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Help Wanted: Superheroes of Color (Part 1)

Miles Morales, a black Hispanic male, has been a revelation as the new Spiderman. (Images courtesy Marvel Entertainment)

Children of color — and young women — are told that they are either not heroes or just sidekicks. They’re not the true heroes of this, or any other, world. White boys are told over and over again that they are the heroes of this world and the lead role belongs to them. This goes beyond imagination, as these are images and stories that can be hard to see ourselves in.

Hollywood has a long history of casting white actors as people of color, either in brown or black face, or outright white washing and completely replacing them. This also ignores all of the different non-white male heroes we have on screen; it’s extremely rare that anyone but a white male is cast as a hero or superhero. And every time a traditionally white male role is cast differently, white male fragility breaths fire.

Gains have been made, but they are not enough.

◆ It seems over the holidays there was a horror brought to us in this universe, a black actress cast as Hermione. You know a character that is half-muggle, who’s faced discrimination in the Potterverse about her muggle background. And let’s not forget how in the Potterverse, muggles are discriminated against … oh, the horror of a culturally relevant casting. The horror.

Idris Elba
Idris Elba

◆ There was recent news that Idris Elba is in the lead to be cast as Roland Deschain, the protagonist, in the long-rumored movie adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. In the books Roland is modeled, in both looks and personality, after Clint Eastwood’s “Man with no Name.” Largely, there was a welcome reception, but just as there was controversy with Finn from Star Wars The Force Awakens, there was some who didn’t welcome the casting.

◆ What we’re currently seeing is Rey in the Force Awakens has been labeled a Mary Sue, a woman that somehow seems to be good at everything. But that seems to ignore all the male characters and heroes that seem to be amazing at everything as well.

Hal Jordan is getting a second chance at Green Lantern, after we had to witness the terribleness of the Green Lantern movie with Ryan Reynolds. What could have been an interesting route and adding more diversity to the upcoming cast of DC heroes would have been to go with the John Stewart Green Lantern, who many first meet in Justice League cartoons and is a far more interesting character than another cocky James T. Kirk clone.

◆ We are only getting a Black Panther movie in 2018 out as the first black lead in current day Superhero movies. I do see you Blade, Blankman, Metiorman, and uhh, well depending on whom you are, Pootie Tang. But how about a Storm centric X-men movie? In the 1980’s when she was introduced, she was the leader of the New X-Men .


Captain Marvel won’t be out until 2019. DC is finally working on a Wonder Woman movie, but is only including one character of color in Cyborg.

◆ We’re getting a Luke Cage series on Netflix, a black-powered hero who debuted on Jessica Jones. If you haven’t seen Jessica Jones yet, please fix that as it deals with issues of fragile masculinity, patriarchy, sexual assault, trauma, and surviving in very real ways.

Miles Morales, a black Hispanic male, has been a revelation as the new Spiderman in an alternate Earth, so much so he’s been moved to Marvel’s main Universe. He would have been a great choice to use as a re-booted Spiderman over the millionth re-boot of Peter Parker’s Spiderman.

We must uphold these heroes and possibly be willing to re-imagine other heroes through these lenses. We still have so much space for heroes of color, gender and sexuality.

Studios and media companies must be bold and go beyond just launching media projects that contain heroes of color. They must also not be scared to cast leads of color, and if you want to look at the bottom line then it is economically prudent to take into account the changing demographics in the United States.

Youth need to see the best of themselves in the media that they consume. It gives them something to reach for in their mind. Having a diverse cohort of characters does wonders, it better creates acceptance of diversity, and it better reflects the world that we live in. And having access to media that you can see the best reflection of yourself in also inspires your imagination. Think of how many artists, writers and actors we might be missing out on because their imagination wasn’t sparked by the media they consumed.

There are also strong social implications. It is well known that the media we consume impacts our biases, seeing people of color, women, and queer people take lead and be heroes can help us move past our social and internal biases that so many of us carry through our daily life. We can see the stranger walking down the street, not as a possible criminal, but as someone that can help us in need.

“Youth need to see the best of themselves in the media that they consume. It gives them something to reach for in their mind. Having a diverse cohort of characters does wonders, it better creates acceptance of diversity, and it better reflects the world that we live in.”

As much as I love seeing new characters of color and a Space Opera that is African inspired, I also believe that buperheroes, such as Superman and Batman, would be better off if in their main incarnations were people of color.

Superheroes have always been a reflection of our society, what we see as our best self, particularly in DC Comics. But their heroes no longer reflect our society at its best and in Batman’s case, reflect us at our worst.

Marvel has always had a more diverse line. Black Panther was the first black hero. You talk to many black people and they will tell you they were drawn to Marvel over DC, because the struggles seemed more relatable. The X-men have strong allegories to the civil rights movement and being cultural/social outsiders. They’ve adapted some, such as Ice Man coming out as gay, but can go even further. The Falcon has replaced Steve Rodgers as Captain America. They have a women Thor and more. But they can go further.
Marvel characters were grounded in struggle; DC characters were larger than life, almost Greek Gods. How we see ourselves at our best. Marvel highlighted our flaws.

Changing the background of some of our stalwart heroes would not only be bold, it would breathe fresh air into stale characters — characters DC and Marvel are having a tough time telling new stories for. It would also be current and forward looking, in that it would reflect who we are as a nation, as a world at this moment and in the future.

It would speak to a larger audience. It is the right thing to do.

(Part 2 will explore what these changes could look like. )