Black Panther (2018) claws its way onto cinematic screens in February and it has many journalists speculating if it’s the first black superhero to be featured in a major motion picture.
While Black Panther was the first black superhero in modern comics, appearing in Fantastic Four #52 (July 1966), he’s not the first black superhero to grace the screens of American Cinema. The whys are for another reviewer willing to wade into the quagmire of the politics of POC in film, but we can all agree that Black Panther is very, very significant.
Black Panther or T’Challa is not American, he’s the ruler of a very technologically-advanced African Nation, he doesn’t have the “fish out of water” culture shock of most alien-enhanced superheroes because he knows how stuff works. Like a skilled chess player, he is always thinking multiple steps ahead of his opponents. He’s tribal, but modern, and that is going to provide a little shock to the sensibilities of modern movie-goers who have a very skewed sense of what people from African Nations look like.
Black Panther isn’t the first black superhero movie. In fact, we’re going to skip the first 2 black superhero movies Meteor Man (1993) and Steel (1997) because frankly, they just weren’t very good. While Robert Townsend’s heart was in the right place, the execution wasn’t, and Shaq was just drunk on his own popularity. Mixing slapstick with heroism is all well and good, but save it for the sidekicks. We’re just going to skip ahead to the meat and leave the fluff for another time.
So that was depressingly quick, right? Fear not, there are plenty of television properties with black superheroes front and center.
Static Shock (Kids WB! 2000)
Luke Cage (Netflix, 2016)
Black Lightning (CW, 2018)
We absolutely want to see characters like Storm, Falcon, War Machine, and the John Stewart incarnation of Green Lantern, get not just their own television shows, but some cinematic love, too! There’s a Rotten Tomato article floating around listing the greatest 50 superhero movies of all time, and none of the movies mentioned above get any love.
That needs to change.