How will a more diverse age of superheroes change how our kids see themselves?
Comic books have a bit of a problematic legacy when it comes to diversity. When we look at the most enduring stories from the genre, the same stereotypes keep coming up. Characters that have become household names – like Batman, Superman and Captain America – may all be caped crusaders and have special powers, but they also all happen to be white.
It’s not the colour of their skin that’s the problem, necessarily; it’s more about representation. While there are superheroes out there with a more diverse balance of gender, race, disability and religion, it couldn’t be said that they’ve enjoyed the same fame as their counterparts.
But things are starting to change. The runaway success of Black Panther – the first black superhero movie to gain real traction – earlier this year proved that there is a growing momentum for diversity in cinema.
“This medium of superhero films, it’s just myth-making but on terms that are current,” Black Panther director Ryan Coogler told America’s National Public Radio when the film was released in January. “That’s why these movies make a lot money.
“You look at any society in any period of time, they had their version of how they did their myth-making. Right now, it’s these big, huge, large-canvas films that you go see in 3D. And there’s a massive audience – not just of people of colour but everybody – who wants to see different perspectives in this myth-making.”
But while Black Panther was the first blockbuster to signal the changing of the times this year, it’s most certainly not the last – that accolade goes to upcoming animated adventure Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, set for release on 13th December.
The story follows black Latino teen Miles Morales, first introduced into comic book lore in 2011, who has to juggle saving New York City as his Spider-Man alter-ego alongside attending high school. Having lived life thinking he’s the only Spider-Man in the world, Miles has a rude awakening when a rift in the fabric of space and time reveals that there are multiple spidery superheroes in multiple universes.
It turns out that it’s the work of Kingpin, a supervillain who can open portals to new dimensions, and the spidey heroes from all universes must work together to stop him from destroying all of their worlds.
As anticipation builds for the film – which currently has a perfect 100 percent score on movie review site rottentomatoes.com – it’s the diverse representation of the superhero genre that has attracted the most praise.
“It’s a version of Spider-Man that is just representative of what it’s like in 2018 America or the world,” director Bob Persichetti told Variety. “There’s diversity everywhere, and New York’s the place where it started for America.”
For actor Brian Tyree Henry, who voices Miles’ dad, Jefferson, the film’s representation of diversity will hit an important note with younger audiences.
“I think that by them making this movie… and making it completely a representation of the world we live in and the families that are right next door to us, it’s so important because for some kids this is going to be their first vision of Spider-Man,” he said. “They’re opening up the imaginations of people to let them know that anything is possible.”
Also starring: Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Nicolas Cage, Zoë Kravitz, Mahershala Ali and Jake Johnson
Running time: 105 mins
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