BY ELLA KIRBY
The first instalment of the three part ‘SkypeTacular’ series received an amazing turnout from St. Norbert students and comic enthusiasts. Presenting the lecture was Dr. Adilifu Nama from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, who spoke at the San Diego Comic Con this past July. His speech on “Super Black: Pop Culture & Black Superheroes” covered a variety of thought-provoking topics, from Wonder Woman’s black twin sister to a black Captain America.
Dr. Nama began by speaking about how black superhero characters were perceived by an audience. Although some readers assumed that comic books were targeted strongly towards a younger audience that does not mean that they exclude issues of racial and political relations.
A range of black superhero comic characters were introduced in the late 1960s and 1970s, one example being the Black Panther. However, Dr. Nama emphasized that previous to this stage, the image of black people had been heavily associated with maids, butlers and plantation workers. The critiques formed in the imaginary narrative of “…the Black Panther began to express and articulate this changing dynamic in the way in which black people are imagined,” said Nama.
The issue of racial interaction is further explored with the black superhero figure of the Falcon, a friend to Captain America. Dr. Nama stated that during the beginning of their Superhero relationship, “The Falcon was often chastised by his black peers for working with Captain America and not asserting his own independence and own agency.” When the Flacon replaced Captain America’s role, he was viewed as a counterfeit hero. “Having a black Captain America is not necessarily a sign of progress,” said Dr. Nama.
However, contrary to his previous statement, the 2011 Hollywood blockbuster “Green Lantern,” starring Ryan Reynolds, did not have success when it was released to the public. Dr. Nama presented the theory that this was the due to the fact that people were familiarizing the superhero character with African-American actor John Steward, who was also prominently known for his role in the animated series the “Justice League of America.” This highlighted that “race, in this case, displaced the understanding of who the Green Lantern was,” said Dr. Nama.
Dr. Nama touched on the dynamics between gender and race with the superhero Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman had a black twin sister named Nubia and they both competed against each other for the iconic superhero figure of Wonder Woman, highlighting the tension that comic books presented through the realms of pop culture. “President Obama was more or less constructed as a superhero… He became almost mythologized as this ‘super being’ that was going to save America and save the world,” said Dr. Nama.
Emphasizing a time when a hero motif had become connected to political reality, Dr. Nama ended the lecture by answering a variety of questions from the audience.
One audience member asked “What does it mean to be a black superhero?”
In response, Dr.Nama said, “What it can mean is that a black superhero becomes symbolic of an imagining, of black men beyond the constraint of stereotypes and racial discrimination.”