Is America Ready for a Black Superman?

Is America Ready for a Black Superman?
(AP Photo/DC Comics)

Ever since Superman was created over 80 years ago, the writers and artists who bring us his adventures have faced the same recurring problem: How do you make this guy interesting? He can do basically anything, after all. How do you challenge him? In the early days, they kept readers coming back by ramping up Superman’s powers. At first he just bounced bullets off his chest and leapt tall buildings in a single bound, but over the years he became so unstoppably mighty that he could fly under his own power into the heart of the Sun without even mussing his hair. Then DC Comics came up with kryptonite, the only thing that could weaken him, which kept him on his toes for a while. Then in the ’80s, they tried de-powering him. Then they killed him. Then they brought him back to life. Then they gave him a mullet. Then they turned him into, I dunno, some sort of electrical being? I stopped paying much attention after that, but you get the idea. DC has cranked out multiple comic books with this character every single month for the better part of a century, and they’ve tried just about everything to keep the money rolling in.

Well… almost everything! Tatiana Siegel and Borys Kit, Hollywood Reporter:

While promoting his Amazon Prime film Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse in late April, Michael B. Jordan put a Kryptonite pin in any rumors that he might suit up as Warner Bros.’ next Superman. “I’m flattered that people have me in that conversation,” Jordan told The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s definitely a compliment, but I’m just watching on this one…”

When Warners announced in February that celebrated author Ta-Nehisi Coates is writing the screenplay and Abrams is producing, it did not address the matter of helming. But insiders say Warners and DC are committed to hiring a Black director to tackle what will be the first cinematic incarnation of Superman featuring a Black actor, with one source adding that putting Abrams at the helm would be “tone-deaf…”

Sources tell THR that Coates is crafting a Kal-El in the vein of the original Superman comics and will have the protagonist hail from Krypton and come to Earth. While the story is currently being crafted and many details could change, one option under consideration is for the film to be a 20th century period piece.

I knew Coates was writing it, but this is the first time I’m seeing confirmation that they’re looking for a black actor to play Supes. I guess having J.J. Abrams directing that movie would be “tone deaf” because he’s white? That’s the bad race, in case you hadn’t heard.

There’s a precedent for a black Superman in the comics, but he’s always been presented as a secondary character from an alternate universe or another dimension or whatever. There’s Calvin Ellis — Cal-El, get it? — who’s basically Super-Obama, except he doesn’t lie. Then there’s Val-Zod, a black Superman from yet another alternate universe. I’m not sure if he’s related to General Zod, but he’s one of the good guys. Anyway, those guys were basically Special Guest Stars, but this is the first time the “main” Superman will be a black man.

Well, why not? Superman was a product of his time. He was created by two white kids (Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who got royally screwed out of their rightful fame and fortune, but that’s a whole other story), so they made him a white guy. DC wouldn’t have made any money from the character back in the ’30s if they’d drawn him as a black person. Now it’s the 2020s and white people are America’s most hated villains, apparently, so DC is trying something new. As a business decision, it makes sense.

I haven’t been impressed with what I’ve read of Coates’ comics work, but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Just because he described the 9/11 first responders as “not human,” that doesn’t mean he can’t write a fictional hero. Who knows, maybe Coates won’t beat the audience over the head about racism, using America’s first superhero as a mouthpiece to scold us about things that happened before we were born. It could happen. I’m willing to see what they do with this.

But can you just imagine the uproar if a traditionally black character was played by a white dude? If, say, the new Black Panther took off his mask and he was all pasty and $#!+? The cries of racism would echo throughout the land. And while it’s racist to say a black director can’t do a movie about a white character, it’s not racist to say a white director can’t do a movie about a black character. That’s just amusing to me.

If I’m okay with seeing one of my childhood heroes turned into a black man, and you’re unwilling to see one of your heroes turned into a white man… which one of us is the racist?

P.S. How come there’s never been a trans or gender-neutral Superman Superperson? Why is DC so transphobic?