The Superman reboot, Man of Steel, is not the only comic book story coming to the big screen this summer. There is also the reboot of Marvel’s Wolverine and this fall Marvel will release Thor: The Dark World, a sequel to the 2011 blockbuster hit Thor. In 2014, sequels to Captain America and Spider Man will be released as well as a new addition to the X-Men franchise. 2015 brings us Avengers 2 and a new entry Marvel’s Ant Man.
One of the things that you won’t see on the schedule is a comic book movie based on a minority comic book character. Hollywood would rather reboot a franchise (see Spider-man, Batman, Hulk, Superman) than invest in a movie starring a minority playing a minority comic book hero. Minority characters have a track record of doing well at the box office and they have played key roles, albeit more times than not, a supporting role in comic book movies.
It is far past time for Hollywood to release a comic book movie based on a minority comic book hero where the characters race is central to the theme of the story.
Hollywood seeks to minimize the race/ethnicity element of the characters in its comic book movie. The industry can be commended for ignoring the criticism and recasting minority actors in roles that were traditionally or originally conceived as non-minority, for example: Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White in Man of Steel, Idris Elba as Heimdall in Thor, and Samuel Jackson’s Nick Fury in Marvel’s Avengers. However when it comes to characters who were conceived as minorities, like Halle Berry’s Storm or Don Cheadle’s War Machine, the industry chooses to ignore it entirely. We can only expect the same of Anthony Mackie’s Falcon in the soon-to-be-released sequel to Captain America.
Bringing Cage and BlackPanther to the big screen would break that trend.
In the case of the Black Panther and Luke Cage, Hollywood has the opportunity to cast two characters where ethnicity is a critical component of their story, as it was for Erik Lensherr/Magneto in X-Men: First Class. The Black Panther and Luke Cage would fit in fine with the current crop of comic book superheroes on the big screen. They have strong background stories, unique abilities and have worked both independently and within a group. More importantly they would allow minorities characters to be portrayed as other than sidekicks or racially neutral recasts.
The Panther’s background story is that of an African prince who has been both friend and foe of the Avengers. Cage, the Harlem Hero for Hire, is more of a mercenary type in the same sense as Wolverine. Both Cage and The Panther could easily carry their own movie or be incorporated into the Avengers.
Minority actors have been waiting for years to play these characters. Marvel has shown interest in having Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson play Luke Cage. Chadwick Boseman, who recently starred as Jackie Robinson in 42, is rumored to be on a short list of actors targeted to play the Black Panther. Both actors have the name recognition, acting chops and athletic ability to portray the characters.
Major motion picture studios are not known for taking risks and admittedly it is a risky proposition to bank on a minority comic book character to bring in sizable box office revenues. However, if Hollywood can take a shot on Ant-Man or the obscure Guardians of the Galaxy, they can certainly take a shot at Black Panther. I don’t see how a Black Panther or Luge Cage movie could do worse financially than say Punisher: War Zone. Nor do I see how it can do worse critically than Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.
Minority comic book characters have proved to have wide commercial appeal. Wesley Snipes’ Blade trilogy is the franchise that jumpstarted Marvel’s re-entry into comic book movie adaptations. Blade, which represented Snipes’ most successful movies (the franchise grossed over $415 million worldwide), proved that a minority comic book character has mass audience appeal. Hancock, starring Will Smith was not based on a comic book character per se, but it had all the elements of one. It grossed over $624 million worldwide.
Audiences have been waiting to see these characters. Snipes and Smith have proved that given the opportunity minority actors playing minority characters in a comic book movie can make money. Reboots are a proven formula and recasting characters as minorities has definitely worked in the past. That is why Hollywood has scheduled a reboot of The Fantastic Four with rumors that Johnny “The Human Torch” Storm will be recast as a minority.
However, reboots and recasts are not the only formula for making money with comic book characters. There is a diverse universe of characters and stories waiting to be told. The Black Panther and Luke Cage represent two of the better ones.