ComicsFilm / TVOpinion

Black Children Need To See Black Superhero Leads On The Big Screen

February 28, 2022

It’s been nearly 50 years since Marvel introduced the first mainstream African-American superhero to lead his own comic series: Luke Cage. He was, of course, not the first Black character in a comic. But it was a huge leap from years of sidekicks, guest appearances, and even blackface. The June 1972 release of “Luke Cage, Hero For Hire” was soon followed by the “Black Panther” taking over his own series months later. 

Then it took 26 years for us to get the first Black main character in a Marvel-based franchise, long before comic-based blockbusters were a thing. Another 14 years would go by before Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa got to helm his own theatrical release as Black Panther.

That’s two Black lead roles since 1998, despite “Blade” being the first major Marvel film and being credited with kickstarting the superhero genre as it now exists. 

“What Does It Say To Young African-Americans?”

The success of both Blade and Black Panther – the second highest-grossing solo superhero movie to date – have proven that the audience is there. It’s something the actual comic book industry had been building towards for years. Yet Hollywood is still trailing behind the comic world’s incorporation of Black leads, relegating the characters most Black kids see on the big screen to supporting roles. 

“People want to see their own cultural experiences reflected in art, on the big screen, at 24 frames per second. They want to feel represented,” wrote Adam Pliskin in 2014.  “They also want their children to have proper cinematic role models. What does it say to young African-Americans if all the people they emulate from the movies are white? How will that affect their thinking when they eventually become men and women in the world?”

Change is… Coming?

The success of superhero franchises on the big screen has led to a surge of hero television series over the past few years. We’ve seen Black characters including Luke Cage, Black Lightning, Sam Wilson as The Falcon, Angela Abar leading the Watchmen, and most recently Naomi all get the lead/star treatment with their own series in just the past five years. That’s in addition to characters like Cyborg, Frozone, Storm, Rhodey, Steel, Mr. Terrific, Vixen, and Michael B. Jordan’s Johnny Storm playing more prominent roles in a variety of Marvel and DC titles on television and in the movies.

Part of the reason for this emergence of more well-rounded Black characters is that, in the 50 years since Luke Cage proved that comic fans wanted a Black lead, we’ve also seen Black creatives in that space find more opportunity. “I’ve been reading and collecting comics for 40 years, and this, right now, is probably the most diverse it’s been,” DC Comics writer Geoffrey Thorne tells the. “Marvel and DC have both been taking pains to bring in people of different ethnicities, different genders — queer, cis, whatever. Stories are being written by those who come from these types of groups.”

Let’s hope this change is creeping its way to the big screen as well.