Why you should care
Because in the midst of superhero season (read: summer movie season), it’s time to celebrate the characters who don’t always take center stage.
Actor Chadwick Boseman, who made his name playing baseball great Jackie Robinson in the 2013 film 42, won’t answer the question: Will he be donning the Vibranium-laced boots of the Black Panther, Marvel’s crime-fighting, superior-tech-backed African prince?
“I can’t really talk about that right now,” Boseman tells OZY with a telling laugh.
That’s right. A black superhero who shares the name of one of the most controversial political parties in American history. (The hero born T’Challa made his July 1966 debut in The Fantastic Four, months before Huey P. Newton and the Black Panther Party shook up the American consciousness). Indeed, it wasn’t his moniker that had comic book followers talking. It was the fact that Marvel’s first black superhero literally went toe-to-toe against future box-office behemoths The Avengers — he later joined the team — and ruled over a futuristic African nation that had never been conquered.
The Black Panther would be controversial — as controversial as the cartoon version commissioned for BET.
But if Boseman has indeed jumped on for the coveted role of the Black Panther, it will continue a recent rising tide of black superheroes in Hollywood.
There was the news leaked that in the sequel to Man of Steel, Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent would be joined by Justice League member Cyborg. The casting of Ray Fisher as the former Teen Titan and the controversial signing of Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm in 2015’s Fantastic Four reboot (in the comics, Storm – aka the Human Torch — is white … cue the fanboy freakout) comes on the heels of the debut of the Falcon (Anthony Mackie) in the mammoth blockbuster Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which to-date has taken in nearly $700 million globally. And Halle Berry returned as the weather-changing mutant Storm in the recently released X-Men: Days of Future Past. But here are OZY’s picks for who the next great black superheroes should be:
Sooner or later, actor Chris Evans will have to hang up Captain America’s shield. When that happens, Marvel should think seriously about finding an exciting replacement. And they could turn to one underused character: The Patriot, the grandson of African-American World War II supersoldier Isaiah Bradley, who just so happens to be the leader of the Young Avengers. In the comic book, he receives a blood transfusion from Cap himself after taking a bullet, thus receiving Steve Rogers’ enhanced abilities of the First Avenger. This one is a no-brainer. And if we had our way, 22-year-old Attack the Block and 24 actor John Boyega (the British newcomer has already mastered a Yankee accent!) would be our first choice to play young Bradley.
She’s a brilliant, gorgeous law-enforcement officer turned superhero, and has an enhanced bionic arm. Carrying on the name of Luke Cage’s Heroes for Hire outfit, the firearm-toting Knight would pop and bring some much-needed gender diversity to Hollywood’s superpowered obsessions.
According to reports, the Zack Snyder dream vehicle will introduce the Justice League, with Wonder Woman and the aforementioned Cyborg making appearances. But DC Comics should reintroduce the Green Lantern, the ring-powered galactic protector who headlined the messy, uninspired self-titled 2011 film. Since the original Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, struck out, let the more thoroughly serious African-American version in John Stewart get some screen time.
Don’t let the cringeworthy name fool you. Brother Voodoo — aka Jericho Drumm — is a respected character in the Marvel Universe. So respected, in fact, that the mystical force was chosen to replace supernatural big dog Doctor Strange as the universal Sorcerer Supreme for a brief time (he earned the Eye of Agamotto during the Dark Reign series). Translated from nerdspeak: The dude is a serious problem.
What better way to honor late African-American comic book visionary Dwayne McDuffie than to bring one of his most intriguing creations to the theaters? Introduced in 1993 by the DC-distributed Milestone Comics, the powerful Icon is really an alien who crash-lands on Earth, taking on the likeness of the first person he comes into contact with — a slave. Icon once punched Superman out of the Justice League’s Watchtower. Enough said.
But until these imaginings become a reality, look ahead to one of the most anticipated films of the summer, X-Men: Days of Future Past.
Keith “Murph” Murphy spars with brazen hip-hop moguls, Hollywood rebels, revered thespians, redemption-seeking pugilists and more. His work has appeared in VIBE, The New York Post, Billboard Magazine, Essence, and The Root. He’s a frequent commentator on CNN, Fox News, VH1 and A&E Biography.