Why This Hollywood Director Created a Black Superhero
As a kid growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, there were two things I wanted to be when I grew up – a director and a comic book creator. Funny enough, becoming a director in Hollywood happened for me first.
Throughout my entire career, I carried my comic book dream with me and after 32 different shows, 165 television episodes, 18 music videos, two pilots for Nickelodeon, two pilots for Disney XD, episodes of NBC/Warner Bros. comedy “Undateable,” BET’s “Let’s Stay Together,” “Reed Between the Lines,” and more, I am finally able to release my first graphic novel series “Legend of the Mantamaji.”
This project is six years in the making and it is important for many of the reasons Adam Pliskin pointed out in his article, “Why Hollywood Would Make Way More Money If It Had Black Superheroes.”
Fantasy and fiction is best when it’s based on something people can relate to. For too long, people of color were an afterthought in Superhero or Sci-Fi/Fantasy stories and I didn’t want to continue that outdated thinking. Even now, some of the classic super heroes are being remade as a different race because they were originally created decades ago and only represented one group of people.
I have loved comic books since I was a kid and because both my parents worked, I spent a lot of time home alone reading comics. On the weekends, my dad would come home from work and take me around with him. The highlight of the trip would be to stop at a coffee shop where they would have comic books. I would sit in the car the rest of the day reading the books living out adventures in my head – and that didn’t stop even after I graduated from college.
After I finished up school and moved to California, I got a PA job on the Fox sitcom “Living Single.” The director’s husband ran Marvel Comics and when he would come to set I’d drill him on the books and stories that I loved and that shaped my life.
One day, he offered me a tour of a new company they bought called Malibu Comics. I got to see how they made the books and at the end of the tour, one of the editors offered me a chance to write a “Spiderman Stop The Violence Special.” From that moment, I knew I had to create my own book.
I wanted my hero to save the world. I wanted to use magic and supernatural powers as a backdrop and talk about higher callings, faith and things we believe in our souls. I wanted to talk about gifts people have that we can’t explain.
“Legend of the Mantamaji” is the result of everything I learned about storytelling while working for The Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. While the characters can be broad and the story focuses mainly on kids, the magic in a good story remains the same: take the audience on a ride, make sure your main character has flaws and learns a lesson and above all, make sure the story has heart.
These types of stories give not only kids, but people of all ages something to dream about, something to strive for and it is important for children of color to see themselves represented in the world in which they live. And right now, they are underserved as Walter Dean Myers highlighted in the New York Times piece that ran before his death.
Think about it – “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” is still the number one African-American animated franchise – and it’s over 44 years old. The most prominent and famous black Marvel characters, “Black Panther” and “Storm,” are 48 and 39 years old. There have been many characters since then and even some good ones out today, but nobody has truly broken the glass ceiling and become as popular as those Marvel characters or DC Entertainment’s black character “Cyborg” who is 34 years-old.
Comic books, graphic novels and superheroes represent wish fulfillment for people of all ages and backgrounds, which is why superhero movies, conventions like Comic-Con and superhero products continue to sell out. We all want to be the hero or the person that makes a difference.
Even though the main character in “Legend of Mantamaji” is black, I didn’t want an all black world. I wanted a story that reflected the world around us — full of heroes and villains of all races, creeds and color — each with an opportunity to make a difference.
Diversity in media will continue to grow and have growing pains. We see growth in today’s announcement by Marvel that there will be a female Thor wielding the legendary hammer Mjolnir.
People must continue to push for, seek out and put their money behind projects that reflect the diversity of the real world. Support small, independent publishers as well as established media companies. Email letters of support for shows, movies and books that reflect the modern world. And, if you have a dream to create a big action screenplay, or web show, or independently published comic, don’t give up. I haven’t!
Diversity in Comics & Books Resources:
Guide to Multicultural Resources – Reflects Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum collections at The Ohio State University created by artists who are African American, Latino American and Asian American
Diversity in YA – A great resource for Diversity in young adult literature
The Color Barrier – A blog series about diversity in comics by Joseph Phillip Illidge on Comic Resource.com
We Are Comics – A tumblr dedicated to highlighting the diversity of comic enthusiasts
#WeNeedDiverseBooks – Another tumblr highlighting diverse experiences in YA literature
Women Write About Comics.com – A great site with “comics, creators and geek culture from a feminist perspective.”
So Why Aren’t There More Gay Superheroes? – Thought-provoking piece from BuzzFeed
Diversity in Graphic Novels and Comics – A large listing compiled by Indiana University Southeast
Do you have a great source for diversity in comics and books? Leave them in the comments below.