Oxford AASC: Photo Essay

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PHOTO ESSAY

African Americans in Comics

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Producer Kevin Feige, director Ryan Coogler, and actors Lupita Nyong'o, Michael B. Jordan, Danai Gurira, and Chadwick Boseman appearing at the 2016 San Diego Comic Con International for Black Panther. Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

Introduced in Fantastic Four #52 (1966) by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, Black Panther is the first black superhero to headline a comic book. Crucially though, hailing from the fictional African superpower Wakanda, and not the U.S., he was not the first African American superhero—that credit goes to Sam Wilson, also known as the Falcon. As Jonathan Gayles's documentary White Scripts and Black Supermen (2012) thoroughly outlines, Black Panther is one in a long line of early black superhero characters created by white authors who, well intentioned they may have been, limited the scope of these characters and sometimes included damaging stereotypes, especially in their representation of black masculinity and sexuality. In his early run, Black Panther was emptied of most of his political potential. Tasked to help "all mankind," he left Wakanda and, to avoid any affiliation with the Black Panther Party, briefly changed his named to "Black Leopard." Rebecca Wanzo attributes Don McGregor (1973‒1976) with beginning a long decolonization of the character, and Christopher Priest (1998‒2003) and Reginald Hudlin (2005‒2010) for accelerating it—particularly with their contributions of the all-female army, the Dora Milaje, and Black Panther's sister Shuri. Leading up to what would be one of the highest-grossing films of all-time, Marvel hired the renowned author and journalist Ta-Nahisi Coates to spearhead its concurrent comic series. Award-winning and esteemed authors Roxane Gay and Nnedi Okorafor in turn advanced the progressive vision of this world, including black queer representation in Wakanda. In addition to inspiring new fandoms, the film Black Panther (dir. Ryan Coogler) starring Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong'o, and Michael B. Jordan (pictured above) generated significant and nuanced debate about black heroism, black liberation—including a large contingent of fans arguing that "Killmonger [the villain] was right"—and the integral if often erased role of black women in that project. Nominated for six awards at the 91st Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Coogler"s film adaptation won three: Best Original Music Score (Ludwig Göransson), Best Production Design (Hannah Beachler and Jay Hart), and Best Costume Design, for which Ruth E. Carter became the first African American to win the award.

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