Superman Shouldn’t Be White
Because it never completely made sense to begin with.
Image sources: Wikipedia Commons.
This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
So I’m going to say something. And you can go ahead and fight me if you’re into that. But if you want to throw it down—and I’d really prefer not to—it’s not going to make the statement I’m about to make any less of a truth.
Superman should no longer be white.
I said what I said. We’re several dozen exits past a “woke” cultural point where we must admit this. Sure, we all know the Superman’s origin story, plucked straight from a 1930s bygone era—the same period that would present a desert walking Jesus as melanin deficient. But we’re past that right? Isn't it time that we stop doing the absolute most to conserve an 80ish year history of DC regulated canon. No one should be naive enough to believe that a damn outsider from another world would make the best sense as a white dude with blue eyes, right? Of course not.
So, why am I writing this now? As reported by Variety and Deadline among others, Warner Bros. is no longer sticking with Henry Cavill to play Superman/Clark Kent. Rumors dance around salary issues and a lack of direction, but the big name encircling the red and blue noise just happens to be Michael B. Jordan taking on the role next. A black man. And damn, it just makes so much more sense.
Let’s really think about what the man in tights embodies today: The white, strong, handsome, masculine, and young physical presence is exemplary with who he actually is—an American ideal. A romantic hero for the 20/21st century who is incorruptible. He landed on a world in a spaceship beyond his control. He was forced to assimilate into a society while trying his best to not be seen as threatening. And within the context of this origin story, that sounds nothing like an everyday white dude.
Superman’s original creators, Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, both children of Jewish immigrants painted a different picture. The goal was clearly not to just create some pale, Christianized hero. It was to create a Hebrew-like Moses that would have been labeled a foreigner in his time within an American context. Superman’s characterization was an ideal wrapped in a possibility—that anyone could become something great in America.
To be any kind of immigrant is to be jammed between the happiness of being welcomed and the lasting stigma of being different from your surroundings. I could never buy into an alien that had the benefit of hiding his alien-ness simply by donning his spectacles. My man could be a foreign journalist on the side, rock a suit, and have people just love his entire ass without being seen as a threat by law-abiding folk—his white, blue-eyed, iron chiseled cheeks grant him that privilege of consideration. A black Superman would never be that welcomed. He’d fit more in line with Shuster and Siegal’s original vision of rising above an “alien” status to become something great—a hope that America has claimed to promote since its foundation. With anything but “white,” that ideal holds truer without the white foundation.
The racial pretext, context, and any damn text for those opposed to a black Superman should be obvious as fuck by now (racial bias). I mean sure, on the valid side of things, I get the common issue of race switching. If someone decided to make Black Panther a salt and pepper white guy, it would strip the very thing that made the character extraordinary through canon. His kingdom was built on a foundation of black excellence that spits in the face of white colonization. That was the point. I also understand why audiences would rather a black man take ownership of an originally black character instead of piggybacking the history of a white dude (we actually did have black Superman from another universe and there were black Kryptonians).
Super “white” man, however, is just a man made whiter and messianic over time. He has zero connection with the original intent. What he has instead increasingly become is a model of the tired and dated—a fictional propaganda designed to prolong the belief that whiteness meshes with greatness, goodness, innocence, and fortune.
When it comes down to it—basic sun-absorbing-melanin-science aside—I just want what feels real in this origin story. I want to see art reflecting life by way of our human nature to be afraid of people we don’t understand. I want skinhead-ed Lex Luthor (main villain) to be the realest one to tell a black Superman that he fears the very thing he also doesn’t understand.
Whatever color the next Superman is, I couldn't care less. I'm just done pretending that he’s best as white.
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