Editorial: Can We Get Some Diversity in Our Superheroes?

     February 5, 2009

Written by Matt Goldberg

Maybe it’s just my filthy, liberal-arts eduction but I’d like to see some diversity among our superheroes. This is the superhero boom—right here, right now. Every studio is rushing to get a superhero flick out there but it’s mostly white, male superheroes. And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that part. I think people of any gender or race can appreciate Batman or Superman or Iron Man or Spider-Man. But there are other non-white, non-male superheroes out there getting neglected and I’m wondering why they can’t get off the ground.

Yesterday, we reported that Martin Campbell is in talks to direct “Green Lantern”. This instantly led to fan-casting but the fan-casting seemed to be based around Hal Jordan (one interesting suggestion was Jon Hamm which is brilliant until you think about it for five seconds). But I was wondering: why not have John Stewart be the Green Lantern? It’s a key opportunity to have an African American superhero who is not Barack Obama. Maybe I’ve just grown partial to Stewart after watching “Justice League Unlimited” but that’s who I’d like to see. What’s more, since superhero movies sell themselves on a brand name and Green Lantern is recognized just-enough to pull it off (he’s not as high-profile as Batman or Superman in the mainstream), the movie could really boost the profile of an African-American star who isn’t Will Smith, Eddie Murphy, or Denzel Washington.

Yes, I know Hal Jordan is the MAIN Green Lantern among fans but how does he stand out against a field of superhero movies? Furthermore, John Stewart has relationship drama with Shayera Hall, aka Hawkgirl, which could lead her into her own spinoff. This leads me to my next point: female superheroes.

The only female superhero we’ve had so far in this modern superhero boom is Elektra. That turned out…poorly. Why can’t Wonder Woman get off the ground? Why has “Green Lantern” made more progress than the quintessential female superhero?

I’ve heard the excuses:

She’ll just remind people of the campy TV show.

The Hulk overcame that problem. Twice.

The Amazonian stuff will turn people off.

Thor has to deal with Norse mythology but they’re making it anyway.

That fan casting a few months back of Megan Fox as Wonder Woman didn’t come out of nowhere. Yes, people love Megan Fox because she’s all purdy, but they also want to see Wonder Woman. They want to see a strong, ass-kicking female superhero break into the boys club that’s dominating summer movies. So do I.

What’s even more frustrating is it’s not like Superman where you kept hearing about false-starts. Yes, that was frustrating too, but at least Warner Bros. was trying with that franchise. There hasn’t been one solid “Wonder Woman” story in the past few years that wasn’t “Justice League”-related (that movie has stalled too, by the way).

Warner Bros—this is your opportunity. You have Batman in your back pocket and that should give you a little freedom to push and try new things with these other superheroes. You can give people a black Green Lantern. You can give people Wonder Woman. You can differentiate yourself from Marvel, who may have an “Avengers” movie on track but with Thor, Captain America, Hulk, and Iron Man, that thing is just a sausage fest right now. Take the lead at doing something different and breaking the super-powered white man mold. Don’t forget: this whole superhero re-launch may have found its footing with “X-Men” and “Spider-Man”, but it started with “Blade” back in 1998.

This isn’t diversity for diversity sake or affirmative-action superheroes. Diversity is a common good. America is a melting-pot and we all come from different places and it’s time to start exploring our differences. It’s time to start mixing up our superhero movies and I guarantee you we will all be richer for the experience. We’re in the 21st century. Isn’t it just a little silly that all the major superhero franchises are white men? If we can put a black man in the White House, certainly we can put a black man in tights and give him a magical ring. If we can have a woman almost win the White House (if Clinton had beaten Obama, I think she could have also beat McCain), certainly we can have a flying woman wearing indestructible bracelets. The times are a’changin and superhero movies need to change with it.

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