In early February of 2018, the very first all African American led Marvel movie, Black Panther, will be released in theaters nationwide. The film stars actors Chadwick Boseman, Angela Bassett, Michael B. Jordan, Letitia Wright and Lupita Nyong’o. The introduction of the superhero, in the MCEU (Marvel Cinematic Extended Universe) in Captain America: Civil War was a welcomed and astounding surprise (and success). Considering his arrival, warranted a stand alone film. Is there massive excitement? Of course. Am I excited? Absolutely.
In my excitement, I began to think more about the character. T’Challa, or Blank Panther, was born to two of the leading men of comic books; Stan “The Man” Lee and Jack “King” Kirby. The character came out in 1966 and was named simultaneously with The Black Panther political party during that time. T’Challa hails from a non-existent African nation; although technology advanced, Wakanda. Here, he is crown prince then king after his father’s death.
One thing that has always bothered me about the character was his hero name. T’Challa was tasked to protect his people under the guise of panther; notably a strong and fast animal. That is understandable to most but when you think about the long history of black people being considered as animals, it’ll change your perspective.
As a woman of color, I see these connections everywhere. And it's not just Black Panther, there are countless other black superheroes with animalized names like Falcon, Bumblebee and Black Hawk. There is also a stigma about black superheroes having the word ‘black’ in their title. Like Black Racer, Black Vulcan and Black Lightning.
Just because they are black people being a superhero that doesn’t mean black should be in the title. Yes, I know this isn’t true in all cases but the numbers are staggering to me. It’s not like when we say Superman we say White Superman, or White Spiderman. They are who they are; regardless of race.
Their race shouldn’t define them as a hero or even yell to the world that “hey, this woman or man is black oh and a superhero.” Their choices and morals should define them and make readers want to read them for those factors.
I love superheroes but even in comic books there is this deep rooted but visible sign of inequality. However, I am glad for the surge of black, Latino, Asian, and queer superheroes. But we still have ways to go to rectify the situation and make characters not just to appease a greater audience for sales but to truly understand the lack and want of more characters who are relatable and who look like real people.