2018 will see the first two superhero movies directed by African Americans. First off we have Rick Famuyiwa, who recently took the helm at the Flash. Next we have Ryan Coogler directing Black Panther. It almost feels like too much of a coincidence that both of these films are slated for the same year and with the ongoing Marvel vs DC debate, comparisons between the first black directors that both of these companies have employed seem inevitable.
With both directors set to be the first African Americans to direct a major superhero blockbuster, the main point of distinction lies in the subject matter of their respective films. Black Panther naturally stands out since the film will follow the first superhero to represent Africa in hollywood. Also featuring a host of black actors like Michal B Jordan and Lupita Nyoung’o, the Black Panther film is breaking new ground when it comes to the representation of black people in film. Given all of this Ryan Coogler’s role as Black Panther director seems more significant, because ultimately no matter how good it is the Flash will just be one of many white men in tights we’ve seen over the past decade.
However, before we draw any conclusions let us consider this one question: would Ryan Coogler have been given the Black Panther job if he wasn’t black? He’s no doubt a talented director but it seems naive to believe that his ethnicity had nothing to do with his appointment. This isn’t to say that there’s some sort of reverse racism at play, it’s high time we see more people of colour enter the world of superheroes so why not christen this new chapter by having a black man direct the first African superhero story? Nevertheless, we must admit that Coogler’s appointment was likely a combination of merit on his part and obligation on Marvel’s part.
While DC have been criticised for their lack of diversity, there wasn’t any mandate pressuring them to hire a black director. It would have been easy for them to attach a someone like Famuyiwa to the 2020 Cyborg film (which they may still do). As their first black onscreen superhero, DC could have copied what Marvel have done with Black Panther. However, they’ve averted a potentially dangerous trend where it would almost become obligatory to match the film director’s ethnicity to that of the title hero.
If Famuyiwa is able to deliver on the Flash it will open the door for more black directors to work on high-concept action films even if the protagonist isn’t black. This is why Famuyiwa’s role in the world of superhero films is at least as significant as Coogler’s. We want diversity and creativity to mesh but we don’t want them to be held prisoner to one another.
As far as Famuyiwa VS Coogler is concerned the ideal scenario would be that they both come out on top. Famuyiwa opens the door for more black directors to work on blockbuster action films while Coogler opens the door for more black superheroes. Both trajectories will inevitably lead to more diversity in the world of superheroes. Ultimately it’s too early to tell but it’s nice to dream of such wonderful possibilities.
Can’t wait for Black Panther and Cyborg? We’re putting together a database aimed at helping you discover the best African superheroes out there.
Gain early access here.
Or wait another two years :p