Debate Club: Iconic black superheroes

Debate Club: The 5 most iconic black superheroes

Contributed by
Feb 20, 2019

Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture.

In honor of Black History Month, we wanted to celebrate the most iconic black superheroes in movies. In the 1990s, there were a string of African-American comic-book films — The Meteor Man, Blankman, Steel — that failed to set the box office on fire until Blade became a successful franchise.

How things have changed: In 2018, Black Panther was America's highest-grossing film, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse could win the 2019 Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film. Below are five landmark characters. (Sorry, Shaq, you didn't make the cut.)

Black Panther

Black Panther

Making his debut in the comics in 1966, T'Challa had to wait 50 years to leap to the big screen. But when it happened in Captain America: Civil War (2016), the Marvel Cinematic Universe had its most dynamic 'new' character since the original Avengers.

Chadwick Boseman had done superb work portraying real-life heroes — Jackie Robinson (42) and James Brown (Get on Up) — but he was born to play Black Panther, who's more thoughtful and less jokey than his MCU colleagues. There's a nobility to Boseman worthy of the king of Wakanda, and in Black Panther, he proved that T'Challa's kingdom spread across the globe; the blockbuster becoming one of the most lucrative films in Marvel's storied history.

Blade

Blade

A Marvel movie superhero before it was cool to be a Marvel movie superhero, Blade was a badass vampire hunter played by Wesley Snipes, who appeared to have been waiting his whole life for the role. He benefitted from some terrific directors — Guillermo del Toro doing a superhero sequel! — and all told, was pretty ahead of his time. Heck, maybe you can still get him in the MCU!

Falcon in Ant-Man

Falcon

One of the reasons we've never quite cared all that much about Bucky Barnes in the Captain America movies is that Cap already has a more interesting friend in Sam Wilson's Falcon (Anthony Mackie), the former airman who left the Air Force to help soldiers with PTSD. He re-enters the fight to assist Cap and eventually becomes one of the New Avengers, which is particularly impressive because he doesn't have any actual superpowers.

That just speaks to how resilient and brave he is; you never question that he's part of the crew. And when Ant-Man needed some Marvel Cinematic Universe bona fides in his first movie, it was Falcon who showed up to give him some credibility. Falcon is very underrated.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Miles Morales

Miles Morales

For years, comics fans had been frustrated that Miles Morales never got the run he probably should have on the page, but now that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has been unleashed to near-universal acclaim, that won't be a problem again. Morales (whose mom is Puerto Rican and whose father is African-American) is such a likable kid, and his story so compelling, that he sort of wipes Peter Parker out of his own movie.

Admit it: You're a little less excited about the next live-action Spider-Man movie because it's Parker rather than Morales, right?

Storm, X-Men

Storm

We'll always wonder what the X-Men films would have been like if they leaned more heavily on the fact that Storm and Wolverine used to be lovers. (It happened in the comics but wasn't a thing in the movies.) Nonetheless, Halle Berry was a terrific Storm, who can control the weather with her mind and shoot lightning at her foes at a moment's notice.

When the actress signed up for the franchise in the late '90s, it was during a period in which she would enjoy some of her biggest successes (her Best Actress Oscar for Monster's Ball came in 2002.) Storm allowed Berry to pair her action-hero side with her serious-actor side. She's so electric in the role, we forgive her for Catwoman — and she's so perfect as Storm that, as good as Alexandra Shipp is in the recent X-Men films, nobody else can compare.

Grierson & Leitch write about the movies regularly and host a podcast on film. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.

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