It’s not that there haven’t been any Black superheroes. There have been a few memorable turns in film: Hallie Berry as Storm in the X-Men movies, Don Cheadle as War Machine in Iron Man 2 and 3, and Idris Elba as Heimdall in the Thor franchise, to name a few. Enter Disney and Netflix, who are developing four live action series based on Marvel’s Hell’s Kitchen street-level heroes Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist. Each show is comprised of 13 episodes and will be released over multiple years, starting in 2015.
This will all culminate in a mini-series event called The Defenders. This is important because it essentially makes Luke Cage the first Black lead character in the Marvel film and television universe. Debuting in 1972’s Luke Cage, Hero for Hire, Cage (also known as Power Man) is a New York-based character with superhuman strength. He’s also one of the first Black superheroes to star in an eponymous comic-book series.
Between 2003 and 2006, a film adaptation was in the works at Columbia Pictures. Jamie Foxx, Terrence Howard, and Fast and Furious’s Tyrese Gibson were some of the names floated around for the lead role. Unfortunately, the film never left development purgatory, and the rights reverted back to Marvel in 2013. In the last 20 years, there have only been a few mainstream projects featuring Black superheroes in lead roles.
One of those was 1997’s Steel, the universally mocked Shaquille O’Neal film that Rotten Tomatoes describes as “a badly-acted movie that indulges not only in superhero clichés, but also the sappy TV-movie-of-the-week ones.” Wesley Snipes’s turn in the Blade franchise was a watershed moment for Marvel when it comes to race. (While Blade is a comic book character, these films feel less like superhero flicks, and more like vampire films.) More recently in 2008, Will Smith starred as the original superhero Hancock.