Even as the comic-book universes do their part with a panopoly of multiracial characters, superhero movies fail to keep up. Box office triumphs from Disney’s Marvel and Warner Bros. Discovery’s DC overwhelmingly center on white, heterosexual, male superheroes, even though it’s been confirmed (and reconfirmed) that diversity sells.
There’s some progress: On the horizon are Destin Daniel Cretton’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” a “Ms. Marvel” Disney+ series starring Marvel’s first Muslim character to headline her own comic book, and the Chloé Zhao-directed “Eternals.” On the DC side, Angel Manuel Soto (“Charm City Kings”) will direct “Blue Beetle,” the studio’s first Latinx superhero movie, but there’s room for much more. Each sequel, prequel, and spin-off provides an opportunity for the introduction of new, original characters of color that could shake up the superhero landscape.
Diversity in the superhero movie space means more than the actors: They create financial and social clout. The popularity of superhero movies make them reinforcers of cultural and moral norms. The pervasiveness of white, male superheroes like Superman, Batman, or Captain America creates an environment in which they symbolize justice and morality elementally linked to their identities; they define what it means to do and be “good,” and what those who do “good” should look like.
Marvel’s “Black Panther” was the brilliant exception: It exceeded expectations at the box office and inspired healthy debate about intraracial conflict across Africa and its diaspora. It was unprecedented for a movie of its scale, entertaining and educating comic book fans and moviegoers. Until that moment, Black Panther was one of the more popular superheroes without a modern movie or television series — missed opportunities that were typically explained away with excuses of development challenges or risk aversion.
Since “Panther,” the push to diversify superhero movies in front of and behind the camera seems to have taken on new urgency. With that in mind, here is a starter list — which could easily be 10 times longer — of ideas for each studio to consider workshopping right now:
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A no-brainer. As played by Halle Berry (and most recently, Alexandra Shipp), this prominent member of the X-Men series has been mostly sidelined in favor of characters like Wolverine. She ranks highly in the pantheon of Marvel female superheroes, drawing comparison to DC Comics’ most famous heroine, Wonder Woman. Storm is also half of one of the higher-profile romantic relationships in all of comics, having married fellow superhero Black Panther. Marvel’s entry couldn’t be easier: introduce Storm in the next Black Panther movie, setting up a potential film franchise of her own.
Courtesy DC Comics
Speaking of Wonder Woman comparisons, we have another powerful Amazonian who also happens to be Wonder Woman’s Black, long-lost half-sister. Like Diana, Nubia also boasts superhuman strength, durability, and agility. Earlier this year, DC Comics unveiled that Nubia will wield the Lasso of Truth as the next hero to assume the role of Wonder Woman — at least in the comics. Fans will likely have to wait a while for a live-action movie on the adventures of Nubia, whether as an origin story, and especially as Wonder Woman. The role is likely Gal Gadot’s until she no longer wants it.
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The Japanese-American Katana has been featured in various DC Comics superhero teams and in animated series, but rarely in live-action movies and certainly not as the lead. In her sole live-action film depiction, Katana is played by Karen Fukuhara in the 2016 Warner Bros. release of “Suicide Squad.” The character was absent from the 2020 spin-off film “Birds of Prey,” despite being affiliated with the superhero team. She will also not appear in the upcoming standalone sequel “The Suicide Squad,” set for release in early 2022. The master swordswoman and martial artist has a rich backstory worthy of exploration in a standalone film or series entirely her own. Rila Fukushima portrays Yamashiro as a recurring character on The CW series “Arrow,” debuting in the 2014/15 third season.
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Any Native American Superhero
Native Americans are likely the least represented, marginalized people of color in all of American cinema. They’re especially absent in high-profile action-adventure studio movies, including superhero fare. A few gained popularity in the comics, but most fizzled. It hasn’t helped that depictions have fallen back on hackneyed stereotypes. There are more than two dozen Indigenous heroes in the Marvel Universe alone, so there’s a screaming opportunity here.
A few appeared in live-action movies, in supporting or peripheral roles, including John Proudstar/Thunderbird, a character in the Fox series “The Gifted,” played by Blair Redford; Danielle Moonstar/Mirage in the superhero film “The New Mutants” (2020), played by Blu Hunt; and James Proudstar/Warpath, who appeared in “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2014), played by Booboo Stewart.
A series centered on Echo, a Native American and one of very few deaf comic superhero characters, is reportedly in early stages of development for Disney+. A spinoff of the streamer’s “Hawkeye” series, she will be played by Alaqua Cox. One Native American superhero ready for a standalone film or television series is Jason Strongbow/American Eagle, who is blessed with superhuman strength, speed, agility, enhanced senses, and more. He’s another character with ties to Black Panther, as a member of The Agents of Wakanda super-team led by Okoye (aka General of the Dora Milaje and the head of Wakandan armed forces and intel). Like Storm, Marvel could introduce the character in an upcoming Black Pather/Wakanda universe film or television series, before spinning him off into his own franchise.
Created by Harya “Hasmi” Suraminata, the lightning-throwing, justice-seeking Indonesian superhero first appearied in the 1969 comic book “Gundala Putra Petir.” Gundala is a part of what is known as the Bumilangit Universe, a relatively new Indonesian superhero franchise published by the Bumilangit Comics imprint. Gundala’s abilities include genius-level intellect, expert martial artist, manipulation of electricity, superhuman speed, reflexes, and durability. Prolific Indonesian filmmaker Joko Anwar announced that he planned an aggressive roll-out of movies based on these characters, starting with “Gundala.” It had its International premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival to mostly positive reviews. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Anwar admitted that his film can’t compete with the $200 million budgets of Marvel and DC — but he certainly could, if a Hollywood major were to see an opportunity where others might not even look.
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Any Original Milestone Media Creation
This is the iconic African American-owned parent to comic book imprint Milestone Comics, which is now a DC Comics subdivision. In 2020, during its FanDome summer streaming event, DC announced Milestone’s triumphant reboot under the watch of co-founders Denys Cowan and Derek Dingle, joined by Reginald Hudlin. Focused primarily on African American superheroes in the “Dakotaverse,” Milestone created unique and powerful comic characters. Static is its most recognized, but he’s still relatively obscure in a world where supermen and gods reign supreme.
There was a “Static Shock” animated series, which ran for four seasons on Kids’ WB in the early 2000s. In August 2020, Hudlin announced the development of a live-action “Static Shock” movie. The project will be a collaboration between DC Films, Warners, and Milestone. Michael B. Jordan later joined the team as a co-producer. In the meantime, WB/DC might want to consider platforming other Milestone heroes like Hardware, Icon, and Starlight.
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America Chavez/Miss America
Raised by two mothers, America is a multiverse traveler who also happens to be an incredibly powerful, butt-kicking, LGBTQ+ Latina teen. She possesses some of Superman’s abilities, including flight, superhuman strength and speed; she’s bulletproof, can survive in space, and is virtually a nearly indestructible superwoman. Her most valuable power is the ability to travel through dimensions, creating portals with her star-shaped tattoos. A relatively unknown Marvel hero, it appears that the studio is finally letting her have the spotlight, casting “Baby-Sitters Club” actress Xochitl Gomez to portray the character in the upcoming sequel, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” Given her abilities as a multiverse traveler, this seems like a perfect way for Marvel to introduce her. She could play a significant role in the MCU going forward.