movie". A black lead maybe, but not a movie that the majority of the characters are black. He is probably the most deserving, but I dont think he'll get a solo.

If marvel ever does civil war, they would need the new warriors. Even though it would be a horrible way to intro one of my childhood favorites. We would get night thraser, and maybe rage. A night thrasher movie could work, and on a low budget, with midnights fire as the bad guy. A rage movie would would work, but he has no real nemisis.

Then there is always a War machine spin off. Put him in a warzone and let him loose. He doesnt have a to have an one man nemisis. AIM is funneling weapons into a war torn central european country. Rhodey is there to take them down.
lokibane2012 - 10/8/2012, 11:17 PM
Iron Man 1 & 2 worked out just fine with shitty villains.
AC1 - 10/9/2012, 6:33 AM
yeah, a lot of black comic book characters were created and written in similar ways to blacksploitation films, but a lot of them are very easy to steer away from their stereotypes. Luke Cage coming from Harlem doesn't need to be a stereotype, as long as it's not treated like one. Sam Wilson won't be portrayed as a former pimp in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, so he will be reworked a little more. Black Panther is the king of an African nation, but there aren't really too many stereotypes surrounding him - in fact, they go against a lot of stereotypes as Wakanda is an incredibly advanced African nation, whereas stereotypically Africa would be portrayed as severely impoverished.
AC1 - 10/9/2012, 6:34 AM
But the way these characters become black stereotypes is when the writers feel the need to fill the cast with other black characters. They always overfill the balance to the point that white people are a minority, rather than having a proper mix.
DioFoRio - 10/9/2012, 10:43 AM
what tainted said
sarahsatire - 10/9/2012, 10:44 AM
The strength and presence of a villain is sometimes more important than the hero. Without a captivating villain, you can't truly feel for the hero's plight. A villain has the unique power to make you -want- to see the hero win, thus creating that very important emotional bond with them. As the Joker famously said to Batman, "You complete me." Well, it goes the other way too. The villain completes the hero. It's the best kind of dysfunctional relationship you can hope for! :)
DioFoRio - 10/9/2012, 10:51 AM
the stereotypes are antiquated and only further perpetuate those ideas. Most of those origins don't even come into play with those characters anymore.
DioFoRio - 10/9/2012, 10:54 AM
^^^LoL
Temple - 10/9/2012, 10:56 AM
Hmm, interesting...andddd I still want a black panther movie.
Temple - 10/9/2012, 10:57 AM
@Nomis Ha! Truuuu.
JordanKing - 10/9/2012, 10:57 AM
Okay, had to stop after the Will Smith segment. Hancock did not do well because because of a good story or cast. It did well simply because Will Smith was playing a superhero, that's the grab.

The guy is talented, but he could be white, Chineese or freaking alien and it still would of performed on a similar level.

In order for these black Marvel/DC characters to hold their own at the box office, they need to cast a bankable star, and not settle for an unknown. It'd pretty much be suicide.
OtakuPapi - 10/9/2012, 11:07 AM
A Black Panther movie could work...regardless of the Rogue...he is Avenger affiliated. Therefore there is a wide spectrum of villains for him to combat. I'm Afro American myself, i personally believes Miles Morales is the perfect Ethnic character for the big screen. Reading The Ultimate Spider Man and Spider Men, i'm dumbfounded by how good it is. A Spider Men Movie would be freaking Amazing. But alot of black characters lack depth and have never truly been explored by writers and their respective companies. But there are amazing characters out there suck as Bp,Storm,Luke Cage, Static Shock, Spawn...others come to mind outside of them but they lack depth and are minor characters. Cloak And Dagger would be a awesome movie though
DoubleD - 10/9/2012, 11:13 AM
AcidicHeart, Spidermans archnemesis has always been the Green Goblin, just like the Joker is to Batman
NorrinRaddical - 10/9/2012, 11:23 AM
sorry, but NO. god, really, this was honestly your best guess?

The only thing a movie studio cares about is $$$. That's IT. When they think there's money to be made with Black Panther, you will see a Black Panther movie. They don't care about his rogues gallery any more than they care about a black audience. They only care if the star power is bankable. If Will Smith says he'll play Diamondback, then maybe there's hope for Luke Cage. Marvel has been able to cast a strong cast with some relative unknowns, but I think they have the iconic stature of the characters to support. Sad as it may be, Hero For Hire is going to end up being a grindhouse cult hit, becuase he's never been flagship. The United States can elect a black man to be president (twice I think!), but Hollywood can barely cast one
sarahsatire - 10/9/2012, 11:24 AM
@PantherX Pretty sure Djimon Hounsou was born to play Black Panther. A known actor (but not TOO known), with the talent and the looks.



Yep. I just smacked y'all with some panther package.
CharlesLord - 10/9/2012, 11:30 AM
Im glad i got a name drop lol. And Luke Cage's nemesis is Diamondback, his former best friend that framed him (which ultimately led to the experiment that turned him into cage). And IM did well wit lackluster villains.

Also tainted brought up good points. The way I'd do a Luke Cage film would be a revenge flick. I mean thats wat his origin is. He waited his time in blackgate to get his chance at revenge against diamondback. Villains dont always make a compelling movie, cuz like you realize, not everybody has compelling rogues.
CharlesLord - 10/9/2012, 11:31 AM
And sarah Djimon was perfect for panther like 8 years ago. Hes really too old now.
sarahsatire - 10/9/2012, 11:42 AM
^ LIES! He does not age. :O
JasonCYates - 10/9/2012, 11:52 AM
Here's a thought for those black readers who question the absence of black superheroes... Start your own Comic Book Company and stop waiting for non- blacks to create your superheroes for you.
BlackFlash - 10/9/2012, 12:09 PM
Djimon can play BP father.
Starjammer - 10/9/2012, 12:28 PM
I also find it interesting that whenever anyone discusses ethnic diversity in heroes, it's always black heroes they talk about. What about Asian heroes? Or Latino heroes? Or Native American? There's wayy more black heroes than any of these groups. Simply throwing in a bunch of black characters doesn't suddenly make it diverse.
Starjammer - 10/9/2012, 12:36 PM
The gender thing is also interesting. MARVEL actually has quite a few awesome females, most of them in the X-Men universe, but aside from that it kind of sucks they all stemmed off other male heroes when they first started. (She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, Wasp, Spider-Woman, etc.) I think over the years though, these companies have done a great job adapting and giving them greatness in their own right.

We have to keep in mind that all these characters stemmed from a time that was way less multi-cultural than we are now. We have to look at it through that lens. The trick now is that we have to slowly start to integrate this multiculturalism in, but at the same time stay true to the original characters, which is tough. Problems arise when we try to force a drastic change or political ideal into a character where it doesn't feel natural. If that's the case, then we're just doing an injustice to the character and entire culture behind it *cough* Quesada *cough*... Hopefully we can find a middle ground and be able to create new heroes that will do justice to people of all backgrounds.
Perrymanimal - 10/9/2012, 12:36 PM
Just wanted to say I agree with Tainted87 and Fortycals. This has been a topic of discussion for quite some time, but I did find this particular take on it, interesting. I feel this article makes a very good point, but as many of you have said, a proper villain can be conjured up, it's all about performance. I do think the point has also been made here that another reason there has not been a Black Superhero film is Hollywood probably has not seen it as being a profitable investment. Not only in terms of no black superhero has the type of popularity to warrant a film (hell Aquaman is having trouble b/c no one identifies with his character), but also because Hollywood thinks in terms of franchises when it comes to comics and very few Black-led casts get those.

Now I won't cry racism (even though I do believe Hollywood is sexist and racist) but that would be too easy. Really it's about money making potential. Tyler Perry is seen as being popular to only church going black folks. There is very little transcendence there, but he finances and controls alot of the production and people come out in droves due to their appreciation of the work (of which I am NOT a fan). My point is that I think all it would take for a Black lead superhero film to work is for a particularly industrious and skilled director and writer to bravely take on the subject and convince an ambitious producer to make the film.
Not every film dealing with a black star has to be about civil rights era justice, but racism is a reality for all blacks today and that subject always makes for great drama cinematically. But in terms of a comic book movie, all one would need to do is treat the character with dignity fitting of a true hero and not completely discard its comic book origin, but merely revamp it (as Chris Nolan did with Batman Begins franchise)

And while I do not admit this to validate my claims, I must add that I am a black man and I will not pretend like my experiences are the same for every black person. This is simply my opinion as a fan of movies and comic books. I think the material just needs care and someone willing to write the hell outta that movie (and make sure it does not pander or insult the audience on an intellectual and fan level...like GI Joe ). I may be asking for a lot but I've seen it done with so many movies, it can be done with one starring a black comic book character. But overall I have to admit, like many of you have said, it may sink or swim based on star power and production.

Oh and also, I think Black Panther or Night Thrasher as a tv show would be amazing. Get the action and writing right and it will be successful.
DioFoRio - 10/9/2012, 12:37 PM
Chadwick Boseman for Black Panther.
DioFoRio - 10/9/2012, 12:41 PM
they should do a flash back of Black Panther interacting with Cap from WW2 era and have Digimon Honalulu play T'Chaka-Kahn, Let me rock you T'Chaka-Kahn that's all I wanna do. Then have Chadwick Boseman play T'Challah bread.
DioFoRio - 10/9/2012, 12:45 PM
I would love to see more black characters on screen. But I don't want to see the stereotypical bullshit. It all reminds me of Hollywood Shuffle.
DioFoRio - 10/9/2012, 12:46 PM
Yeah Nomis...I can't wait to see him in the JR biopic.
TruBeliever - 10/9/2012, 12:48 PM
Ah, come on, that's a bunch of horse sh*t! Lando Calrissian was a black guy. You know. He got to fly the Millennium Falcon, what's the matter with you?

@AcidicHeart . ol' web head's arch villian will always be Goblin verde.
Perrymanimal - 10/9/2012, 12:48 PM
Hollywood Shuffle is a great Movie! I see something on tv or in a movie that reminds me that movie everyday! Good call Dionysios. I agree.
ChiefJudge - 10/9/2012, 12:53 PM
The reality is that in the past a black hero was a novelty in all media forms. Thankfully that has now been addressed in Blade - Great Movie & TV series. Static had his own cartoon show. Spawn had an animated series and Movie. Steel had a TV Movie. The green lantern etc...But also to redress past omissions black actors have played Catwoman, Kingpin and Nick Fury and nobody bats an eyelid.

The real issues are the portrayal of women in comics and related media and also homosexuality and disabilities.

ChiefJudge - 10/9/2012, 12:54 PM
Yeah and I loved M.A.N.T.I.S
WEJAlen20 - 10/9/2012, 12:57 PM
I'm hoping that Drax in COTG will be african american
Perrymanimal - 10/9/2012, 12:57 PM
I really appreciate no one mentioning 'Meteor Man' or 'Blankman'...Thank you, Good work everyone, Everyone on the floor good job...Proud of you all. Lol.
Inhuman - 10/9/2012, 1:14 PM
its such a bullshit excuse from marvel that wakanda cant be real. so its easy to make asgard, frost giants, a talking tree and a racoon with a gun but its mighty difficult to make an advanced african nation believable??? im not even black and that is some straight racist shit right there. black panther is an ESSENTIAL avenger. you cant have the avengers without him, period
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