Black heroes tend to be tokenistic team members, or controversially race-swapped versions of originally white characters. Outside adaptations though, they have fared better, with black stars creating their own heroes to play. Here are 10 notable black on-screen superheroes.
The Meteor Man (1993)
Best known for his movie industry satire Hollywood Shuffle, Robert Townsend wrote, directed and starred in this comedy adventure about an inner-city Washington DC schoolteacher who gets superpowers after being hit by a mysterious meteor.
Meteor Man’s powers and costume might be rather generic, but what sets him apart is that he’s a hero trying to save his community, as opposed to the world. He shuts down crack houses, makes peace between the Crip and Blood gangs, and even uses his powers to create a giant garden in the projects.
In the early 1990s, Todd McFarlene’s independent comic Spawn brought a dark supernatural edge to the superhero genre, as well as a rare African American solo hero capable of selling as many copies as Batman.
Playing the title character should have been a major breakthrough for the extremely talented martial artist and actor Michael Jai White. Yet the medium budget failed to capture the uniqueness of McFarlane’s art, and all we were left with was 90s metal and John Leguizamo in clown makeup.
White would later though become a cult favourite through straight-to-DVD fighting movies and the superb blaxploitation spoof Black Dynamite (2009).
In 1998 Blade became the first Marvel Comics character to have a successful big-budget movie adaption, ushering in the current domination of the superhero in blockbuster film-making. The titular vampire hunter became what many consider Wesley Snipe’s signature role, but Marvel didn’t have another black lead character until Black Panther, the much anticipated new film from Ryan Coogler.
Hancock isn’t a perfect film, but it shows that there’s a lot of interesting potential for the superhero genre when it doesn’t just adapt 50-year-old characters. Will Smith plays a drunk, washed-up superhero who ends up working with Jason Batemen’s PR consultant to improve his public image.
It gets bogged down with clunky plot twists towards the end, but it’s one of those films, alongside IRobot (2004) and I Am Legend (2007), where Will Smith gives a surprisingly deep performance far above what’s required for a summer blockbuster.