Representation Mattersby Kevin M.J. Murphy
I was that kid. I was the little guy with the makeshift cape made from one of my mom’s towels, tied all too dangerously around my neck. I leaped off furniture and climbed trees...then leaped out of them in attempts to simulate flying. Why? Because I was and am a straight up NERD. I own it and I love it. I saw the incredible realms of wonder painted by George Lucas and J.R.R. Tolkien and Stan Lee and Jack “The King” Kirby and the incomparable Gene Rodenberry. I saw the adventures. The worlds and planets galore. I saw Kligons and Gorns and Wookies and cosmic surfers on shining silver boards flittering from galaxy to galaxy. I projected myself into the fantasies and played as Boromir or Strider. Sometimes I pretended to be Spidey or Hulk, but not Iron Man. (never that creep) I was Supes or even better, Hyperion. I would even pretend to be the rock covered Thing. I was a nerdy dreamer and I had access to these images and concepts and creations...and what organically followed my contact with them was inspiration and imagination and wonder. I remember from a young age seeing all these fantastical characters and places and I remember ever so clearly noticing that there were not many of them that looked like me or the people I loved.
Try as I might to project myself into the fantasy...any of these fantasies and unless I imagined a dramatic change in the story’s structure or the origins of the players, I’d almost always land there as something other than the hero. Let’s be honest people, Bruce Wayne wasn’t taking a kid that looked like me on as his ward, no matter how horribly my parents might have died. Then one day I learned a skill that I wish I never had. I learned to accept it. And for a long while, I did just that. I was content (as I could be) with being tossed a crumb or two. Black Vulcan. Luke Cage. Falcon. Then Storm and Cyborg. Fine characters, but in the big picture, they were mere crumbs that fell off the table or rather were tossed off to keep certain people placated just enough. Of course, I realized that many of these creators were writing from their place in time and society, so their characters reflected the prevailing world view, particularly of how our country was constituted. I get that, but it didn’t suffice then and still doesn’t. I’ve come to realize that it never will. Not for me, at least. So, in high school I gave up accepting it and started my own Vision Quest (I’m dating myself with that one...great movie though)
Then That Happened
I was at Chicago Wizard Comicon in April of 1998 after the advance trailers and industry news of Wesley Snipes and the forthcoming Blade movie DOMINATED the discussions, and it wasn’t just the black creators salivating and lusting for it. Everyone was on Defcon 1 levels of anticipation. And when August rolled around, we realized just how right we were. I looked for one thing more than anything else regarding the Blade property and that was to see whether the writers would necessitate that the black super hero have a black super villain. He didn’t and in my opinion that was what legitimized the property as something other than a “black superhero movie” or modern “blacksploitation” and let it shine. We weren’t ready to re-appropriate our blackness in theater and media then, but we are now.
What happened with Blade was that a Black character and sufficiently and reasonably diversified cast members “including a black female lead” took a low budget movie done by a company with a string of comic to film failures, and straight up killed it. Wesley became an action star and a franchise was born. It was there all along. That “umpf” that gives legs to a property that is diverse and black and well-constructed. It was there, and it always has been. I met Wesley that following year at the Arnold Classic Bodybuilding Expo. He stopped by the booth I was manning for a property that I’d been creating for Rati Entertainment that they were trying to get him to consider. He mostly ignored me but was more than a bit enamored with Leslie Loh, the then lead actress for the property. She went with him, I stayed in the booth...I still miss her. Anyway, as he walked around there were literally thousands of people thronging him. I’d been to the expo for years and only EVER saw one other person treated that way by the crowd and that was Arnold himself. Dude was a star. And that’s when I realized that, “blackness wasn’t the problem.”
As a lifelong martial artist I saw much of myself in Wesley’s portrayal of Blade. But there was something more than that. I found that because I was a black man, I could project myself into the Blade intellectual property as anyone I’d choose to...including the hero. And, I could do this without changing my color. I could be Blade. I couldn’t be Robin or Nightwing...but I sure could be Blade. And you know what? That mattered to me more than even I realized. It still does.
The world of film and hopefully, television changed with a Big Bang recently. Yes, over the years we’ve seen in media more characters that look and mostly talk like us (I’ve still never heard another black person say “Sweet Christmas”) and some have real merit. But I’m a freaking NERD, and in the worlds of fantasy and SciFi, the going has still been pretty tough and the pickings still pretty thin. But Marvel made some sweet moves and for that, I’m grateful. With the historic success of Blade and the MCU screaming down the tracks, they took Luke Cage and nearly shut down Netflix. Netflix will SAY that it wasn’t the millions and millions of people logging on to watch Luke Cage that caused them to crash...that it just so happened to occur when the series launched, and we will mostly take them at their word (wink, wink) But my dudes at Marvel read the tea leaves correctly. They’d watched as Get Out soared to critical acclaim and box office success. The rumblings were there and with the launch of Black Panther and the incredible representation that it provided as a result of how it was done and who the creators were, they shook the world. We’re going to shake it again.
I watched the trailers for film and television shows about to be released in 2018 and 2019 and I have to say, Hollywood has backslidden into the same old tropes. The ultimate white savior. The creative and smart black sidekick. The needy but gifted black child. The many black characters that don’t really matter to the real stakes of the story but are part of the pretty picture of “diversity” for the property. Like Marvel taking the super cool Miles Morales story, leaving everything the same and replacing him with Peter Parker, effectively making the three most important and powerful characters in this “diverse” story all white men. I love you Marvel, but that was a miss. But, not one we haven’t seen over and over again. Backsliding. You can’t get to heaven that way.
Representation matters. It matters more than what I knew...until I knew it. When I did understand, I began in earnest my fight to marshal the gifts and talents that God has given me to create as many super cool concepts, ideas and intellectual properties that are told honestly and in the most exciting and entertaining way possible with characters whose stories are told through a different lens. So far, Wicked Ways is the best of them. Welcome aboard.