I absolutely loved Black Panther. It lived up to the hype and more. In fact, it destroyed any of my pre-conceptions and revitalised my hope in the black superhero. We are awesome, we are unique and we kick-ass.
And we have been doing this a lot more in the past few years. Finally, the movie industry has given the black superhero the support it so desired. Luke Cage, Black Lightning and Black Panther have lit many a cinema and TV screens alight with its exploration of blackness heightened by superpowers. And I loved every minute of it. Their stories, part of the plethora of heroes are iconic, to say the least. Where else would you find an African country given the status it deserves as the most technologically advanced nation in the world. Or a black man as an indestructible figure with a superhero business. And what about ridding your neighbourhood of baddies with your meta-human abilities to strike them with lightning, and much more. You see black superheroes are the real vigilantes. They protect their spaces with as much vigour and power as they can muster.
Yet, in the midst of all this greatness, something is missing.
The black female superhero.
But why is this so important? Surely we should be happy to have any black superheroes at all. It has taken us so long to get here, that anything we get, will do. Right? Right…
Well, quite frankly, no. Throughout history women, and in particular black women, have been misrepresented, mistreated and sidelined in cinema. When we do get a feature it’s usually a negative, overdone and untrue stereotype. The crackheads, the victims, and abused. Taraji P. Henson highlighted this phenomenon when she won a Golden Globe for her role as Cookie in Empire. She noticed that a black woman often has to play these kinds of roles, just to be perceived as a great actress. Similarly, in the show How To Get Away With Murder, the black female lead played by Viola Davis, though iconic, is a manipulative, vindictive alcoholic that tends to destroy the very things she cherishes. Creating a box that makes it hard for black females actress to get out of.
And taking it back further, when black women were featured in cinema and TV even less, they tended to be the undesirable frumpy nannies, slaves or just extras. One actress, Louise Beavers, appeared in over 160 films from the 1920’s through the 1960’s often as a mammy stereotype of a maid, servant, or housekeeper. Other stereotypes such as the ‘Jezebel’ and the ‘Sapphire’ (often characterized as rude, loud, malicious, stubborn, bitchy, emasculating women, aka ‘The Angry Black Woman’) are rife among female black leads.
Or, we may just not be featured at all. In Brazil, this seems to be the case as statistics show that black women are excluded from Brazilian cinema and represent only 4.4% of casts of films. There is an overwhelming presence of white actors and little to none black ones. In fact, despite being the majority of the female population of the country (51.7%), black women appeared in less than two out of ten feature film between the years 2002 and 2012, according to Black Women of Brazil. This is further supported by the rise in activism of Afro-latinx (think Amara La Negra) who believe that it is finally time for this to change. And for a country that is extremely diverse, it verging on pathetic that so few black women have had leading roles. The UK has the same story. Research by the British Film Institute in 2016, revealed that just 13 per cent of UK films have a black actor in a leading role and 59 per cent have no black actors in any role.
It seems then, we are just as unloved in cinema and TV as we have been in many other spaces. We must fight or at least take on roles that tend to demean our worth and significance in the world. Films that show off our brilliance (Hidden Figures), our resilience (the Harriet Tubman biopic) and our infallible ability to love (Loving) are not being made as often as they should be. But as the saying goes, ‘Disappointed, but not surprised.’
Yet, in my bones, I know it’s time for change.
Enter the black female superhero. And there are quite a few of them.
Take the well-known Storm, from the Marvel Comic Universe and is also known as Ororo Munroe. She is of Moroccan descent and is an exceptionally strong mutant. Or how about the lesser known Bumblebee, who is DC Comics first African American female superhero. There is also Monica Rambeau who became a leader of the Avengers and uses her powers to fight crime. And there are loads more, magnificent and powerful in their own right using their abilities for good. Though, there have been a few TV series adaptations, such Vixen on CW seed in 2016. She is part of the DC Universe and her powers allow her to harness the spirit of animals. As well as the introduction of Anissa Pierce aka Thunder, who is also Black Lightening’s daughter. She is also one of the few queer heroes of colour in DC Comics.
So, it’s clear we aren’t lacking in choices and a film that gives one of these characters their own long-awaited and deserved spotlight is necessary. It will offer an opportunity for black women to break-free of negative film stereotypes and embrace a new one in full form. This is especially timely too, given the rise of black women activism and intersectional feminism, one example formed as #BlackGirlMagic, a simple concept that aims to celebrate us. As well as the rise of black female directors such as Ava DuVernay, which still sits at a bleak nine percent, will be a match made in film heaven. Meaning that we may have a film made that will finally explore the nuances of authentic female blackness in all its variations. And the recent success of the new re-boot of Wonder Woman shows that these kinds of films do pull in extremely large audiences and create a high demand for more, which I’m pretty sure will be no different if there was a black female heroine instead.
It took Disney 49 animated feature films (totalling 86 years) before we had our first black female heroine, in The Princess and The Frog.
Let’s not wait that long for our first black female superhero film!