“True heroism is remarkably sober; very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others, at whatever cost.”
— Arthur Ashe Jr.
Superhero movies are, without a doubt, some of the most influential forms of art in the 21st century, ranging from Marvel’s Avengers to Justice League by DC Comics. However, it is the superheroes themselves, and not their just their powers, that make them such relatable and inspiring characters.
Following the widespread Black Lives Matter protests across the USA means seeing real-life heroes in inspiring acts of kindness and solidarity, even without said superpowers.
Here are five African superheroes represented in popular culture that have overcome the white-majority industry to present multidimensional characters that have empowered young people and given them courage to believe in how they perceive themselves, and the change they want to bring about in the world.
#1. Storm (alias Ororo Munroe)
Marvel’s first prominent black superhero, a long-standing member of the X-Men, and headmistress of the Jean Grey School, Storm comes from ancient line of Kenyan priestesses with characteristic white hair & mystical abilities. She’s skilled in hand-to-hand combat, can control weather and is resistant to extreme temperature fluctuations. Storm was orphaned at six, and became a thieving street urchin in Egypt. However, she returned to Kenya as her powers manifested to understand how to use her powers for good. Storm is hailed as the most powerful of the X-Men, and was never afraid to ask for help when she needed it. Her social status as a mutant, or “different”, and her racial identity is what marked her creation as unique; to represent marginalised minority communities in the USA around the time of the Civil Rights movement.
#2. John Hancock
The amnestic anti-hero, Hancock is over 2000 years old, and struggled with alcoholism and mass destruction of public property from his super-strength every time he got into a fight. His saving grace was a man named Ray Embrey, who helped him fix his public image, and introduced Hancock to his wife Mary. Mary was Hancock’s pre-amnesia lover, and the only other left of their kind. Their proximity led to the loss of both their powers, so Hancock agreed to keep his distance and focus to crime-fighting. Hancock’s story exemplifies how sometimes, it just takes one person reaching out to help someone suffering, and reveal underlying strength, able to overcome their addictions and willing to let go of their past in the face of their duty.
The General of the Dora Milaje (or Adored Ones) in the Black Panther movie, one of Wakanda’s fiercest warriors and protector of the throne, Okoye is a proud loyalist and protector of the Kings of Wakanda. She’s a skilled martial artist and specialises in using a vibranium spear to deadly effect. An enemy of Wakanda is an enemy of Okoye, who is honor-bound to Wakandan law and its throne. She exemplifies strong principles and discipline, and would do anything to defend what she believes in regardless of personal feelings. Okoye is a great example to young girls everywhere, letting them know that beauty can be powerful, judicious, or even opinionated. As the Dora Milaje show, multifaceted women work together with great respect and trust in one another.
#4. Cyborg (alias Victor ‘Vic’ Stone)
Half man, half machine. Teen Titan. Justice Leaguer. Cyborg was born to scientists who conducted some of their tests on him, including increasing his IQ to genius levels. A near-fatal accident destroyed half his body, and his father tried to save him by fusing Stone with cybernetic enhancements, which granted him access to a wide range of weaponry and sonic bombs. Cyborg holds a lot of resentment for this, though, as the fusion was done without his consent and led to him feeling like a monster, telling his father he should have left him for dead, and being rejected by the public due to his appearance. Despite all this, Cyborg continued to try and move on from the psychological trauma with an unbowed conscience, as is evident in him stopping his childhood friend from conducting a racially-motivated terrorist attack on the United Nations.
#5. Blade (alias Eric Brooks)
The half-human, half-vampire who was trained under the tutelage of famed vampire hunter Jamal Afari, Blade acquired his name due to his exceptional skill in weaponry and fighting young vampires. Though orphaned at birth in a brothel after the death of his mother at the hands of a vampire doctor, Blade grew up to remain focused on avenging the death of his mother, and maintained incredible control over his baser desires as a half-vampire. His greatest attribute was his determination to become a better and stronger version of himself every day, both mentally and physically.
These superheroes are examples of how representation works: the industry invests in its audience and makes them feel like they matter, that their issues, traditions, values and beliefs matter.
It encourages young girls to step into fields like technology and martial arts, and teaches boys that strength is more than just physical. Our superheroes inspire us to take that leap of faith, so that maybe, we can be heroes too.
Originally published on and written for Digital Odyssey.