Today a friend and I were having a conversation about being a black creator, the label of “Black creator” and the stigma that black characters must have a level of authenticity to them in contrast to their white counterparts. We also discussed whether or not white creators can write black characters with authenticity without offending their audience. Whether it is the African King in comics, the suave street soldier in the movies or the single but successful mother on TV. These characters all have a seal of black authenticity on them, but are they all we’re relegated to and if not why is it all we relegate ourselves to?
Now I’m going to jump right into this topic and site a few characters from fiction who are black but don’t behave with what some would call black authenticity, the first is Idris Elba‘s portrayal of John Luther in the British Crime drama “Luther”. Here is a hard-nosed, dog of war cop, whose wife is Indian and whose supporting cast with the exception of one person in season two is all white. He doesn’t speak slang, or have a number of African masks in his house and isn’t overtly what one would consider “Black” unless you consider him constantly having to work twice as hard to prove he’s not insane or even correct in his assumptions. Now here is a strong black male actor, who was cast in a lead role, could we or should we consider this character a black character or a strong character that just so happens to be black? Like the title character of the animated movie/mini series Afro samurai, he is a black samurai who is just as stoic as Mushasi Miamoto or any of Kuroshawa’s epics. His creator designed him after a basketball player, his build and movement art indicative of that, so does that make him black?
Wesley Snipes’ portrayal of the Blade the vampire hunter garnered some fame for the character and while no one would dare say that Mr. Snipes isn’t a black actor, was the character he portrayed black? In the comics especially recently he doesn’t seem to carry himself as a traditional black character even going as far to say , and I’m paraphrasing, “When you’re alive for as long as I am color doesn’t really matter.” when asked by Luke Cage a man who some would consider the de facto black hero, “why he couldn’t be happy that black heroes had teamed up.” again I’m paraphrasing but you get the point.
Now that leads me into the second part of this article, the matter of color. The above conversation between Blade and Cage has another layer beyond “Hey this is a team-up, let’s have fun.” and that is ” Hey, we’re black so start acting like it.” Now we can talk about the notion of “acting black” until we are blue in the face, but I’ll just point to a few characters created by people of color and we can weight in on whether they’re authentically black or not.
The first character I’d like to mention is Milestone comics‘ Virgil Ovid Hawkins AKA Static, Now some people are going to look at this and say “How are you going to argue that, there’s no question that he’s authentically black.” If we examine the character however we maybe forced to reconsider our definition of what that is. Vigil is an unabashed nerd, a trivia buff and all around prankster with a love of science and comic books. His powers are of the electro-magnetic variety and he’s damn good at using them, however they don’t come from an African God or a Jail experiment gone wrong and while he is black he fights for, with and against people of many shades and ethnicities not to mention the fact that he’s never shot anyone and when given the chance to throws the gun away. This is not to say that he doesn’t deal with situations that may at most times be attributed to black people, these are ones involving criminal behavior, which anyone as shown in his comic can be caught up in. Now back in my day any of the things that Virgil was into (and even still today) would get him labeled a geek, a lame or a nerd (back when the term was negative) couple that with the black nerd stigma and he could very possibly be outcast in both black and nerd culture (which as many of you know is often but not all the time homogenous).
The second character I’d like to draw attention to, is one created by an associate of mine this character is known as Will Power. This is a character who is a traditional all American quarterback who happens to be black, however creator Vince white never attached the black quarterback stigma often attached to real world quarterbacks of African decent. What’s more, white never once has the character or anyone else including his white girl friend, mentioned that he’s black unless you count the fact that he attracts dark matter (I nod to Vince for this). Will power in short is a hero who happens to be black, he doesn’t talk street but is there a certain something that we get from the character that would tell us he was black if we were told his story but didn’t see any of the images?
Does it matter whether or not we add a particular flavor to our characters and if we don’t are we doing our people or ourselves a disservice?
Originally posted on World of Black Heroes.