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by Kevin L. Clark

Name your top five all-time favorite superhero movies. Chances are you listed all the A-listers from the Marvel and DC universes but do you truly see yourself in any of the heroes that make it to the big screen? Critics love to use the phrase, “In the age of Obama” to note the supposed change within our cultures. Truth is when it comes to Hollywood the big wigs seem to be the kryptonite killing the essence of black superhero flicks. Can we really be happy with Steel and Hancock?

Marvel Comics have bet the farm on their huge plan on conquering Tinsel Town. With films like The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, and the upcoming Thor leading fans and newcomers alike into theaters around the country the films serve as a countdown to the awe-inspiring cavalcade of superheroes known as The Avengers. With “”Captain America: The First Avenger” being the kick-off flick, an interesting detour has manifested itself on the road to Marvel’s cinematic domination of 2012. Where’s the Black Panther?

Stan Lee and his team created the first mainstream black superhero for American consumption in July 1966. Appearing in Fantastic Four #52 T’Challa is the precursor to other heroes like The Falcon, Luke Cage, Blade and Black Lightning by several years. Does Marvel feel that they’ve filled their black people quota after casting Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury? Back in the seventies the comic found itself very popular amongst the liberal college student and its launch was largely ignored by serious African-American publications aimed at advancing the Civil Rights cause.

Fast forward to today and black is the new white. Hollywood’s culture has gone real-time but still seem to play the game using yesterday’s playbook — which is slow and tedious even when one has a good idea. Wesley Snipes tried in 1992 to bring the King of Wakanda to theaters but Marvel’s corporate problems and Stan Lee’s displeasure with the script subsequently put the film on hold. Snipes picked up the hype again in 2003 but quickly backed away from the project after realizing that playing two Marvel characters was not better than playing one.

Don’t we need a hero, too? BET is trying to bring an animated Black Panther into your living room — but in the age of Obama this is not good enough. Another afrocentric show is currently in-production to come on your airwaves in the form of Kasha and the Zulu King. Starring Jasmine Guy, Kenny Leon, and Bobby V — this animated effort courtesy of Jai Husband looks to be a South African contextualization of The Prince and the Pauper. But will BET follow through on their words and handshakes?

Shows like The Playpen, Hannibal the Conqueror, and a secret Denys Cowan and Dwayne McDuffie project have yet to flood the airwaves and it’s likely that they won’t be on-screen anytime soon. Honestly there really is no argument as to why black superheroes are shown to be as either lesser known or parodies of their white counterparts in mainstream media. As recently as 2007 John Singleton was reportedly approached to direct the “Black Panther” with Marvel scouring the globe for scribes to bring the dream to reality. Years later and nothing has changed. The same can be said for another Singleton-helmed feature Luke Cage — with Tyrese Gibson as the main star.

Marvel has created a lane that others are trying to duplicate and while I’m not one for cliches, the phrase, “strike while the iron is hot,” comes to mind. Audiences are ripe for another uniquely heroic tale but this one should be aimed at a diverse demographic. Check the numbers: The first Blade movie grossed $131.2 million worldwide with the sequels pulling in a combined total of $283.9 million ($155 and $128.9 million respectively). While Batman and Superman may be a million dollar dream movie of a lifetime, T’Challa and The Black Musketeers would be a dream come true for millions… but will that be one that comes true in this lifetime?

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