Every summer movie goers can count on one or two superhero blockbuster films hitting the big screen which usually translates into big bucks and notoriety for the performers, filmmakers, and the comic books, in particularly Marvel and DC Comics where many of these characters spring from.
Yet, there is a major void when it comes to black superheroes, or any ethnic superhero for that matter. Is Hollywood not ready for such a challenge? Are there really any black superheroes, or did the comic book world overlook blacks?
Actually there are a fair number of black superheroes, even several that have been turned into film characters. The Vampire superhero Blade, for instance is a Marvel Comic and debuted in 1973. The half man, half vampire is played by Wesley Snipes in three subsequent films that began in 1998.
But in 1997 another black superhero made it to the big screen. Image Comics’ “Spawn,” starring Michael Jai White as a mercenary killed by his own men, goes to hell, makes a deal with the devil in order that he can see his wife and family one more time, but ends up fighting evil and really angering the devil. The film was very dark and very artsy, however the relationship with evil confused many filmgoers.
Debuting in 1975, Storm, was the first black female superhero to play either a major or supporting role in the big two comic book houses, Marvel and DC comics.
In the case of Halle Berry’s superhero character Storm, from the “X-Men” film series, she’s a part of a team. Her super powers work well with the others, but in Marvel comic lore, Storm truly is a force to be reckoned with. She eventually ends up leading the X-Men but you get no hint of that in the movie trilogy.
Robert Townsend’s 1993 film “Meteor Man” took a comic slant at the superhero image. A mild-mannered man gets struck by a meteor and after revealing incredible powers, he’s asked to save his neighborhood from a notorious gang. Funny in parts, but the film left you wanting more.
And now America is about to be introduced to another black superhero played by Will Smith, in the soon to be released “Hancock.” The trailer promotes the fact that Smith’s character has fallen from grace; an utter failure. “Hancock” is a smart move on Smith’s part. If his character comes on strong like Superman, or Spiderman, or even The Hulk, audiences, especially the mainstream, may see it as a black character in ‘white face’ because of their conditioning to see whites as superheroes. Spoon feeding the audience is the best approach and apparently that’s what this film will attempt to do.
Though the comic book world is filled with these superheroes and sheroes ready to right justice at any cost, black superheroes featured in film and TV shows are rare indeed. Hollywood ain’t having it. But have no fear, like the superheroes we all cheer, our black filmmakers are answering the call and breaking down the walls of steel to bring black superheroes to the silver screen.
Director John Singleton is in development with the Marvel Comic Book superhero Luke Cage AKA Power Man. The film stars Tyrese Gibson as the wrongly convicted hero who escapes from prison but not before gaining superhuman strength.
President of Entertainment for BET, Reginald Hudlin, an avid comic book fan is busy reviving the heroics of the comic book world’s first black superhero, Marvel Comics’ Black Panther, which debuted in 1966. The Black Panther was part of the super hero team The Avengers after migrating from his native Africa. He became a stand alone hero in 1973 with some success, but when Hudlin began writing the Black Panther storyline, his image and comic books sales got a big boost. As a result look for a cartoon series as well as a feature film on the horizon.
For more information on black comic book heroes check out The Museum of Black Super Heroes at www.blacksuperhero.com.
– Gail Choice can be reached by e-mail at gcprods@aol.com.