Djimon Hounsou (The Legend of Tarzan, but, more relevantly here, the voice of T’Challa in the animated Black Panther TV miniseries) told a story about his son and superheroes in an interview that is heartbreaking. Luckily, he also gave a great answer about how to react to people who agitate against greater representation in film.
In The Guardian, an interviewer brought up that with Luke Cage and Black Panther, there is suddenly a much more visible presence of black superheroes in live-action superheroing. Hounsou responded with this story about his son:
It’s about time! It’s absolutely great news to have a hero that black folks can identify with. Could you imagine my misfortune when my son told me: “I want to be light-skinned so I can climb the walls like Spider-Man” – just because he has seen Spider-Man and Batman and all these superheroes who were all white. The minute he said it, I was like, damn. My whole self was shattered. I was like, wow, what sort of comeback do you have for this? It’s important to recognise yourself. It’s absolutely important. That’s the value in telling stories. There’s a reason why we create fantasy stories, so we can surpass this life condition.
Can you even imagine trying to figure out how to respond to that? A kid whose parents are an actor and a model still manages to internalize racism. That’s how insidious this problem is.
It’s feelings like what his Hounsou’s son had that make representation in popular culture vital. And while any number of diverse characters may exist in the long, long history of comics, the average kid is way more aware of what’s on TV and in theaters. They’re even more aware of what’s being sold as a toy or costume or shirt or other merchandise, because that’s what other kids are going to bring to school. The less you see characters that look like you, the harder it is to feel like you matter.
On a less depressing note, Hounsou also had a comment on all the flak the 2016 Ghostbusters caught for its cast. The question from the interviewer is in bold:
There was a very strong reaction to the Ghostbusters remake from angry white guys. Where do you think this comes from?
Greed. I certainly don’t try to pay too much attention. It’s unfortunate but it’s OK. It just makes the fight that much sweeter.
It’s simultaneously dismissive of the trolls and positive about the fight for representation. Very nice.