Keep Your White Superheroes. We Have Our Own
I was on Twitter a few days ago. Don’t worry, I regretted it pretty quickly and retreated back into my corner. But before I did, I saw an awesome tweet from a guy named Ed Williams.
The last sentence struck me. Every word of it had purpose. “I’m going to fix that.” Ed didn’t say “we should.” He said “I’m going.” That’s what has had my gears turning for the past couple of days.
We’ll come back to Ed in a minute.
Comic book heroes in the United States, much like many other fictional heroes in this country, are predominantly white. Right. Shocking, I know.
Across comic books, film, television, and literature, the stories that have received the most attention were the ones told by and for white people. Why wouldn’t they be? White people were seen as the only true Americans on this soil for centuries. Disenfranchising black communities was built into this system from the start, from slavery to Jim Crow to Law and Order to the War on Drugs. And even now, after fighting our way to some semblance of progress, we hear chants that say make America go back to that again.
White supremacy is the dominant culture in America, and what that means is that it’s deeply woven into the fabric of American souls. White creatives who are not–from all we know — racist still fill all their stories with white male heroes because it was woven into their soul. Everything around them said that’s the look of a real hero. And the same is true of our comic book heroes, who have now become our TV, film and everywhere heroes.
That was then. Now…
The culture is shifting. Seeing an endless collage of white faces on a comic book cover or movie poster stopped sitting right with people. So two things started to happen.
For one, we began seeing black versions of characters who were previously white. Nick Fury went from a grizzled old white guy to Samuel L. Jackson in a trench coat. Wally West went from having wavy red hair to having a dark caesar with a lightning bolt side part. Johnny Storm went from Chris Evans to Michael B. Jordan. Valkyrie went from a blonde white woman to Sam from Dear White People. It goes on and on.
The other thing that happened was having new black characters, and some existing ones, take up the mantle of white superheroes. Miles Morales became Spider-man. Sam Wilson became Captain America. Riri Williams became Ironheart.
Many of these choices offended comic book fans. Not just the white ones either. There were plenty of black comic readers who didn’t like these changes. Why? Because it felt like pandering.
Me? I wasn’t offended, but I also wasn’t satisfied, if that makes sense. Some of these choices were well done and truly praiseworthy. I love Mile Morales, as do my three sons. I genuinely see Eve Ewing’s run on Riri Williams as greatness on paper. But some choices seemed more “diversity and inclusion” quota driven than story driven, which leads to what feels like the latest iteration of tokenism.
I also couldn’t help but feel Marvel and DC would’ve had a much easier time with this if they’d done a better job of hiring more of the talented black writers and artists out there coming up with incredible ideas literally every day. When your staff all looks the same, so will your stories. They are making those shifts now, I suppose, but I guess my question is…
Why should we wait?
Back to Ed Williams. I stumbled across his tweet and wanted to know more. So I clicked a few links and learned more (this internet thing is pretty great, y’all). Ed is a creator who founded a studio called Mayke (“make”) Entertainment, which features some of the coolest art I’ve seen in a while and showcases heroes that much more resemble what my America actually looks like.
I’m also part of a few black science-fiction Facebook groups, and I can’t tell you how many incredible portraits of original black heroes I get to see every day. Independent comic companies have also produced some amazing content featuring black heroes, celebrating black culture and unapologetically touting the beauty of the black experience. Bitter Root, by David F. Walker, Chuck Brown and Sanford Greene, is a great one. Image Comics is actually highlighting black comic creators if you want to get acquainted.
It’s out there, and we need to support it.
Download the sample from Mayke Entertainment’s website. Seek out black creators when the conventions finally open back up. Make an effort to find (and buy) the content we want to see in our TV shows and movies five years from now.
Back in 2018, Forbes published an article noting that 69 percent of the actors playing major characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are white. That number would be much higher if not for Black Panther, and even higher if not for shifts like Nick Fury and Valkyrie. I’m looking forward to Mahershala Ali’s Blade (and praying for at least a cameo from Wesley Snipes). I’m happy to see a lens on our people and am okay with some of the changes we’ve seen, but to me it’s all Band-aids.
We don’t need to shoehorn ourselves into white heroes. We already have our own.