Make Black Characters, Don't Just Make Characters Black

Make Black Characters, Don’t Just Make Characters Black

Original Black characters like Will Smith in “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and Tia Landry and Tamera Campbell from “Sister, Sister” are iconic partially because of the rarity of Black main characters. Recently there has been a large amount of new Black characters in popular media. Normally this is great. However, there is a key issue. These characters aren’t new original characters, they are new Black versions of already existing characters. It might not seem like a big deal but there are key differences between the two. Black audiences would much rather see an original black character than a black character who is simply a poor replica of a white character.

Making Characters Black

It isn’t uncommon for studios to make characters Black for TV and movie adaptations. Some of these are honest attempts at making a more diverse set of main characters, while others are poor attempts at pandering toward Black audiences. This is done well in some rare cases with characters like Jim Gordon and Catwoman from “The Batman.” However, there are many other cases where this has been done poorly. This is hard to do well because of a few issues. The main issue is identity. Black adaptations of characters almost never have their own identity. For example, people only view Michael B. Jordan in “Fantastic 4” as the Black version of The Human Torch. The character has no independence, and it doesn’t help that the film wasn’t good. Another good example of a poor adaptation is Amber in the show “Invincible.” In the comics, Amber is white and she is a very reasonable, kind, and understanding. In the animated television show, Amber is Black and voiced by Zazie Beetz, which is awesome. However, Amber’s personality is changed to petty and irrational. Why make a character Black just to ruin their personality? Black people don’t want slightly worse Black versions of white characters. Black people want good Black characters.

Making Black Characters

Original Black characters are infinitely more popular and relatable than Black versions of white characters. They are more popular and relatable because they have unique personalities, experiences, struggles and relationships. Original Black characters are more memorable. For example, “Fantastic 4” with Michael B. Jordan is very forgettable because it is one of many adaptations of “The Fantastic 4,” and it isn’t very good. The movie is very boring and has an audience score of 18% on Rotten Tomatoes. This practice of making forgettable Black versions of white characters seems to be very common in the superhero genre, which doesn’t make sense because there are tons of Black superhero characters.

When you have superheroes that are already Black like Storm, Luke Cage, Static Shock, and–my personal favorite–Cyborg, why put time and energy into making a white superhero Black? These Black versions of white characters will be forgotten almost immediately because they aren’t unique or original. Some of these characters like Amber from “Invincible” are unlikable, too. On the other hand, original Black characters such as Huey and Riley Freeman from “The Boondocks” will be remembered for decades. Huey and Riley have their own personalities, experiences, struggles, and relationships. When we are introduced to Huey and Riley, we are meeting new characters. We learn about their lives, and we get to know them. Huey and Riley aren’t compared to white versions of their character. They exist on their own. When Aaron McGruder created them, he didn’t just lazily make good characters Black, he made good Black characters.

2 thoughts on “Make Black Characters, Don’t Just Make Characters Black”

  1. This is far too true. The significance behind characters originally being black, versus a black adaptation holds a much higher value in identifying with the character. Very well written piece!

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