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Why Black Villains Are Needed on Screen

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Liz Fe creates informative content to entertain and educate her readers.

Michael B. Jordan played Erik Killmonger in Black Panther, one of the great Black villains in recent movie history.

Michael B. Jordan played Erik Killmonger in Black Panther, one of the great Black villains in recent movie history.

As we continue to see a surge in the popularity of superhero movies, it's important to remember that not all comic book characters are created equal. While there has been an increased focus on diversity in recent years, one area that still seems to be lacking is the portrayal of Black villains on screen.

Why are Black Villains Beneficial?

There are a number of reasons why having more Black villains would be beneficial. For one, it would help to create a more balanced representation of good and evil within the genre. At the moment, most Black characters in superhero movies are either sidekicks or heroes, with very few being portrayed as truly nefarious villains.

In addition, having more Black villains would also add some much-needed depth and complexity to the stories being told. Too often, Black characters are reduced to one-dimensional stereotypes, and this is especially true of villains. By having more Black villains on screen, we can start to see a more nuanced and three-dimensional portrayal of these characters.

Importance of the Black Audience

It's worth noting that Black audiences are becoming an increasingly important part of the superhero movie audience. Films like Black Panther (2018) and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) have proven that there is a large and enthusiastic audience for superhero stories featuring Black protagonists, like Killmonger and Miles Morales, respectively.

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It stands to reason, then, that there would also be an appetite for seeing more Black villains on screen. After all, if audiences are clamoring for more diversity in their heroes, they should also be given a more diverse array of villains to root against.

Only a Handful of Black Villains

Unfortunately, Black villains are still woefully underrepresented in superhero movies. In the entire history of the genre, there have only been a handful of Black villains with a significant role, typically being portrayed as one-dimensional stereotypes. This is a shame because it robs audiences of the chance to see fully developed, three-dimensional Black characters on screen.

It seems like a lot of writers don’t want to put a black person as the main bad guy, most likely to avoid negative feelings and responses relating to this country’s racial and racist history. We can be a regular person, we can be a victim, and we can even be a small-time bad guy all day long; but not the main villain, though?

— Johnny Silvercloud, Medium, February 5, 2021

The good news is that things seem to be changing. In recent years, we've seen more Black villains appearing in superhero movies, like Erik Killmonger in Black Panther and Mr. Glass in Unbreakable (2000) and Glass (2019). And while there's still a long way to go, it's encouraging to see Hollywood beginning to catch up with the times.

Black Audiences Want Complex Black Villains

Erik Killmonger from Black Panther is a fully developed character with a rich backstory and motivation. He isn't just a one-dimensional caricature of a villain, and this is something I’d like to see from more Black villains. The same can be said for Mr. Glass from M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable trilogy. He’s smart, cunning, and capable. We enjoy rooting against him.

This is the kind of depth and complexity that Black audiences are craving. We want to see more complex, nuanced Black villains on screen. It's not only the right thing to do from a moral standpoint, but it also makes good business sense. Better Black villains means better superhero movies. Who doesn’t want that?

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