By Olu Alemoru
Depending on your point of view feisty Fast and Furious actress Michelle Rodriguez may or may not have put her foot in her mouth not so long ago admonishing “minority” thesps for “stealing white people’s superheroes.” The instant backlash brought an apology and explanation exhorting black creatives to come up with our own superhero mythologies.
Historically, we did. Outside the mainstream Marvel/DC duopoly, the modern day black superhero movement was given a boost by the likes of Dawud Anyabwile, creator with his brothers of the 90’s Brotherman Comics Series (which is being re-launched this month as a graphic novel via crowdfunding site Indiegogo) and the late Dwayne McDuffie, writer/producer on the animated Justice League series and co-founder of pioneering minority-owned and operated comic book company Milestone Media.
But maybe that kooky Rodriguez lass is on to something.
While the second Avengers, “The Age of Ultron,” looks set to crush all comers this summer, last October Marvel announced the big budget feature debut of Black Panther (with Chadwick Boseman portraying the King of Wakanda). Boseman’s – who starred as Jackie Robinson in “42” and James Brown in “Get On Up” – Panther will take his bow in “Captain America: Civil War” before his big solo outing slated for November 2017.
But if you can’t wait for that then later this year the Disney-owned entertainment behemoth and Netflix will unveil Luke Cage (starring American television actor Mike Colter) as a recurring character in “Marvel’s A.K.A Jessica Jones,” before spinning him off in his own series in 2016. Throw in Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as DC’s mooted anti-hero “Black Adam,” the re-imagining of characters like The Human Torch (Michael B Jordan) in “The Fantastic Four” and Heimdall (Idris Elba) in “Thor” (with the yelping fanboy backlash) and one might conclude we’re on the cusp of a black Superhero age?
Naturally, a call through to Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige or one of his executive team might answer the question definitively, but a reporter’s dogged phone and email attempts through a Disney senior PR didn’t bear fruit.
However, surveying the eye-catching slate of properties Marvel Studios announced last November running through to 2019, Q.E.D., one might say. Driven by the creative deconstruction of the Marvel and DC’s comic universes (or political correctness/white liberal guilt/publicity stunts say the yelpers) it seems that things are shaking up in the fantasy world – super heroine Carol Danvers, a.k.a “Captain Marvel,” makes her debut on July 6, 2018 – and make no mistake.
Sheena C. Howard, an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Rider University, Mercer County, New Jersey and the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con Eisner Award Winner (known as the “Oscar” of Comics) agreed. Howard, who is gay, became the first black woman to win the award.
“I think major companies are realizing that they can diversify classic characters, without completely alienating their historical target market (White males),” she replied via email. “This is simply maximizing their profits and the rewards of this diversity are much greater than the costs. I do not think the same Avenger audience will be flocking to the theaters to see the Black Panther movie. There will be some overlap, but there will also be some new faces in those seats. The comics industry has tapped into a new fan base, which includes women and racial minorities.”
However, seasoned Hollywood artist/animator and Creative-Art Director at Brice Productions, Jerry Lee Brice, begged to differ. “No, I don’t think this is a special age for any race of character in the commercial marketplace, but (it is) a good time to introduce new superheroes that reflect the diversity that the latest U.S. census shows that we have,” he stated. “As a black American, I do enjoy and welcome the opportunity to see superheroes that look like me.”
Brice also took on the fanboy backlash, arguing that it was “just a reflection of our nation’s difficult relationship with race.”
He added: “So I don’t think much about what fanboys like or dislike, really, because I understand that in the commercial marketplace, once you expand the dynamics of the team, you increase the audience for that title, and as long as the characters are fictional, whatever the race or sex they are does not matter as much as the writing.”
Echoing the bottom line ethos of Hollywood when it comes to such cultural matters, Dr. David Huxley, a Senior Lecturer in Film and Media Studies at Manchester Metropolitan University’s School of Art, kind of hedges his bets on whether we’re in for a new Superhero age.
“Marvel, when challenged about the lack of black Superheroes in the 1960s and 70s, answered that the titles they’d tried, like Luke Cage, just weren’t successful enough,” said the graphic novel and comic book specialist. “I suspect the same commercial imperatives remain – if Black Panther is popular in the Avengers he’ll get his own franchise – just as with comics it’s the numbers that are the bottom line [and] I suspect that as long as it’s not seen as tokenism there is no reason why this couldn’t be the right time. Hollywood has enough successful black actors to make it work.”
ONES TO WATCH…
A futuristic Nigerian Superhero (no, not this author – yet), a feisty turn-of-the-century gender-bending inventor and an android with a secret past.
Since time waits for no man or woman, talented black creatives are taking full advantage of mainstream crowdfunding hubs, Kickstarter and Indiegogo, or forming their own studio entities with their own moolah.
Here are three that are worthy of attention:-
Olu Alemoru is a UK-based writer and freelance journalist.