The importance of representation in the world of Superheroes
Batman, Superman, Ironman, Spiderman—what do these heroes have in common? Besides the fact that they are all men, they are also all white. As I sit here and think about all of the superhero movies I was forced to watch, as the only girl in my family, the damsel in distress would only be saved by the white man. Come to think of it, many of the beloved American heroes that have become apart of every child’s narrative are overwhelmingly white males. Maybe that’s why I was never into superman, he didn’t look like anything I would… never mind I digress. It seems as though the nations diversity issues go past a lack of representation in the workplace, on college campuses or in politics. It, too, hits our imagination where our thoughts of the future come to life in the present yet this future only reflects the America of the past.
In 1947, Black Journalist Orrin Cornwell Evans along with a few others, founded the Philadelphia company All-Negro Comics Inc. This publication was the first of its kind to be created by Blacks and feature an all Black cast in lead heroic roles—Lion Man and Ace Harlem. Yet, although Evans tried, the All-Negro Comic Inc. was never able to publish a second issue because he was unable to purchase the newsprint required.
I wonder why…
It took over 20 years for there to be an appearance of a Black superhero. Enter Black Panther, also known as T’Challa the leader of the kingdom of Wakanda, an advanced African nation. His super intelligence and scientific savvy is paired with superhuman speed, strength and animalistic senses gifted to him by the Wakandan Panther God. Although, this comic featured a Black superhero with origins in Africa, this kind of diversity was only seen on the glossy pages of the comic. For, he was created by two Jewish-American men, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Not to takeaway from their progressive thought process, for they created T’Challa in a time when Americans were divided by race. Yet, it is interesting to note that in this heroes 50 year life span, only three black men have had the opportunity to continue his story.
Although this nation has taken many steps in becoming inclusive of ethnicities, genders and so on, the comics industry still has a ways to go. But, they are not the only ones. If there are no Black people writing about Black superheroes how can we expect them to be seen on the big screen? Yes, Marvel and DC Comics should hire more Black people to write about Black superheroes but a lack of material is only one part of the reason as to why there is a lack of black superheroes in the movies.
Cash rules everything around… everybody. Especially the film industry and since its expansion to the international box office, “some actors feel the studios are unwilling to take chances with these huge global revenues by taking risks in casting”, according to an article in The Daily Beast. This along with the discrimination that still exists in Hollywood makes it difficult for Black actors, and those of color, to land the lead role in any movie—let alone a superhero movie. Leaving them to play the sidekick, having limited screen time, or worse their only screen time is of them being killed by the enemy. What does that say to the young black boys, and increasingly girls, who watch these films? If their heroes are never actually heroes or leaders or worse not represented at all—who can they see themselves in?
This is why representation matters. This is why movies like Black Panther are as important as the All-Negro Comics Inc. Because when a young black boy sees himself as the hero rather than the villain it helps to destroy the complex of the Black man. It helps to build confidence and strength in who they are. I live for the Halloweens of the future where children are running around as Black Panthers, the hero and the activists.
Let’s face it, we all need a hero to look up to when we feel as though our strength is not enough. It only helps, that soon, this hero will look like me.