Black Superman’s Tokenization Disregards Many Original Black Heroes


Longtime comic book fans love seeing their favorite superheroes make the jump to the big screen. However, not all fans are happy any time the big screen iterations of their favorite superheroes are different from the comics, such as when a character’s origin story is tweaked a bit. But nothing seems to cause outrage more than when the race, gender, or sexual orientation of the character doesn’t exactly match their comicbook counterparts. Whether you think this concern is silly or justified, the quickest way to get some fans talking is to swap the race of a “legacy” comic book character.


Many rationalize these changes claiming that it’s not really a big deal, after all racial diversity has become a goal towards which many publishers and movie studios seem to be striving. And maybe adding diversity of race, gender and sexual orientation can have a positive impact on the culture. But those who disagree with these kinds of changes point out that there are already plenty of characters that fit those ‘diverse’ descriptions, and yet those characters are being repeatedly overlooked and left on the shelf.





It was reported this week that Warner Bros. is moving full steam ahead with their Black Superman film. After enlisting Ta-Nehisi Coates to write the latest feature on the legacy DC Comics superhero, the studio is now searching for its director and a star to relaunch its DC universe.


Some fans were less concerned about the racial change, but wondered more about the timing of the announcement. In fact, more than one sharp eyed DCEU fan noticed that Warner Bros. made their announcement of a Black Superman on none other than Henry Cavill’s birthday, who’s been openly campaigning for a Man of Steel sequel since 2013. 





Cultural commentator and Youtube personality Eric D. July had quite a bit to say about the race-swapping Superman decision, which he calls “tokenization” and says “merit has nothing to do with this movie” (NSFW).


ORIGINAL black characters remain on the shelf because of tokenization


Although cheerleaders of the ‘tokenization’ approach might disagree, comic fans like Eric D. July who object to it prove their displeasure isn’t about racism. They insist that Black original characters are simply being ignored and “left on the shelf” (such as Icon, Static Shock, John Stewart’s Green Lantern, and so on). They ask “why not make it an entirely different character?” If fans have known a particular character for their entire life, when they’re portrayed as a completely different ethnicity, many of those long-time fans have trouble associating with the same character that they’ve cared for. And why are other ethnicities such as Hispanic or Asian routinely ignored? 


In the meantime, Marvel Studios also angered some fans of The Falcon by placing him in the Captain America role for Disney+’s Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Those disappointed fans felt it was a demotion from The Falcon’s already rich history in the comics as one of the first of Marvel’s Black superheroes. In response, Marvel Studios is now back to elevating a historically Black hero that’s been the same since he debuted. While Warner Bros. looks to fill its Superman vacancy with a Black actor, Marvel is now on the hunt for a Blade helmer, with a Black star, and is searching for a Black director to handle the film too. And Marvel isn’t rushing with Blade either. The film’s start date was pushed from this September to July 2022, so that the studio can spend time working on the Stacy Osei-Kuffour-penned script.




Coates isn’t expected to deliver his Superman script until mid-December of this year, but if it’s anything like his recent Captain America and Black Panther comics, fans can probably expect plenty of identity politics and racially-focused subject matter, far more than what many have come to expect in typical superhero fare.



What do you think about this move by Warner Bros.?

Karina Smitt

I'm not as much of a "CoMiCs NeEd MoAr DiVeRsItY & iNcLuSiOn" advocate as my girlfriend often is, but we both love funny books, crispy bacon, straight bourbon and hip hop. Add yet, we never vote the same, so we cancel each other out... and that works perfectly in my book!