Ta-Nehesi Coates recently wrote an op-ed in the New York Times about the lack of an African-American presence in the latest X-Men movie. Despite the fact that the X-Men’s story is based on the Civil Rights movement, racism and discrimination, there is no African-American presence in the latest movie at all.
In fact, no X-Men movie has any African-American presence at all. Sure, Storm is African, but not African-American and her struggle does not represent the struggle of overcoming slavery and Jim Crow, though it is still a very real struggle.
DC Comics also has a very small Black presence. They co-opted Milestone’s comic, Static, who was later given a successful TV show for kids, but other than that has a very small presence in the DC Universe.
Even DC’s Classic graphic novel “Watchmen,” despite its historical and social commentary, doesn’t have any African-Americans or even alludes to the Civil Rights movement; despite the fact that it focuses on several social issues of the time, including the Vietnam war, Watergate, the anti-war movement, the atomic bomb and police brutality.
Similarly, DC’s classic Batman novel, “The Dark Night Returns,” deals with several social issues as well, such as the cold war, police brutality, and the prison system; but does not refer to racism or Blacks either.
The recent DC cartoon “Justice League: The New Frontier” which is also a historical piece, set in the 60’s, alludes to an African-American super hero that was killed by the KKK and recently, the white Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, was replaced by an African American, John Stewart, who appears in many recent Justice League cartoons and DC comic books.
The lack of successful Black comic book characters cannot be blamed on DC and Marvel and the companies they work with. Reginald Hudlin produced an excellent TV series on The Black Panther for BET, but they never aired it. It was only seen in Australia and on DVD and digital download.
And while the Black Panther is gaining more of presence with Hudlin’s series, and a recent cartoon movie with The Avengers, he, like Storm is African, not African-American.
Despite the fact that there are few Black comic book characters, one of the most important figures in comic books in the past 20 years, Dwayne McDuffie, is Black. Dwayne died earlier this year, after leaving a tremendous legacy with both DC and Marvel comics. McDuffie wrote comics for the DC all-star team, The Justice League and Marvel’s Fantastic Four, as well as several DC cartoon movies, including the classic “Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths”
Despite the fact we have had major Black hero athletes, actors and even a Black president, there are no major Black super heroes. Static has the chance to be the next Spiderman and there are rumors that Beyonce will play Wonderwoman in a new movie. Like all matters of racial inequality in the last 50 years, in comic books there has been progress, but there is still a long road ahead.