Superhero Social Justice, Ctd

In light of recent developments in superhero diversity, including a black Captain America, Daniel D. Snyder muses about the subject:

Traditionally, movies have done a curious thing with black heroes: Charge them not with saving the world, but rather with protecting their immediate, ethno-specific domains, or, in many cases, to put it bluntly, the ghetto.

The 1977 blaxploitation film Abar, the Black Superman, may be of questionable filmmaking merit, but is essential in defining the tone of black-superhero movies to come. In it, an affluent black doctor and his family move into a white neighborhood, prompting anger, protests, and even threats of violence. A local black leader, Abar, steps into help protect the Kincaids and is able to do so until extreme circumstances force him to take a serum of Dr. Kincaid’s creation, granting him invincibility and psychic powers. Abar then goes on a quest to vanquish racism and the machinery of oppression. It’s an (amusing, absurd) empowerment fantasy, but it’s also a limited one—about the men and women next door, not mankind itself. …

There is obviously nothing wrong with the messages behind these films—that real heroes come from and protect specific places. But taken together, over time, they contribute to the stagnant idea of what a black hero can be to the world. Even when moving outside of the neighborhood-watch paradigm, black heroes still aren’t granted the mantle of universal protector bestowed on their counterparts. Spawn (1997) and Catwoman (2004), the latter widely regarded as one of the worst movies ever made, both feature black leads (at least before Spawn‘s Al Simmons gets turned into cooked burger meat) but their narratives are tied to tales of personal revenge, where any worldly do-gooding is merely incidental.