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<br />‘White Scripts and Black Supermen’; go figure

  • Written by Kelvin Cowans
  • Published in News
African-American super heroes came with a catch. Black heroes, but with white writers who unashamedly included white story lines and mindsets. Kelvin Cowans  
Special to The Tri-State Defender

Not so long ago in the near past, there was a time when little boys had a limited choice of play toys. Some rode bikes or played with basketballs, footballs or baseballs. Some even crawled on their knees on floors with miniature cars.

Another select group had what were called comic books. Yes, long before video games could put your child into a nine-hour electronic sabbatical, comic books held just as much weight to a kid as his favorite action figure.

Superman solved problems in a whisk. Captain America did the same with seemingly the first Tommy Hilfiger outfit, and The Incredible Hulk, well, he just crushed things. Soon after this mighty group of Caucasian super heroes came African-American super heroes – with a catch. Black heroes, but with white writers who unashamedly included white story lines and mindsets.

 Dr. Jonathan Gayles

Next week at Rhodes College, Dr. Jonathan Gayles of Georgia State University shares “White Scripts and Black Supermen: Black Masculinities in American Comic Books” – the documentary he created to help make sense of it all.

“I grew up frustrated with comic books because the majority of the super heroes were white. Later as an adult I found many of the images and story lines offensive although I didn’t as a child,” said Gayles in an interview with the New Tri-State Defender on Wednesday.

“So I decided to produce a documentary film looking at the first Black Super Heroes and the way in which black masculinity is represented in comic books.”

Gayles is an associate professor of African American Studies. Through interviews with prominent artists, scholars and cultural critics, along with images from the comic books themselves, his documentary examines the degree to which early black superheroes generally adhered to common stereotypes about black men. From the humorous to the offensive, early black superheroes are critically considered.

“In the mid 60’s to 70’s, these characters came about and one in particular was Tyroc Power, and (another) Black Panther, to name a few were often draped in chains. His powers seemed to be limited to the ghetto and he and others didn’t have any universal influence,” said Gayles.

“Although they were super heroes, the devices that were in place again made the story lines reflect white male understanding of black masculinity.”

For 14 months, Gayles has been screening his documentary at various film festivals.

“I just recently sent it to a distributor named California News Reel. I still do presentations all the time, much like the one that I will be doing at Rhodes College, but hopefully it will be available for anyone to purchase by the beginning of 2012,” Gayles said.

Characters in the documentary include Lothar (first appearance in 1934), Whitewash Jones (1941), Waku, Prince of the Bantu (1954), Gabriel Jones (1963), The Black Panther (1966), The Falcon (1969), John Stewart (1971), Luke Cage (1972), Tyroc (1976) and Black Lightning (1977).

Save the Date:

• Nov. 2 at Rhodes College

• Dr. Jonathan Gayles will screen his film, “White Scripts and Black Supermen: Black Masculinities in American Comic Books.”

• Free and open to the public, the event begins at 8 p.m. in Blount Auditorium of Buckman Hall.

(Kelvin Cowans  can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )

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