One thing superhero movies, from marvel especially, do is constantly reinvent themselves. From the wacky Deadpool to the female led Wonder Woman, this genre knows it has to reinvent itself to continue its worldwide popularity. Very soon we will be getting Black Panther, set in the secret African nation of Wakanda. So, naturally, most of the cast will be African American. With only two actors of other ethnicity in sight, Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis.
A question everyone will be asking is why this wasn’t done sooner. As Marvel comic’s Black Panther, or King T’Challa as he is also known, has been a popular and influential character for the last decade, so why now? Well, as previously mentioned, superhero movies constantly reinvent themselves, so why not do something we haven’t seen before in the genre and use material based in Africa? It is certainly well overdue. There is a lot to offer with their culture and the fact that this Wakandan society is apparently advanced even past that of the Iron man, which will make for riveting viewing.
Some would say this means whitewashing is finally over, as just recently in Doctor Strange (same movie series) the character of the Ancient One was played by Tilda Swinton, when this character was originally written as Tibetan. However, director Scott Derrickson said this was because that character was a racial stereotype and using it wouldn’t only be considered racist, but alienate the entire Chinese market. So, at least in Marvel movies, it seems that whitewashing was never meant to be a thing. Hell! Even Nick Fury, played by Samuel L. Jackson, was made black in the comics around the time of Iron Man 1 so Jackson could play him. So it’s safe to assume that the notion of ‘whitewashing’ isn’t a conscious part of this industry.
Does all this signify a push for black superheroes though? With the CW recently introducing ‘Black Lightening’, a black Vigilante who returns to fighting crime after retirement, and with the arrival Black Panther. Well at least in the Superhero context I don’t think so, as using these characters can offer some interesting themes and an exploration of contemporary political climates. Black characters are used in Superhero media because in the source material they are black, for instance James Rhodes/War machine was in Iron Man and he’s black, as is Falcon, both being specific superhero characters.
Honestly it all seems unnecessary to place it in such contexts. Characters like this aren’t primarily introduced to fill quotas, or for production companies to seem ‘progressive’. It’s because these characters are popular, so including them in cinema is a sure-fire way to get ticket sales. That said, all this doesn’t mean we won’t see more of it. I hope to see more movies about characters that aren’t white men: to see how these stories can change when their lead characters do.
(Image courtesy of Marvel)