Camrus Johnson will star as Batwing in Warner Bros. Pictures’ television series Batwoman. Johnson, who penned the story for the comic Batman Urban Legends #4, tweeted “A dream come true, a complete honor, and a message to every little black boy out there that you can be a hero too. You already are one.”
Johnson’s message reflects the dearth of non-white superheroes and their representation in films. While several non-white characters featured in the comic book series of both Marvel and DC Comics, very few got translated into motion pictures. The ones that did, ended up as sidekicks to the white protagonist, or an all-white cast.
Here is a list of some of the most popular superheroes of colour from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC:
Batwing – Johnson’s Batwing follows Luke Fox who aids Batwoman after Batman goes missing for three years, in the upcoming series Batwoman. While he appeared in the comic DC comic series for the first time in 2011, he made his screen debut with the animated series Batman Beyond and then appeared with Batwoman in Arrowverse. As per the books, Batwing is Batman’s counterpart in South Africa. Batwing is a Black character in the comic series as well.
Batwoman – Originally a white romantic sidekick to Batman, Batwoman’s character has undergone change in terms of significance and representation. The Arrowverse television series which is in its third season, will see a Black Batwoman, played by Javicia Leslie. Her role, as per a DC fandom page, is reversed to play Bruce Wayne aka Batman’s lesbian cousin who is expelled from the military academy due to her sexual orientation. Leslie is the successor to actors Ruby Rose and Wallis Day, who played the protagonist in the first and second seasons, respectively.
Miss Marvel – The first ever Pakistani super-hero, Miss Marvel aka Kamala Khan, will be played by Pakistani-Canadian actor Iman Vellani. Ms. Marvel will be introduced as Marvel and Disney’s upcoming television series, and the character will appear alongside Captain Marvel in the upcoming Marvel films.
Black Panther – The most famous non-white super-hero squad, Marvel’s 2018 film Black Panther is based on the Afro-futuristic land of Wakanda that draws its supremacy from the land’s abundance in vibranium. Apart from late actor Chadwick Boseman playing the protagonist T’Challa, it introduced prominent comic characters including T’Challa’s tech-savvy sister Shuri, and Okoye, the head of Wakanda’s all-female special forces. Despite being a Marvel film, it does not come as aspirational of the West because the characters speak in a non-American accent. The film was made four decades after Black Panther was introduced in 1966, and got its own series in 1973. It is currently being prepared for a sequel, while director Ryan Coogler signed a five-year deal with Disney for a series on the kingdom of Wakanda. Black Panther remains one of the most popular and highest-grossing Marvel films ever with an all-Black cast.
Shang-Chi – The first-ever Chinese super-hero will probably break the chain of Black superheroes being the only alternative to the whites. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is an upcoming Disney and Marvel film. Featuring Canadian actor Simu Liu as the protagonist, it will follow a martial-artist and a master of weaponry, Shang-Chi, who had first appeared in the comics in 1973.
Cyborg – Cyborg aka Victor Stone is a DC Comic superhero and first appeared in the texts in 1980. He is one of the founding members of the Justice League and has appeared alongside Batman, Superman, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman in the film series apart from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Actor Ray Fisher plays the role of the originally Black character. Cyborg’s representation in Justice League was different from the character arc give to it by Zack Snyder, after Joss Wedon had filled in for the director, the actor said in an interview in April.
Kingo – Played by Pakistani-American actor Kumail Nanjiani, Kingo will be inducted into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Chloe Zhao’s upcoming film Eternals. The comic character is originally of Japanese descent.
Gilgamesh – Gilgamesh, or The Forgotten One, is one of the Eternals. While his race is unknown, actor Don Lee will be playing the super-human character.
War Machine – War Machine aka James Rhodes first emerged in the Iron Man comic books in 1979. Originally a Black character, War Machine is both a friend and a sidekick to Iron Man until the latter’s death. In the comic books, Rhodes steps into the shoes of Iron Man but we are yet to see if that happens in the upcoming Marvel films.
Green Lantern – The Green Lantern Corps. comprises members who are eligible for the title. However, the seven characters that are primarily associated with the name, include, Alan Scott, Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner, Simone Baz, and Jessica Cruz. John Stewart is the only Black Green Lantern superhero and the second African-American superhero who was introduced in 1971. The 2011 film Green Lantern featuring Ryan Reynolds, draws from Hal Jordan, a white character.
Nick Fury – Nick Fury is the leading agent of the fictional espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D. While he debuted with the Fantastic Four comic book series, he majorly appeared with the Avengers. Fury is originally white and is played by David Hasselhoff in the 1988 film Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D but is later replaced by actor Samuel Jackson. Having appeared in several Marvel films, The Ultimate Marvel Universe released an imprint of the character designed after Jackson.
Storm – A mutant in the X-Men group, Storm is one of the first African female superhero characters who debuted in 1975 with the comic Giant-Size X-Men #1. With African-American and Kenyan descent, she features in the comic texts of Avengers and Fantastic Four as well. However, she appears exclusively with the X-Men in films. Actors Halle Berry and Alexandra Shipp have portrayed the character on-screen.
Captain America – After Steve Rogers passed on his shield to Samuel Wilson aka Falcon, he juggled both roles in Disney’s Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Even in the comics, Falcon is a close aid to Captain America and keeps jumping in and out of his shoes. Actor Anthony Mackie who has appeared in several films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is the first ever Black Captain America.
While there is a significant number of non-white superheroes, diversity is still a question in Marvel and DC Cinematic Universe. While Peter Parker aka Spider-Man has been played by white actors Tobey Macguire, Andrew Garfield, and Tom Holland, a spin-off comic series Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse saw Black actor Miles Morales, taking up the role of the superhero. However, it lives only in the comics, and as an animation film by the same name.