And from Golden Age of comics through the Blaxploitation 1970s, Big Comics did a mostly sucky job, too.
But then there’s the Black Panther.
Created in the early 1960s a few years before the formation of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense burst forth from Oakland, Black Panther debuted in Fantastic Four.
Black Panther is T’Challa, the king of the fictional African nation Wakanda, a country that throughout history was never conquered and achieved an unparalleled height of technology. His exploits are a mixture of martial arts action, spy thrills, high tech warfare and ancient mysticism.
And in the pages of Fantastic Four, Black Panther never featured insulting stereotypes, ooga-booga, or other cringe-worthy idiocy that dominated most of American entertainment’s exploitation of Africans (Arabs and Muslims are among the few groups to get as appallingly evil a treatment, but Hollywood abused pretty much all its East Asian, indigenous American and even Italian characters seemingly as a matter of policy).
Who created Black Panther? Langston Hughes? Richard Wright? Ralph Ellison? Malcolm X? Nope. Two Jewish-Americans, the creative geniuses who sparked most of the Silver Age of Comics, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
Characters such as Black Panther inspired a generation of African artists and writers inside the US and beyond. One of the Panther’s biggest fans is also one Hollywood’s most successful writers, directors and producers over the last two decades: Reginald Hudlin. He also happens to own about 50,000 comics.
Raised in East St. Louis, Illinois, Reginald Hudlin leapt to prominence by writing and directing 1990’s House Party, an intelligent and hilarious film about African American teenage life, following that with, among other films, Boomerang, widely regarded as Eddy Murphy’s finest performance, and the acerbic satire The Great Whyte Hype.
In television, Hudlin created Cosmic Slop, wrote for and produced Bebe’s Kids, one of the few animated series ever to focus on African characters in the US. He also helped launch Everybody Hates Chris, The Boondocks and The Bernie Mac Show. He’s directed for many series, including The Office and Modern Family.
During three years as President of Entertainment for the American network Black Entertainment Television or BET, Hudlin, according to his website, “created 17 of the top 20 rated shows in the history of the network including the award-winning KEYSHIA COLE: THE WAY IT IS; AMERICAN GANGSTER; and SUNDAY BEST.”
The recipient of awards and widespread critical acclaim, Hudlin also co-authored the satirical and highly lauded graphic novel Birth of a Nation about East St. Louis seceding from the United States. Somehow while heading entertainment for all of BET, Hudlin somehow managed to write Black Panther for Marvel Comics.
Under Hudlin’s creative control, Black Panther continues to combine martial arts, spy thrills, science fiction and mysticism, but includes more than ever a critique of American politics, an Africentric perspective and a magnificent re-imagining of some of Marvel’s few African characters such as Luke Cage and Brother Voodoo.
Reginald Hudlin spoke with me by telephone from his home in Los Angeles on December 30, 2010. We talked about comics, African superheros, and some of the most innovative and creative African writers and artists in the business.
We also discussed why, despite so much success with the Blade movies, Hollywood has been so slow to make a Black Panther movie, the racist backlash against casting Idris Elba in Thor, and Hudlin’s own resilience in the face of attacks from former friends and colleagues, and from rabid comic fans accusing him of racism.
At one point in our conversation, I misidentified the Juggernaut as the Rhino, but Hudlin didn’t call me out. (Thanks, bruh.)
You can hear our conversation on the debut episode of CJSR’s Africentric Radio tonight (Wednesday, January 5, 2010) on CJSR FM88 in Edmonton, and on streaming audio on www.cjsr.com at 6 PM Mountain Time. Tomorrow, it’ll be on the CJSR archive and soon after, on iTunes.
(Oh, and regarding my own African superheroes, I meant the X-Man and the League of Angry Blackmen from my award-winning Bush-era satire From the Notebooks of Doctor Brain (watch the trailer). Shameless plug? Yep.)
Read about Black Comix here.