Being A Superhero and Black Af
Didn’t nobody want Hancock to be a superhero. Hancock, from Columbia Pictures’ Hancock, features Will Smith playing, basically, a nigga, with superpowers. And by nigga I’m going by Chris Rock’s definition thereof, the type of brother you hide your kids and wife from, from whom you hide the fact that you got any money on you because you best believe that nigga is gonna rob the shit out of you. Of course that’s hyperbole, but only sort of. A better defintion of what it might mean for someone, particularly black, to be the kind of nigga I’m referring to that reflects Hancock’s disposition is […] .
Because if you who is reading had ever seen Hancock you’d know that homeboy got no breaks as the kind of abject despairing Negro he was. I mean, dude was introduced slumped on a bench from obviously drinking too much either the night before or, perhaps, hours before the opening scene; and dude can’t seem to do nothing right. Like, catching bad guys for Hancock is like letting a toddler take the wheel of some go-fast car. Fucking smashing the getaway car into buildings and shit; he’s even drinking on the “job”! It makes sense no one likes Hancock, though. He’s a nigga. He drinks, curses, unlike Miles, who you who is reading might want to consider as paragon in terms of finding you a Miles Morales to bring home to yo mama and daddy as boyfriend or bae or boo-thang or another. It’s apparent Hancock – pun intended – is his worse enemy. But at the same time, society got this weird sense of what it mean to be a superhero going on that casts Hancock, a visibly black motherfucking superhero, as more of an antihero, like Hellboy kind of, despite all the good he do.
Having not seen Hancock in, like, however many years now would mean I’d be kind of remiss for not mentioning that yours truly ain’t seen the film in, like, however many years. Now, but the aforementioned premise of the film sets up what’s considered, in history, particularly Blaxploitative film history, as the Big Black Buck, “big (sic) baaadddd niggers, over sexed and savage, violent and frenzied as they lust for white flesh,” as cited by Rob Lendrum (“The Super Black Macho”) as having come from Donald Bogle by way of D.W. Griffith (Birth of a Nation). A buck (Lendrum, et al) orientation is basically run of the mill of what it mean to be a black superhero; or at least what it did mean. Lendrum’s “Super” actually about the criteria for most, if not all, black superpeeps circa 1970, so civil right and the black power movement. So ingrained in the ideology of these fictional do-gooders were the sensibilities of black folks tryin to get out from under Whitey’s [bullshit] that they would just reinforce the problematics of black (em)power(ment) in the first place, failing to critically analyze the subject material at hand, in turn undermining the end goal of, perhaps, portraying blacks as something other than black af or “baaaaddd niggers” (ibid). Talking about a one Huey P Newton’s reading of probably the spear for the canon of blaxploitation films, Sweet, Sweetback’s Baad Asssss Song, Lendrum: “Newton reads the film as a revolutionary text while reaffirming the Black power movement’s macho attitude and assertion of patriarchal family head,” and how that “manhood is achieved two ways: sex and violence against the white oppressor” ( ). Which is not the case for Hancock as he’s not featured as vagina-crazy, cock-swinging, howling black lunatic trying to fuck any and every white and on two legs. Hancock, if anything, if nothing else, more aligns with Lendrum’s second tenet or axis of “Black Macho” circa civil rights, that of “possess[ing] ‘super savage’ abilities, or hyperbolized physical powers of the uncontrollable body of the Buck” ( ). From this standpoint super-blacks are assholes – and Hancock, if you who is reading has seen, none to happy about being called an asshole.
Oh, I wish a human would.
Hancock: god-like, cock diesel, fast af, can fly, impervious to bullets, black. What this does to Hancock, et al is they “reinforce stereotypes and strategies of dehumanization that have positioned the black subject” as no brain and all brawn. Which’s Hancock all day till he’s reunited with former bae, Mary Embrey, who been on the low under the guise of wife to Ray Embrey, played by Jason Bateman, who the guy that turns Hancock’s life around – wherein “white is right”-ness comes into play. The Embreys and Hancock cross paths when Ray car get stuck on a train track as an oncoming train that have plenty of time to stop but gives no fucks about the fact that there a car in its path wont stop therefore Hancock, he just flip Ray’s car over onto another car, I want to say, which leave he hisself with no time to get out the train path, so he just stand there lowering his shoulders, letting the train crash into him, which does jack shit to him, because he’s Hancock, who derails the train as a result, obviously. It get better, too, as motorists of all walks and talks disembark their vehicles to scold Hancock for having not just flown up into the sky with the car thereby preventing the collision to which Hancock just play flip and crack jokes on his hecklers just before Ray clapbacks with how everyone should basically STFU because Hancock the reason he’s getting to home to his wife and kid, you dolts.
Hancock being Hancock isn’t super gracious or anything, expresses zero gratitude for nothing, but herein lies (or laid?) an opportunity for our troubled black, Buck af, protag to get in good with the “puny human gnats,” to quote Galactus right quick,” and he, Hancock, he bites. He takes Ray’s invitation to join he and the fam for dinner thereby finally establishing a rapport with someone for a change, as well as reconnecting him with Mary (who unbeknownst to Ray is “super,” too), whereby Ray, who is a Hancock fan, asserts that in order for Hancock to turn the tide of public opinion about him, give the people someone to be proud of, that is in order to be taken seriously as someone unlike them, the people, he (Hancock) will have to get his life together. Following the logic of the film this amounts to Hancock going to prison where he’s rehabilitated(?) through a number of sundry discussions with other inmates who encourage him to share out about his life, and then Hancock has an epiphany. Scenes thereafter show him shaving his face, seemingly, literally, cleaning hisself up – turning into the kind of superhero Ray’s trying to encourage him to be – up to the point of actually being called on to disarm bank robbers, of which the leader is strangely akin to a Southern drawl-having, country bumpkin played by Eddie Marsan, who in this context actually works as the big, big baddie, if we read into it like that; but anyway, Hancock is also in full superhero regalia at this point, a stark transition for the hobo chic he was rocking prior to, rocking an all black leotard all clean with an eagle on his chest, all clean shaven and shit – a superhero. It’s not until, maybe, 30 mins left in the film is Hancock shown drinking again, having no reason to at all really, since he’s the HNIC, as in everybody loves him for having done a “Good Job,” something he borderline retardedly repeats to the police on sight during the bank heist, for saving hostages, prevailing over evil – all of which were pretty run of the mill for Hancock before his outward transformation, except that what constituted black superheroism in the fictional universe of Hancock was contingent on how “right” it was.
Now. As Lendrum writing in “Black Macho” (2005), black superheroism from Jump St., since civil rights and shit, was underpinned by long-privately-held prejudices and stereotypes of blacks that, unless critically analyzed for how nuanced they are and peculiar af to blacks, though there is nothing innate or inherent or inborn about them, come off as just random superhero characteristics. But like Lendrum say:
- “The alter ego [though in Hancock’s case there is none] although not sexually and socially rejected like his white counterpart, is often badgered and lacks the power of authority to change his emasculated position” (3…)
- “The black body of the superheroes is borrowed from the brutal Buck stereotype and the superpowers that they possess are often exaggerated attributes of the brutal buck or savage” (3…)
- The comics, like the films, fail to shed light on the social conditions that create this need, and instead depict the ghettos as places filled with pimps, hustlers and other snarling black buck criminals in need of a trouncing. ….What is worse is that this distinction oversimplifies a dynamic and complicated urban landscape that has developed due to hundreds of years of colonial history including slavery and economic barriers” (3…)
Now timeout. Understanding that third bullet requires insight into Hancock’s “business,” i.e., where he lives and what he does for a living, which is a) jackshit and b) in a trailer. No doubt the nigga (excuse me) in Hancock makes it hard for his ass to get anywhere in life, just the LQ (read: liquor store), presuming racial and social politics are just as palpable in the universe in the film as they in real life. Making Hancock unsuitable for any job, understandably so being that our homeboy is a superhero, unlike Superman or Spider-Man or Bruce Wayne, who do work, are white, and are very much so invested in the immediacy of the (white)world they inhabit. Even still not the point: the film fills the audience in on little to nothing about Hancock save for the fact that he’s, like, a million years old, once had relations with now-Ray’s wife, and that he was beat to shit, like, a million years ago, to the point of not remembering anything. (FYI Pounding whiskey the way Hancock do can do that to you too just so you know, but Hancock is only depicted as having an affinity for drinking the stuff, not actually getting drunk off it. Mostly he’s absent minded, careless, doesn’t give af about what or how he does what he does, having nothing really to do with blood alcohol content or anything, just arguably being a nigga. Which is fine; or at least should be fine, right?) Whatever Hancock’s life was prior to us in the audience, you, et al who are reading this and have seen the film, whether it was a week or a month or three years prior to his (Hancock’s) introduction, is a mystery. Hancock then as a “snarling black buck criminal [type of brother] in need of a trouncing,” following the logic of what the criteria Lendrum sets up,” is inherently unlikable as a black character unlikable as superhero of color whose blacks superheroics are not limited to a black community.
Check this out, though, because while a number of black characters come out during civil rights, e.g., Black Panther (who film out soon!), Luke Cage, Black Lightning, Sam Wilson (the incumbent Captain America) (wholly inspired by blaxploitation films come out during that time just so you know, just to remind you) have survived into today, they didn’t necessarily have the same mass appeal as other their more popularly and widely known white male counterparts; hence A one Doc Nama’s reading of the hard body, cock diesel motherfucking Luke Cage as being especially “Groid,” like, “this brother was really rough,” he says, which ties into the laughable linguistic endowment of circa civil right Luke Cage as having a sort of ridiculous patois, partly inspired by Chester Himes crime fiction, whereby Chester Himes invented this faux-Black language, meant to be jocular, which none of the earlier (White) writers of Luke Cage were let in on, “something I would’ve probably done,” says McDuffie, if he were, say, writing about Asian Americans, and then decided to read a bunch of Amy Tan not knowing that Tan was pulling the wool over readers’ eyes, so to say. Hence comics writer Grant Morrison writing concerning Cage “whose language bowdlerized urban argot in Marvel Universe-friendly oaths” (Supergods 253), like the infamous-ridiculous, “Sweet Christmas!” another time-tested quality, with Marvel’s on-screen version of Cage in the Netflix TV series Jessica Jones, bringing it back. McDuffie a little more sympathetic with it, though, calling the effort “a well intentioned attempt at making a language real” (YouTube).
And certainly the hubbub about what are appropriate and accurate accounts of representation has made the majority-white comics comic community leery about the characteristic they imbue their characters with because being called racist is not something that they or anyone wants, I want to say. See a question posed to Bendis via Tumblr:
Bendis responds with “Write the individual” sort of “pshaw”-like, as if to say that there’s nothing else informing a given fictional individual but the fictional cosmos in which the characters inhabits, as if Bendis’ personal politics and ideological persuasions got nothing to do with the orientation of the individual. It’s almost as if he’s saying – and certainly Bendis is an authority when it comes to writing comics, etc. having been doing it now for mad years, garnering hisself uber-success – he can’t get the representation thing wrong, even just a little wrong.
But here’s the thing, you Nerds. “Well intentioned attempts as making a language real” that McDuffie makes salient in early stages of Cages, or even a reality real to the point that it makes salient black specific issues, in the context of Black superheroics, is typically limited to performing said superheroics in a black ghettos, where black superheroes concern themselves with Black people problems; whereas the white ones have more civic implications than political (or racial) that extend into other fucking universes, introducing readers to other fucking worlds and a bevy of alien language-speaking aliens, and on. What business do niggers got in outerspace when there’s, like, housing and employment issues to ameliorate, including sundry thug types dealing drugs to the kids them, right? See Lendrum: “When the black superhero burst onto the scene, the writers attempt to bestow them with values and a code of morality that is distinctly black” (ibid 367), making the message “black crime must be fought by black superheroes. Superman is ineffective at dealing with such problems” (ibid). So what then I ask you who is reading this is a writer, whether white or just unfamiliar with The Ways of Blackness, to do about incorporating black faces in white spaces, in place of white faces, where blackness historically marginalized, demonized, ostracized, criticized, and stigmatized?
Let me break y’all of with a theory. Given Hancock’s ultimate transformation from big brutal buck (Lendrum) type whose blackness and general worldview were problematic in the context of the Dominant(ly White) culture he inhabited; given that writers of black superpeeps highjacked popular perceptions of blacks only reinforced equally problematic perceptions of blacks; given the fact that there’s this crazy, crazy Push for Diversity Movement, whereby thereof proponents clamor all the do-dah-damn day about “Diversity!” “Representation!” “Multiculturalism!” blackening and gaying up everything; considering all of that now in the context of comics and what it means to depict a person of color or just some other random motherfucker who is not a classically handsome straight white dude, with some goddam dignity and who other real life equivalents of these very people can be proud of and look up to, what if – just what if, right? – the way to do that was to make them white af? To take these largely “straight out of Central Casting” type of motherfuckers, blacks and other POC, and make them into something else.
To take, for example, a brother like Hancock and have him endure the kind of transformation that the presidential candidate in Ben Carson tried running by potential voters (the one about how he grew up a dirty, ghetto, black kid with anger issues and holes in his socks and roaches and rats all up in he and his mama’s face, and but then turnt his life around by graduating head of the class, becoming the No.1 neurosurgeon in the whole fucking country); the kind of “From Rags to Riches” narrative that would only make sense to a considerable # of peeps about a considerable # of other peeps when it comes to succeeding at making it – cue the American Dream, right?
Under the right scruples it not as crazy farfetched as you might think it. Historically-speaking, distinctly black masks were limited to distinctly Black people problems specific to distinctly black communities when it would come to their distinctly black superheroism. All except for maybe a small numbers of them (e.g., Black Panther and Sam Wilson, who would inevitably rub shoulders with white male counterparts, reinforcing “good” black stereotypes and tropes, including PC Black tendencies and sensibilities, i.e., those respectability politics-having Blacks, with which real life equivalents would distinguish themselves from deemed “bad” blacks, and Whites would enforce as a kind of firewall against black activism gone seemingly awry, like Black peeps can’t ever be mad, e.g. think #blacklivesmatter; the kinds of Black people worthy of celebrity; the kind of brothers you take home to mama, like Miles), had jurisdiction just in the “hood,” where Black plight was palpable and out of the scope of Official Superhero Business for the majority of other, more popular, white, superheroes. I got no real way of actually knowing what be going through the heads of writers of comics when it come to how they reppin – representing – members for whom a large swath of their readerships are presumably supposed to identify with; but I can say that in an effort to understand, I made an inquiry. Disclosing this somebody’s identity, I run the risk of a biting off more than I can chew in terms of the beef I got with a good chunk of the Comics community for how they doing their diversity, and particularly with how Marvel doing Miles; or at least how they’re not doing him when it come to making not just a different kind of Spidey, but also redefining what it means to play superhero while Black Af. And be apprised, because while my beef largely located in linguistic endowment of the newly drafted Spider-Man Miles Morales, a proper verdict can’t be rendered in isolation to other aspects of the character.