Marvel’s Black Panther won’t hit theaters until Feb. 16, but the excitement for the movie is palpable.
Trailers have Twitter aflutter and ticket sales are breaking records. Rooms across the country are filled with people in Black Panther cosplay as they impatiently wait for the film. There’s strong turnout at conventions like New York City’s Black Comic Book Festival at Schomburg Center, showing that people of color will show up in a passionate way if they’re represented in these stories.
“Black Panther coming out is like a dream come true,” said comic book festivalgoer Brandon Williams. “I dressed up for this and I’ve never cosplayed before.”
Black Panther will be the latest entry in the superhero movie craze. The steady drumbeat of movies about superpowered people arguably started with X-Men in 2000 when the superhero movie surprised us by raking in $157 million. (The first Blade hit theaters before X-Men, in 1998, but had a more modest haul of $70 million.) Between 2000 and now, we’ve had 41 live-action Marvel movies and 16 live-action DC Comics movies come to theaters. Out of those 57, only six of those films have spotlighted someone besides a white man as the headlining character: Blade 2, Blade 3, Elektra, Catwoman, V for Vendetta and Wonder Woman.
Jonathan Gayles, a professor at the University of Georgia and co-founder of New York City’s Black Comic Book Festival, said it’s a toss-up on whether we should expect more diverse heroes on the big screen.
“I’m hopeful about Black Panther, but I don’t know that this will be a trend,” Gayles said. “There are more films coming out that feature people of color in the primary roles. I think the long history of Hollywood and television would indicate that we have a right to be hopeful but also suspicious.”
Recent movies indicate this. Wonder Woman saw huge success at the box office and reminded us that a woman-led superhero movie is something people want to see and support. Black Panther has yet to come out but is garnering excitement to no end.
But this should just be the beginning, comic book experts said. The comic books that these movies are based on feature an eclectic mix of heroes that could carry their own motion picture. Modern heroes like Miles Morales, the black and Hispanic Spider-Man, and Kamala Khan, the Muslim heroine also known as Ms. Marvel, are just some of the examples of the new school of heroes who could hold their own.
The old guard of heroes have some notable protagonists as well. The first Asian-American hero to hit comics, the Green Turtle, made his debut in 1944. Characters like Constantine depicted a white male character who was bisexual (even if his movie and TV depictions didn’t show it).
And then there are all the women without “Wonder” in their name who still don’t have dedicated tellings of their stories. Disney, for example, has released several superhero movies since they acquired Marvel in 2009. While heroes part of the Avengers like Iron Man, Thor and Captain America have had three of their own movies each, female characters like Black Widow and Scarlet Witch have had none.
“It’s not done until we get a bunch of black women, who are queer, who are trans, who are all aspects of us on screen,” Kinitra Brooks, a professor of English at the University of Texas at San Antonio, said. “And I can’t wait for that to happen.”
With only six diverse lead superheroes in recent Marvel and DC films, I decided to cast a few blockbuster movies myself. Here are six more who should get their own movie.
Mari McCabe, better known as Vixen, can channel the abilities of animals at will. If you’re battling evil and need the strength of a gorilla, the speed of a cheetah or even the power of flight, Vixen’s who you want on your side.
Vixen’s history with live-action television shows is an interesting one. After making a cameo appearance on CW’s Arrow, she received a short mini-series online. By comparison, the Flash made a cameo on the very same show and received a multi-season series: live action and on actual television. Vixen deserves her very own show, too, and not just an internet-only mini-series on the CW’s website.
That mini-cartoon is centered on Vixen as a resident of Detroit, but other versions of the story incorporate her background as a businesswoman. A movie could focus on both: fighting Detroit crime by night while fighting for a seat at the table by day.
Miss America Chavez
America Chavez made waves in 2017 for becoming Marvel’s first queer Latin-American superhero to get their own comic book series. Chavez’s uniform also bears the stars and stripes, resembling the American flag. That honor is usually reserved for very white American heroes, like Captain America, or at least ones who can pass as white like Wonder Woman. To have a character who’s named “America” and bears the colors of our country says something special about the changing face of the nation.
The latest rumors say that the series might be ending, but some speculate that lack of promotion was to blame. Let’s hope if they eventually bring her story to the big screen that they don’t give her the Constantine treatment by changing her sexuality.
Midnighter and Apollo
Midnighter is a vigilante who dresses in all black and fights crime. Apollo is a superhero who can fly, has super strength and is invulnerable. There are very clear similarities to be drawn between these two and DC’s most popular heroes: Batman and Superman. The difference is that Midnighter and Apollo are both out as gay, married to each other and even have their own comic. After an endless number of Batman and Superman movies, perhaps it’s time to give two very similar heroes a chance.
Batwoman was originally introduced as a love interest for Gotham’s Dark Knight. It wasn’t until 2006 that Batwoman came out as gay. Unlike the tellings of Batman we’ve seen on screen numerous times already, a Batwoman movie would allow viewers to see a new superhero story: one about a Jewish lesbian woman who fights crime in Gotham.
Was Halle Berry good in X-Men? Sort of. Yet, we still think she — or another black woman — deserves her own Storm movies.
The story of an African woman who has the power to control the weather has blockbuster film written all over it. When considering humans’ treatment of mutants, X-Men as a series has always been a metaphor for discrimination. With a black woman leading an X-Men film, the movie could more overtly talk about the topic. If the studios can squeeze out two sub-par and one Oscar-nominated Wolverine movies, they can at least give Black Panther’s ex-lover one of her own flicks.