A Caucasian writer makes a case for more Black superhero films.
Think about all the big superhero movies of the past few years. Think about Iron Man 3, Man of Steel and The Dark Knight Rises. What do they all have in common?
Yes, they all cost over $100 million to produce. Yes, they are all sequels or reboots. Yes, they all made over $500 million at the worldwide box office.
But, what I’m referring to is that they all have white leads, and they all have predominantly white casts.
The past 10 years have seen the massive growth of superhero films. We’re inarguably living in the heyday of the cinematic superhero. Superhero films are some of the only films that remain profitable in today’s barren filmic desert.
Three of the top 10 highest grossing films of all-time are superhero flicks. Not only did those three (Dark Knight Rises, Iron Man 3 and The Avengers) each make over $1 billion, but they were also all released in the past two years.
But, none of those films feature African-Americans in starring roles. In fact, over the past 10 years, there have only been two superhero films that starred black actors. They are Hancock with Will Smith and Blade Trinity starring Wesley Snipes.
Sure, other superhero films have featured black actors in supporting parts. There’s Halle Berry in the X-Men films. There’s Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury in the Marvel movies (though, I wouldn’t technically call him a superhero).
And Anthony Mackie had a fine performance in the latest installment of the Captain America franchise.
Still, though, these instances are few and far between. By my count, there haven’t been more than 10 black superheroes in films with budgets over $100 million in the past decade, and one of those characters was played by Will.I.Am. So, not a great showing there.
But, why is this the case? Why aren’t there more black superheroes in our films?
Companies like Marvel and DC might tell you that they don’t want their films featuring black protagonists because most movie goers would be unable to relate to them. Thus, according to this logic, most people wouldn’t buy tickets to see such a movie.
Marvel and DC might also say that they just don’t have any black characters that are popular enough to grace the silver screen.
The best counter argument to these claims is 2008’s Hancock. Granted, Hancock is not based on a Marvel or DC property, but it is a superhero film, and it stars an African-American.
So, more than any other film, Hancock proves that a film starring a black superhero can have an amazing amount of financial success.
It was made for $150 million, and it grossed over $620 million. And it did it all with only a 41 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Now compare this to 2011’s Green Lantern. The film was a financial and critical bomb as it received a mere 26 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and netted only $19 million at the box office. (It perplexingly cost $200 million and only made $219 million).
The reason why these two films make for such a telling comparison is there is a version of the Green Lantern character that is African-American.
It’s hard to say that swapping out Ryan Reynolds for a black actor such as Jamie Foxx would have changed the fortunes of this film, because it is a legitimately terrible movie.
But it could have brought in a new subset of audience members looking to see a positive black role model on the big screen.
On top of all this, black protagonists have had something of a resurgence in the past couple of years. Django Unchained, a film about a former slave murdering white people, made over $400 million at the box office.
And 12 Years A Slave grossed $187 million on a paltry $20 million production budget. Of course, these films aren’t superhero movies, but they do prove that white and black moviegoers alike will show up for films starring African-Americans.
What’s more, the African-American film audience as a whole is growing at an impressive rate. According to The Hollywood Reporter, “More than 170 million African-Americans took a trip to the cinema in 2013, a 13 percent gain compared to roughly 150 million in 2012.”
Meanwhile, the Caucasian audience is shrinking. Theatrical statistics put out by the MPAA in 2013 stated that “the share of Caucasian moviegoers has continuously decreased since 2009, declining a total of four percentage points.”
Even more telling is a 2011 study conducted by BET found that “blacks on the whole go to the movies more avidly than any other racial group, two times a month and a minimum of 28 times a year.” Not to mention, “62 percent of black moviegoers say they’ll see a movie multiple times if they like it.”
It’s also important to note that 80 percent of the films that African-Americans see do not feature predominantly black casts. So get that notion out of your head that black people only go to the movies to see Tyler Perry dress up like an old woman.
OK, so that’s a fair amount on information to digest. But what does it all mean? What’s the point?
The point is that people want to see their own cultural experiences reflected in art, on the big screen, at 24 frames per second. They want to feel represented. They want to have a communal, cathartic experience. And they want to see people they can relate to blow sh*t up.
They also want their children to have proper cinematic role models. What does it say to young African-Americans if all the people they emulate from the movies are white? How will that affect their thinking when they eventually become men and women in the world?
When Hollywood endlessly perpetuates the same tired stories about white men, not only are they robbing an entire group of people of a sense of belonging and relatable entertainment, they’re also taking money out of their own pockets.
Money is the only thing that talks in the film industry and hopefully, now that the evidence is out there, Hollywood will begin to change their ways.
We need more black superheroes because our movies should be diverse. They should reflect a bevy of viewpoints and lived experiences. They should appeal to young black men and women just as much as they appeal to young white men and women.
Not only does it make cultural sense, but it also makes financial sense. Take heed, Hollywood.
Originally appeared at Elite Daily
About the author: Adam Pliskin. Adam is so many different things. Adam is a writer. Adam is a native New Yorker. Adam is a graduate of Brown University who holds a degree in Modern Culture and Media. Adam is a massive film and TV buff. Adam is also a terrible narcissist who loves hearing the sound of his own voice. Adam.