White Scripts and Black Supermen: A Review
by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan (in Exile)
Recent weeks have seen endless debates – critical celebration and critical opposition galore – of Django Unchained within social media circles. While a myriad of issues and themes have manifested within these conversations, one of the most striking elements has centered around the black male hero. In fact, the recognition and power of the black male hero, amid a cultural landscape where black heroes remain a dream deferred, is one thing that has unified a myriad of voices and perspectives.
Having recently watched Jonathan Gayles’ White Scripts and Black Supermen: Black Masculinities in Comic Books (California Newsreel), a film that documents the history of black comic books and the obstacles in the production of black heroes, it is clear that the ample debate over Django (and even Red Tails) has a larger history; it has larger meaning, implications, and context
From the history demanded within the comic book industry and from fans demanding white masculine heroes, to the contemporary yearning and nostalgia for white male comic book narratives, race has been at the center of this history. White Scripts and Black Superman highlights the structural obstacles and systemic racism that resulted in a Jim Crowed comic world.
Yet, the film simultaneously brings to the life the many ways that artists and fans negotiated and challenged white hegemony within comic worlds. In providing primarily black youth with the opportunity to see themselves in a world of super heroes, resistance, and galaxatical battles, the history of comic books is a one where race and gender are constantly being contested. Whether with the Black Panther or Tyroc, John Stewart, or Luke Cage, the history of black comic books is one of exclusion and visibility; it is one defined by fights over positivity, authorship, respectability, and politics. For example, whereas superman fights universal evil, saving the universe one day at a time, the likes of Luke Cage is a “hero for hire,” battling costly rents and police abuse. While admirable, heroism operates on a different scale. The meaning and significance within the larger history of social movements, identity formation (race, gender, class), comic books, and youth culture is on full display here.
White Scripts and Black Supermen also explores the perpetuation of stereotypes within the often-cited empowering masculine spaces of comic books. For example, Tyroc replicates longstanding representations of the hypersexual, entertaining black body. However, the film highlights how the history of comic book is also a cultural space where some black comic book characters happen to be black as opposed to being a black super hero. From the hyper racial to the post-racial, from the black radical to the freedom fighter, the film highlights the range of subjectivities available within the world of comic books.
The many important conversations about cultural resistance, commodification, anti-black racism, identity formation, and those struggles waged by artists, comic book heroes and fans against the forces of evil inside and outside the fantastical realm of comic book culture is at the core of interface between White Scripts and Black Supermen. Bringing into conversation of Jelani Cobb, Reginald Hudlin, John Jennings, Dwayne McDuffie, and Mark Anthony Neal, White Scripts and Black Supermen offers viewers much to think about.
Continue reading at White Scripts and Black Supermen: A Review | NewBlackMan (in Exile).