Let me tell you a story. I recently got a retail job near where I live (the location, store, and real names of everyone else involved will be hidden for their anonymity), and as one might expect, meeting people led to conversations about tastes in video games, TV shows, and movies. One of the movies for which I’ve been most excited is Captain America: Winter Soldier, next year’s follow-up to my favorite of the original wave of Marvel movies. Not only do I love the character of Captain America, but the story is one of my favorites in all of comics (if you don’t want to know anything about what path this movie might take, ignore that hyperlink). It features the Winter Soldier, potentially the best mid-tier character in all of Marvel comics, and the Falcon, a character that has commonly worked with Captain America on many cases.
When I was giving this spiel to my coworkers, one of my African-American co-workers looked confusingly at me when I mentioned the Falcon as a character I just thought a fellow comic fan would know. I showed him a picture on my phone, and he immediately smiled. See, the Falcon is different from most big name superheroes out there; he’s black, and unlike someone like War Machine, his race isn’t hidden behind some sort of armor. Even the sight of a badass-looking black superhero was enough to make this co-worker’s eyes light up. He just looked at me and said, “Wow. I definitely have to see this movie if there’s a black hero in it.”
Heroes know no color
Look, I’ll be the first to admit I’m not really qualified to talk about the plight of minorities in this country. I’m a white, heterosexual male for crying out loud. But this is 2013; I’d like to think that this is the kind of thing that everyone can support. Think about it like this: before we get a superhero movie with an ethnic lead, we’re going to get a superhero movie starring a raccoon that shoots rockets and a talking tree. I love that Marvel’s taking risks like this, but shouldn’t we be past the point that having an ethnic leading role is a risk?
There are plenty of qualified actors out there who would be able to fill these roles. More importantly, there’s a large, passionate audience just waiting for a movie like this to happen. The story I told is not something I’ve only experienced once. I’ve experienced this situation in my personal life more times than I can count. I’ve seen entire forums devoted to this topic. There’s a passion here just waiting to be mined, and it’s up to the big players in the movie industry to take advantage of it and do right by their consumer base. Companies like Dark Horse shouldn’t let their leads be anglicized. It’s time to take risks for the right reasons here. And before you think I’m just asking people to throw away their money in the name of diversity, here’s my plan for each of the two big players in the comic movie business.
You’ve shown that you’re willing to take risks with this whole Avengers plan. Ten years ago, anyone who would have heard your plan for an expansive cinematic universe that is both loyal to the source material and yet has its own life would have laughed you out of the room, and now you’re laughing your way to the bank with two of the five highest grossing movies of all time. You know what the next big move would be? Bringing the most awesome Avenger currently not on the roster onto the team. Of course, I’m talking about the Black Panther. For those not in the know, Black Panther has superhuman senses, speed, reflexes, and strength thanks to the magical herbs he is able to eat. Oh, and he happens to run his own prosperous African nation of Wakanda. No big deal.
Think about the superheroes you’ve already sold to audiences. You have a millionaire playboy who was able to build himself super suits of armour in his spare time because he can. You have a Norse god literally walking among us. And you have a guy who was frozen in the ice since World War II who was injected with a super serum and a magic boomerang shield made of a metal that doesn’t exist. And you’re telling me that you couldn’t sell a guy with superhuman strength and agility who runs his own hyper advanced nations? You got this in the bag. This will be a comparative cakewalk.
Want to get really ambitious, Marvel? How about Luke Cage? You could run an entire side series to run alongside the Avengers if you included this guy in your cinematic universe. After all, Luke Cage is a man with super strength and impenetrable skin. He’s the best hand-to-hand fighter in your universe, and he’s an entrepreneur. He started the Heroes for Hire business with Iron Fist, one of the best Asian heroes your universe has, and a guy with a backstory that I’m amazed hasn’t made it to the big screen yet. This is a guy who gained superpowers because he punched a dragon directly in the heart. Come on now. That’s awesome! You’d introduce two powerful ethnic characters and bring them together to start a franchise that would open up opportunities for all sorts of side characters that don’t fit the Avengers model. This is an opportunity that you can’t afford to pass up in the long run. How much longer will people want to settle for the same superheroes you’ve introduced so far? You have to mix it up and keep things fresh. This is your chance.
One for the ladies?
Speaking of opportunities that can’t be passed up, hello DC! I haven’t forgotten about you, as much as you seem to want to be forgotten in the cinematic universe. Since you only seem to be able to handle Batman as a character so far (going so far as to turn freakin’ Superman into a dark drama with no fun), there’s really no hope for you to remain relevant in the cinematic world compared to Marvel Films unless you do something to stand out quickly. A Wonder Woman movie would do that, as she’s the most iconic female character in all of comics, and a badass warrior princess to boot, but I have a feeling it will take more than The Heat‘s overwhelming success for you to realize that females can actually carry an action movie, so I’ll just remind you for the thousandth time that you have an iconic warrior princess at your disposal that you’re leaving to the wayside because you don’t like money and success for some reason.
But if you’re not willing to go for a female lead, maybe you can take another bold move, something that Marvel hasn’t done yet. Make a movie with an African American lead character. You’ve got a great fundamental member of the Justice League waiting for a movie in Steel. Also known as John Henry Irons, he was one of the four beings that rose to prominence when Superman died that one time. Despite being nearly invincible, he does tend to do that a lot. Anyway, the point is that you have a superhero who’s a certified genius, possesses a super awesome set of power armour (see, he’s like Iron Man, so you’re not being too risky. You ARE DC, after all. We have to ease you into this stuff), and wields a nearly indestructible mallet (*cough* Thor *cough*). You can steal from your competitor while reaching an audience they couldn’t hope to reach if you beat them to the punch on this “superheroes don’t have to be white” thing. Come on, DC. Take a chance. Make yourselves matter to us moviegoers again. You can do it. I believe in you.
How many of these movies will happen? Not sure. Steel has a big issue to overcome, but the rest of these are all very doable. If nothing else, the fact that Guardians of the Galaxy even exists is a sign that audiences are ready for anything. It’s 2013. Let’s see some new variety in our heroes. It’s what we as audiences deserve.