Ever since I was a child, I have loved super heroes—their powers, their costumes, their reason for doing what they do, etc. Naturally, Halloween was one of my favorite holidays. I got to dawn whatever cape I wanted, but instead of saving the day I walked around and demanded free candy from perfect strangers. However, my Halloween experience was not always as picturesque as I’m making it sound. Often times a dark cloud would role in on October 31st in the form of ridicule.
Other kids my age constantly pointed out that Superman isn’t black, or Batman isn’t black, or Spiderman isn’t black, or the Green Ranger isn’t black (they weren’t always comics). My point is, they were right— obviously not for their ridicule, but those characters aren’t black. However they are the ones we see on our screens. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with that fact, or the fact that people of different ethnicities all enjoy the same characters, but it calls into question, where are all the black heroes?
While my trick or treating days are behind me, my search for new heroes with new faces is far from over, and I am happy to report that there has been some major progress I this area. To get a better idea of the timeline of the black hero, at least on screen, we have to go to the beginning, and in the beginning there was Blade.
Blade was actually the first film licensed by Marvel studios when it was released in 1998. The movie did very well, and for a while my hunger for a badass, black role model was sated.
Next, the creator of the popular X-men films, Bryan Singer, is praised for his casting choices in the movies. Singer believed that if he was going to tell a really good story, he was going to need really good actors. In the year 2000, X-men was released and Halle Barry was cast to fill the shoes of the powerful, mutant character Storm.
The movie dominated box offices worldwide and changed the face of filmmaking forever. Singer had used A-list actors and his own talents to show that super hero movies were not only for kids, and the market for them was bigger than anyone had imagined.
Now, we’ll have to fast forward to 2008—that’s right, putting aside sequels, it’d be another eight years before any significant change was made in the way of super hero race. Finally, in 2008 Marvel launched the first movie under their Marvel Cinematic Universe banner, Iron Man. Besides being a great movie that restored faith in fans the world over, Iron man was the first appearance of the characters James Rhodes a.k.a. War Machine, and Nick Fury on the big screen. Don Cheadle, Terrance Howard (used to be Rhodey), and Samuel L. Jackson were tasked with filling those rolls respectively, and their success speaks for itself. The decision to cast Samuel L. Jackson as Fury was a conscious one that was met with some controversy, as Nick Fury is traditionally a white character.
However, comic book readers know that in the Ultimates Universe (In which the story line stands alone from mainstream Marvel comics) Nick Fury is black. This was a big choice, and I believe it was a good one. Everyone who has made a super hero movie post X-men has taken a page out of Brian Singers book in as far as casting great actors. Jackson is an established face in Hollywood and is the perfect person to keep people interested in Fury’s complex philosophy as the world’s greatest spy.
This wouldn’t be the last time Marvel makes an executive decision about a character’s race. The 2011 release of Thor gave us Idris Elba as the Norse god Heimdall.
Heimdall is another character that is traditionally white, and this time the outrage from fans was palpable—though I think they mostly got over it when the movie came out. This made me hopeful that Marvel would continue to trust their creative teams and hopefully give rolls to the people they feel would be best for them, regardless of their race.
Marvel has several projects in the works involving black heroes; the next of which is Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The sequel to the 2011 hit Captain America is home to a cast of great and familiar characters as well as some new ones. Acclaimed actor, Anthony Mackie will be fighting by Cap’s side as one of the most recognizable black heroes ever, The Falcon.
Photo by Kevin Winter – © 2013 Getty Images – Image courtesy gettyimages.com
The movie is set to release on April 4th of this year. Following Cap, there is Guardians of the Galaxy with Djimon Hounsou as Korath the Pursuer (2014), the Luke Cage series being distributed by Netflix (2015), and even a Black Panther film sometime in the future.
Personally, I am super excited to see all of these things come to life on the screen, and I am thrilled to see Marvel making an effort to diversify their super hero roster. I don’t know exactly what the future holds for black heroes, but I think it’s clear that they have come a long way. Who knows, maybe one day a tiny person will come to your door dressed as The Falcon and ask you for candy. Maybe it’ll be sooner than you think.