Black Panther has been the talk of the town these last few weeks, everybody who’s remotely interested in comics and movies has their eye on the upcoming Marvel movie. However, it has dawned on me that a number of outlets have been claiming Black Panther to be the “first” Black super hero movie. Now, we both know that ain’t entirely true so with this month being Black History month, I thought I’d highlight some of the black super heroes who paved the way for Black Panther.
Let’s start things of with the most common one that comes to everyone’s mind, Blade. Blade is a 1998 American vampire superhero film, directed by Stephen Norrington and written by David S. Goyer loosely based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name. The film stars Wesley Snipes in the title role with Stephen Dorff, Kris Kristofferson and N’Bushe Wright in supporting roles.
As a half-mortal, half-immortal, Blade is out to avenge his mother’s death and rid the world of vampires. The modern-day technologically advanced vampires he is going after are in search of his special blood type needed to summon an evil god who plays a key role in their plan to execute the human race. It may not be as popular as Black Panther, but Blade made a significant impact and impression on the big screen and will always remain a classic.
Next, we got one that most of you may not have even being aware of, including myself once upon a time, Spawn. Spawn is a 1997 American supernatural superhero horror film based on the comic book character of the same name. Directed and co-written by Mark A.Z. Dippé, the film stars Michael Jai White in the title role, and is the first film to feature an African American actor portraying a major comic book superhero.
Spawn depicts the origin story of the title character, beginning with the murder of soldier/assassin Al Simmons. He is resurrected as Spawn, the reluctant, demonic leader of Hell’s army. He ultimately refuses to lead the army in the war against Heaven and turns away from evil.
I was introduced to Spawn through Soul Calibur. The only thing I knew back then was how cool his abilities was and for the longest time just assumed that he was part of the Soul Calibur cast. I soon learned of his origins and how he came to be Spawn. When I found out that there was a character so over-powered that he destroyed heaven and hell and ruled it all, and he was black, suffice to say I had a huge smirk on my face.
The next one may not be as popular or as high production as the last two, but still was a classic growing. I’m talking about of course Up, Up and Away. Up, Up and Away is a 2000 Disney Channel Original Movie. The film is a comedy/adventure about a boy from a family of superheroes who, despite not having any super powers of his own, is called on to save the world.
It may have been a Disney movie at heart but I still enjoyed watching it and just seeing a new take on a super hero family. Many may not remember this fantastic movie but I do and I remember how I felt watching it. It was great feeling seeing yourself be represented like that.
Of course not all heroes were capes, some wear beanie caps and get drunk on the streets. Hancock is a 2008 American superhero action comedy-drama film directed by Peter Berg and starring Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman, and Eddie Marsan. It tells the story of a vigilante superhero, John Hancock (Smith) from Los Angeles whose reckless actions routinely cost the city millions of dollars. Eventually one person he saves, Ray Embrey (Bateman), makes it his mission to change Hancock’s public image for the better.
The scruffy superhero protects the citizens of Los Angeles but leaves horrendous collateral damage in the wake of every well-intentioned feat. That’s OK with Hancock; he doesn’t care what people think and is just as likely to be found dozing on a park bench as saving a damsel in distress. However, after saving the life of a PR executive (Jason Bateman) and meeting the man’s beautiful wife (Charlize Theron), he realizes that he may have a sensitive side after all.
Despite some plot flaws, Hancock was surprisingly fun to watch. It had some great action scenes, introduced a new take on the super hero genre and frankly had the most box office success out of all the movies on this list. I’m still waiting on Hancock 2 by the way, any time now Will.
Lastly, this one may be recent but it’s still somewhat a super hero movie. Sleight is a 2016 American science fiction drama film about a street magician in Los Angeles. The film is directed by J.D. Dillard, written by Dillard and Alex Theurer and stars Jacob Latimore, Seychelle Gabriel, Dulé Hill, Storm Reid, Sasheer Zamata and Michael Villar. The film was released on April 28, 2017, by WWE Studios and Blumhouse Tilt.
After his mother’s death, a young street magician (Jacob Latimore) turns to dealing drugs at parties to support his little sister. When she is kidnapped by his supplier, he uses his sleight of hand and keen intelligence to find her. I thought it was a pretty cool movie so I decided to mention here.
Of course here are some honorable mentions, these are movies I never got around to watch but knew they existed:
An unassuming teacher, Jefferson Reed (Robert Townsend) lives and works in an urban area plagued by a tough gang. When a falling meteor hits Jefferson, he discovers that he has gained numerous superpowers. Encouraged by his father (Robert Guillaume) and mother (Marla Gibbs), Jefferson sets out, somewhat awkwardly, to become a crime-fighting hero. While he manages to improve his community, he finds out that his powers aren’t limitless, making his efforts more challenging.
After his grandmother is killed in a Mafia hit, Darryl (Damon Wayans) fashions a bulletproof overcoat to wear over red long johns, becoming Blankman, a superhero without any superpowers save some inventive tinkering skills. When Blankman’s crime-fighting crusade causes a sensation around the city of Metro, Darryl’s brother Kevin (David Alan Grier) reluctantly agrees to become Blankman’s sidekick, Other Guy, to impress local news anchor Kimberly (Robin Givens), but the mob is fighting back.
Steel is a 1997 American superhero film based on the DC Comics character of the same name. The film stars Shaquille O’Neal as John Henry Irons and his alter-ego Steel, Annabeth Gish as his wheelchair-using partner Susan Sparks, and Judd Nelson as their rival Nathaniel Burke. The plot centers on an accident caused by Burke which leaves Sparks paralyzed. The accident results in Irons quitting his job. Burke begins mass-producing weapons and selling them to criminals. In order to stop Burke, Irons and Sparks create a suit of armor that leads Irons to become the superhero Steel.
So there you have it, it took a long while to get to where we’re at with Black Panther and I’m super happy that we live in a time where a mass majority are craving for heroes of colour. Black Panther is a very important movie not just for the culture but to the industry as a whole.
Black Panther may be the most popular out of all of these movies, but it’s not the first! Let’s not forget those that came before.