South Africa’s premier girl, Nomzamo Mbatha, looked beyond fierce on the cover of our Brand New You issue released earlier this month. Epitomising #BlackGirlMagic, this cover has had many of our readers commenting on how much she looked like a black re-working of Wonder Woman. As flattering as this is, it’s forced us to fixate on the lack of (and the desperate need for more) black and African superheroes in mainstream media.
The past year has been particularly exciting for black shows and films, this year holds just as much promise. Shows like Black-ish(and it’s spin off, Grown-ish), Queen Sugar, Being Mary Jane, Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder, The Chi and Insecure are just a few of many televised programmes bringing black lives onto our screens. Netflix original series, Black Lightning, has also generated much hype in showcasing the black superhero. Then we think about this year’s most anticipated film, Black Panther, breaking records even before its release, selling more pre–sale tickets than any other Marvel film. The popularity and success of black films and series emphasise just how much we want to see reflections of our own complexion on screen. More so than that, we want to see them as leading roles and in superhuman form.
The lack of diversity in mainstream superhero films was emphasised at the release of Wonder Woman last year. This film was heavily criticised for the lack of black cast members. Think about why we are comparing Nomzamo to Wonder Woman. Where is her African or black counterpart? Would we not be better off comparing her to Nubia? “Who?” We hear you ask. Nubia takes on a secondary role as Wonder Woman’s dark skinned sister. She is equally as powerful in the D.C. comics and is the Wonder Woman of Earth 23, even acting as a member of that world’s Justice League.
There are many other African superheroes in the world of Marvel and D.C. comics that are just not as recognisable as their white counterparts; they are often not leading protagonist but supporting characters. We think of characters such as Storm (Ororo Munroe) from X-Men, Vixen from Suicide Squad (she is also a member of the Justice League) and Misty Knight who works with superheroes such as the X-Men, Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Mr. Fantastic. Black Panther is a good place to start in rectifying the lack of diversity. In its depiction of a fictional African, this film renegotiates the stereotypical representation of “the African” in cinematic experiences.
We love this Nomzamo cover because it has stimulated this discussion in so many different spaces. We love reading your thoughts. As excited as we are about the progressive changes in film and TV, we are even more excited to see what more is to come of it. It starts with us, us as creatives, directors, screenwriters, actors and viewers. It starts with you. We need to create and fulfil the gap we see for the black superhero.
Join us in setting the trend for the Black Superhero. Share this story; check out the illustrations on our Instagram and share them; push #SuperNomzamo. There’s at least one new superhero movie each year. Let’s ask for more of them to have black actors playing black superhuman characters.