Black Panther isn’t the first black superhero movie ever made, or even the first black Marvel superhero movie ever made. But it does feel like the start of a new chapter.
Even as superhero movies have become ever more ubiquitous over the past decade, they’ve remained stubbornly white, with characters of color largely relegated to supporting roles. The joke is that there are currently more superhero franchises built around white guys named Chris than there are ones about, well, literally anyone who isn’t a white guy.
Black Panther has the potential to change that – maybe already has started to change that, in boardroom conversations we’re not privy to.
Its incredible box office take has demolished the misguided “conventional wisdom” that black heroes don’t sell, particularly overseas. Its glowing reviews give lie to the belief that black stories are somehow impossible for “mainstream” – that is, white – viewers to connect with.
(And yes, both of these are assumptions that have been disproven time and time again, but apparently they are lessons that Hollywood needs to learn time and time again. So here we are.)
Now that Black Panther‘s out, then, what’s next? What do we have to look forward to from here, in terms of superhero movies about non-white leads?
Given how much money Black Panther has made, and given that nearly every Marvel Cinematic Universe solo superhero to date has gotten at least one sequel, it’s only a matter of time before the studio announces Black Panther 2. Which will probably be followed, eventually, by Black Panther 3.
While we wait for that sequel, we can look forward to seeing Black Panther become a more central player in the MCU as a whole – starting with May’s Avengers: Infinity War, which also brings back characters like Shuri and M’Baku. We can almost certainly expect him to return in 2019’s Infinity War sequel as well.
Still in question, though, is whether Marvel has plans for any other movies centered around characters of color. If the studio decides to go in that direction, they’ll have no shortage of options. They could spin off existing characters like Shuri or Falcon, or bring in popular characters from the comics like Miss America or Ms. Marvel.
But that’s a pretty big if from a studio that took ten years and 18 films to deliver their first non-white lead. Here’s hoping Black Panther encourages them to make not just more Black Panther movies, but more movies about all different kinds of characters.
Across town at Warner Bros., the DC Extended Universe is also preparing to launch its first non-white superhero movie this year: Aquaman starring Jason Momoa.
The character himself isn’t new – he had a cameo in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and a supporting part in Justice League – but the new movie, out this December, will be his first time swimming solo. Behind the camera is James Wan, the franchise’s first director of color.
Also in the works right now is Black Adam, starring Dwayne Johnson. However, with no direct or release date announced, it’s not clear when the film will arrive.
Beyond that, Warner Bros.’ future only gets murkier, not least because the disappointment of Justice League seems to have thrown their plans into disarray.
But for what it’s worth, we know there were plans at one point for a Cyborg movie starring Ray Fisher. It also seems likely that Green Lantern Corps, if it ever happens, will feature the character John Stewart, who is black.
The studio has also been working on a film about Nightwing, who is of Romani descent in the comics – though it remains to be seen if he’ll be cast that way in the movie. And there have been occasional rumors of a Suicide Squad spinoff starring Will Smith’s Deadshot.
Again, though, with so much of Warner Bros.’ DC plans in flux, we’ll just have to wait and see which of these actually pan out.
Fox’s X-Men are still lagging behind
Outside of the MCU and the DCEU, the future gets even harder to read.
While the X-Men franchise, which is set up at 20th Century Fox, features several characters of color, its leads have been almost entirely white heroes like Xavier, Magneto, Wolverine, and Deadpool.
If there are plans to change this, the studio hasn’t tipped its hand. Even the possible spinoffs we’ve heard about revolve around white characters: Gambit (to be played by Channing Tatum), Kitty Pryde, Mystique, Multiple Man.
That said, there are a couple of upcoming releases that seem to prominently feature characters of color, including this summer’s Deadpool 2, featuring Zazie Beetz as Domino, and next year’s New Mutants, featuring Sunspot and Mirage. And hey, maybe this fall’s X-Men: Dark Phoenix will give Alexandra Shipp’s Storm more to do than X-Men: Apocalypse did.
The other complicating factor to keep in mind here is the impending acquisition of 20th Century Fox by Disney (which owns Marvel Studios), which makes it very difficult to say what lies in store for the X-Men universe beyond New Mutants.