Black Panther, Batwing, and African Superheroes

Four days ago actor Morris Chestnut, who will appear in the upcoming Kick-Ass 2, posted the following on both his Twitter feed and Facebook page:

It’s time to get familiar with the Black Panther character.

This prompted the usual onslaught of internet speculation, and both have since been taken down. The next day he wrote a tweet to quell the masses who were clamouring to hear more about an upcoming Black Panther film.

I, for one, was personally grateful to hear this news.

“Why?” you might be asking, “Evan, I thought you were all about introducing the Wakandan super-king into the Marvel cinematic universe.” You would not be wrong in your assessment, and let me explain why, exactly, I felt this way.

Black Panther, AKA T’Challa, is the king of the fictional super-advanced African country of Wakanda. He is, for all points and purposes, Marvel’s premiere African super hero. The problem with Morris Chestnut being chosen to portray the character is that he is African-American; he is not Black.

Allow me to explain myself.

I had a conversation in college with an African-American housemate of mine about his Ugandan girlfriend, who he referred to as being “Black.” I asked him if he wasn’t Black as well, to which he answered that he was not. He elaborated by explaining that African-Americans are the descendants of slaves that arrived in North America hundreds of years ago, and as such are now very different from the people who were born, and live, in Africa. This can be observed through the respective lightness and darkness of their skin, among other things.

Up above I’ve already posted a picture of Morris Chestnut, so allow me to throw in a few other images for contrast.

Below, on the left, is a picture of the actor most often mentioned when discussing the role: Djimon Honsou. Born in Benin, Honsou is the one I would most love to play T’Challa, and this desire is only curbed by the fact that he’s currently pushing 50. Next to him  are Chiwetel Ejiofor and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, both British actors born to Nigerian parents.

tchallacandidates

Hopefully by scrolling up and down you can recognize that African-Americans and Black people can actually look quite different. Just because someone is racially “Black,” like Chestnut, does not mean that they are a good representation of the people indigenous to a continent. As always, I call for casting that is as accurate as possible. An African-American actor, while talented, would not the right choice for this role.

In other comic-related news David Zavimbe will be retiring the role of Batwing next month. The product of Batman Incorporated, the Caped Crusader’s project to have a network of heroes across the globe, Batwing was essentially the Batman of Africa. Within the course of his comic book the Congolese native has battled both supervillains and the local corrupt police force; his was a book that largely took place far, far away from the US. Zavimbe will be replaced by the African-American Luke Fox, the son of the character who Morgan Freeman played in the Christopher Nolan films.

The change from an African native underneath the armour to a Gothamite seems illogical as far as the original point of the title, but writer Justin Gray insists that him and his co-writer, Jimmy Palmiotti, wanted “to make Batwing more relevant and important.” Not only that, but they will be keeping the character an “‘international’ hero,” with his first mission taking place in Africa.

Does no one else see the problem with this? Were Zavimbe’s stories not “relevant” enough that we needed to hand the mantle over to an American? Why is it that we need an African-American hero going to Africa to wage war against supervillainy when formerly one of their very own filled that very role?

Africa is not a country, and far be it from me to equate the Democratic Republic of Congo with Nigeria, or Benin with South Africa. Wakanda, like the vibranium mined there, does not exist, but in the Marvel universe can be found on the continent alongside these other countries. Africa is the second largest land mass in the world and, like anywhere else, is full of its own rich cultures and people groups. Africa deserves its own super heroes.

Currently Marvel [supposedly] searches for an actor to portray an African superhero from a made-up country, and that is something that they will have to approach with a great deal of tact. On the other side of things DC has taken their African superhero and managed to change things so that he no longer even hails from the continent.

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3 responses to “Black Panther, Batwing, and African Superheroes

  1. Dude, no. Africans are not generally darker than African-Americans. They do not “actually look quite different” than each other. Saying that shit is racist as hell, and just plain untrue. Please do some research before posting this kind of thing. Yikes.

    • I wrote that African-Americans and Africans can look quite different from one another, and I stand by this. The intermarriage of Africans with both White and Native American people over the years has changed things so that as far as phenotypes go, their ancestors no longer look as similar to native Africans as they once did. The majority of African-Americans also have European ancestry.

      That being said, I full acknowledge that there is a broad range of various tones and features within the continent. It’s a huge land mass, and it should be expected that there would be a lot of variation within that. I apologize for communicating that skin tone alone could reveal the difference between an African-American and a Black people.

      The point I was trying to make was that I would appreciate the actor portraying T’Challa to be a more accurate representation of an African person, i.e. preferably not mixed. While this may sound racist, it also falls in line with the character’s history in the comic books of being from a long line of royalty. It’s unlikely that such a family would intermingle with those outside of its continent.

      I apologize again for offending or being perceived as racist; that was never my intent. I took what my friend had told me about African-Americans and Black people and, with what knowledge I have about America’s history, wrote this post. The further research I’ve done as a result of your comment has confirmed that many African-Americans are mixed, but also that those from Africa are not necessarily darker, so I admit where I was far less than correct.

  2. Pingback: The “One Size Fits All” Approach To Casting | Culture War Reporters

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