Comic books allow us to enter into the world of superheroes who have incredible abilities, yet face very human struggles.
But what happens when this world is turned into a movie featuring mostly white male superheroes?
Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and DC Extended Universe (DCEU) are the titans of the superhero genre, yet they’ve largely missed the mark in featuring viable indigenous characters. With dozens of indigenous comic book characters—from Black Crow to Shaman to Puma—continuously ignored, I’ve often wondered why a comic book writer hasn’t drawn inspiration from indigenous stories and legends?
Why hasn’t a movie studio taken a closer look at the indigenous population, and come up with stories that can both entertain and reflect the indigenous experience?
Why has no one made an indigenous superhero movie?
Why we need an indigenous superhero movie
The stories are out there waiting to be told, and most importantly, the indigenous community has a wealth of fantastic actors willing to step into these superhero roles. Indigenous heroes should be multidimensional—people who are relatable but can also channel the indigenous struggle and experience.
Writers, directors, and producers need to realize that indigenous actors can do more than epic period pieces from the 1800s. They want to be challenged as they bring these stories to life. Representation for Native people matters—especially for children who don’t get to see many faces on the big screen that resemble their own.
By and large, indigenous comic book characters have fallen flat and verged on stereotypical—failing to truly capture the Native experience.
MCU and DCEU indigenous characters
Recently, MCU and DCEU teased their fanbases with indigenous characters that could have bigger roles in future films.
For instance, Gene Brave Rock, from the Blood Tribe, which is part of the Blackfeet Confederacy, brought the character Napi to life in “Wonder Woman” (DCEU). The character comes across as kind-hearted, but also as a capable, intelligent member of the team.
The MCU has also included some indigenous characters who will be featured in the Disney+ series, “Hawkeye.” Alaqua Cox from the Menomine tribe will play Echo (a.k.a. Maya Lopez), an indigenous teen superhero who can mimic her opponents’ moves. But she’ll also be representing the deaf community, being one of the few characters to use American Sign Language.
Zahn McClarnon from the Hunkpapa Lakota tribe, meanwhile, will be playing William Lopez, known as Willie “Crazy Horse” Lincoln in the comics.
Furthermore, Marvel will introduce Red Wolf in his own book called “Werewolf by Night,” created by Nathan Edmondson and Jeffrey Veregge, who is a member of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe based in Kingston, Washington.
These characters will mark a major turning point, much the way Marvel’s “Black Panther” did for the African-American community. The power of representation in a superhero film is seeing someone strong and capable who looks like you and realizing that you too can embody those qualities and more.
It’s also possible that, through this representation, serious issues that face indigenous communities can be brought to the forefront of public consciousness and addressed once and for all they way they ought to be.
As more indigenous writers, producers, artists, and actors are given opportunities to grow, they can change the stereotypes of what a superhero looks like and even what it means to be a superhero. These characters wouldn’t have to dodge the complexities of race, culture, and identity. Instead, they could capably address these issues in real time.
Capturing the perspective of indigenous voices could transcend the superhero genre. And the impact an indigenous superhero movie could have on the next generation is bigger than we may know.