Wonder Woman was declared a hit with superhero fans and feminists. The fantasy/science fiction film directed by Patty Jenkins grossed over $129 million (IMBD) and earned Lynda Carter’s stamp of approval. Recently, the first teaser trailer for Marvel’s Black Panther dropped and fans were extremely pleased. Here’s a brief review on the role of black women in the superhero realm in front of and behind the camera.
Historically, black women have mostly portrayed a handful of characters in superhero films and shows. Halle Berry as Catwoman (anti-heroine) is the only black actress to lead a superhero film. Unfortunately, Catwoman (2004) was universally panned by critics. The belief that minority-led films don’t sell, was probably why it took over a decade before another major release of a black superhero film.
Thankfully, Black Panther (2018) is now in post-production and all the news from casting to preliminary artwork and costumes has been positive. This Marvel film features more than a handful notable black female actresses with significant roles. Moviegoers can look forward to seeing Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Florence Kasumba, Phylicia Rashad, and other talented black actresses.
Behind the lens, black women were excited to know that Ava DuVernay was in talks to director Black Panther. However, due to creative differences, Ryan Coogler eventually became the director. DuVernay’s potential involvement was big because at that time she would have been the first black female director of a superhero film.
That record was soon broken when Gina Prince-Bythewood signed on to direct Silver & Black. Bythewood is not a newbie to this genre. Previously, she directed the pilot for Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger which will air on Freeform. The release date has yet to be announced.
This year, Mara Brock Akil signed on to direct Black Lighting for CW. According to Deadline, “Black Lightning, which would give the CW’s DC universe its first major African-American superhero. … [Black Lightning] has younger daughters who also are main characters, an area that would likely be explored further as the project is tweaked for the CW.”
On the big screen, black women generally portray black characters. Most notably, Halley Berry has played Storm in several X-Men films; however, her character was never fully developed. Alexandra Shipp was able to perform her interpretation of Storm in X-Men: Apocalypse (2016).
Amanda Waller, the director for the deadly missions of the Suicide Squad and a specialist who oversees research into people with powers, has been portrayed on both big and small screens by several black actresses including Viola Davis (Suicide Squad), Cynthia Addai-Robinson (Arrow), Angela Bassette (Green Lantern), C.C.H. Pounder (Superman/Batman), and Yvette Nicole Brown (DC Super Hero Girls).
Zoe Saldana has had several opportunities to play black and non-black characters. Saldana played Uhura (originally played by Nichelle Nichols) in Star Trek Beyond and Star Trek Into Darkness. She was also Gamora in the Guardians of the Galaxy films.
The campaign to create multiple films and shows around Marvel characters seems to be leading to multiple inspiring roles for talented black actresses.
Florence Kasumba, a German actress of Ugandan origin, made her superhero genre debut as Black Panther’s security chief in Captain America: Civil War. Although she only had one line, she was able to expand and reprise the character in Black Panther. Kasuma also plays Senator Acantha in Wonder Woman.
In both Black Panther in the upcoming Avengers film, Danai Gurira landed the role of Okoye.
Netflix’s, Simone Missick is kicking butt in Marvel’s Luke Cage. As Misty Knight, she became television’s first African American female superhero.
Despite all of the progress to include black women (in front of and behind the camera) in superhero/supernatural/sci-fi films, there’s still plenty criticisms. When the Spider-Man reboot news broke, there were many negative comments about Zendaya Coleman possibly playing the role of Mary Jane in the film. Eventually, Coleman (Michelle Toomes) and Laura Harrier (Liz Allan) were cast the film.
As more black women venture into the world of comics and superheroes, we hope to see more progress including racial cross-over like Tessa Thompson playing Valkyrie – who is normally a white woman with blond hair – in Thor: Ragnarok.