Now that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad have both landed in theaters, all of the 2016 slate of DCEU films have been released, and all eyes are turning to future installments. Wonder Woman is done shooting, Justice League is in the middle of being filmed, Rick Famuyiwa is preparing for The Flash, and James Wan is entering pre-production on Aquaman.
Not many details are known about this future slate of DC films just yet, but that doesn’t stop the rumor mill from churning. The most recent bit to catch headlines is a rumor regarding the potential villain of Aquaman - Arthur Curry’s longtime nemesis Black Manta.
Black Manta has a long history in DC Comics, but he still doesn’t have a definitive origin story, and he’s never made a live-action appearance, leaving the door wide open for James Wan and Geoff Johns (who’s helping with the script) to bring the character to life on the big screen.
Black Manta is almost always wearing his full aquatic battlesuit and massive helmet, but he’s bound to get lots of time outside of the suit in the movie, so the man under the armor will be just important to the film as star Jason Momoa. This list is focusing specifically on people that could actually play Black Manta. Actors like Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mahershala Ali, and Djimon Hounsou (and yes, Idris Elba) could all excel in the role, but they won’t be listed here as they’re currently engaged with Marvel.
Michael Jai White has publicly acknowledged his interest in the role, but he also isn’t on the list. While he’s a great physical match and a talented performer, he’s already featured in two DC properties -- Gambol in The Dark Knight and Bronze Tiger on the CW’s Arrow. With an abundance of equally qualified options, White doesn’t have a place in the DCEU.
Now, without further ado, here are 15 Actors Who Could Play Black Manta in Aquaman.
15 David Oyelowo
As one of the names being bandied about for many big movies these days, it seems like David Oyelowo’s career is really just getting started. He has the talent and intensity needed to bring a villain like Black Manta to the big screen for the first time, and he'd be a great name to add to the DCEU’s already long list of impressive and talented actors.
Oyelowo’s stock increased significantly after his portrayal of Dr. Martin Luthor King Jr. in Selma. While his performance received a plethora of nominations and critical acclaim, the lack of actual wins is largely considered one of the biggest snubs of last year’s awards season.
While Oyelowo could deliver a great performance as Aquaman’s villain, the British-American might be reluctant to accept a role in any comic book movie, believing his participation could hurt his ability to continue dramatic acting in other films:
“There’s always a danger you’re going to get so identified with this larger than life character, that it could become tougher for audiences to believe you in other roles.”
14 Aldis Hodge
He’s been making frequent appearances on both the big and small screen for over 20 years, having booked his first role before the age of 10. But despite the long career, Aldis Hodge didn’t really start to break out until his role as MC Ren in Straight Outta Compton, a movie that has resulted in a lot of attention for several of its young stars. Since then, Hodge has landed a role alongside Tom Cruise in Edward Zwick’s Jack Reacher sequel.
As a solid up and comer, Hodge would be a great addition to the DCEU, especially if Black Manta’s role extends beyond Aquaman. With a comic book history that gives the character potential to show up in additional movies -- like a potential Suicide Squad 2 or a future Justice League movie -- there’s a lot of room for a DC villain like Black Manta to carve out a presence in the larger DC universe.
13 Trai Byers
We’ve already plugged Trai Byers for Black Manta once, and that endorsement isn’t going anywhere. Like Oyelowo, Byers was in Ava DuVernay’s Selma, but he’s likely most well known for his role as a series regular in Fox’s Empire, where his portrayal of the bipolar Andre Lyon has demonstrated a level talent and intensity that could translate very well into a villainous gig as a part of the DCEU.
The only thing really working against Byers for a role as Black Manta is his lack of name recognition. When the rest of the DCEU is as star studded as Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, Aquaman may be in search of someone more recognizable for billing next to Jason Momoa. That doesn’t mean Byers is out of the running though. Warner Bros./DC has shown a willingness to take chances with casting lesser known names for big parts, Gal Gadot being the most notable example.
12 Lance Gross
His name will likely be foreign to many, but Lance Gross is already on his way to participating in live-action comic book movie. The question is what role? He was in the running to play Luke Cage for Marvel/Netflix before Mike Colter beat him out. Some time later, he posted a Green Lantern tease to his Instagram account, seemingly throwing his hat in the ring for that role as well.
He may not have a filmography that inspires the casual eye of fans to cast him in such a role, but the endorsement he’s received by Marvel TV giving him a long look says there’s definitely something worth checking out. He’s a great physical embodiment of what DC should be seeking for this role, provided they want a younger version of the character. It looks like he could be showing up in a DC or Marvel franchise eventually, and Black Manta would be a great fit.
11 Omari Hardwick
As another hard working actor, Omari Hardwick has a long filmography under his belt, and is most notorious for his current role in the 50 Cent-produced Starz show, Power, where he plays James St. Patrick, AKA “Ghost”. A club owner by night and a druglord by day, Omari’s performance shows how he can be intense as well as cold and collected when necessary, making him perfectly suited for a role as a major DC villain on the big screen.
Hardwick played college football, and even tried to make a career in the NFL before going into acting. While his talent was sufficient enough to earn him a scholarship to University of Georgia, the elite competitive level of the NFL precluded him from earning a roster spot. As an actor, his athletic and physical experience could be of major value in the DCEU, where his potential co-stars are all very physically imposing and have a penchant for regularly hitting the gym.
10 Sterling K. Brown
After turning in a solid performance as Chris Darden in The People v. O.J. Simpson, Sterling K. Brown is yet another actor that's ready to make the jump from the small screen to a major studio release. Besides having an almost perfect look for Black Manta (we even got a brief glimpse of his CBM ready physique in The People v. O.J. Simpson), previous roles -- such as his turn as the vampire Gordon Walker in Supernatural -- also show he’s capable of doing more than simply standing and talking a lot in a courtroom, and that he’s able to channel the villainous intensity necessary for a role such as Black Manta.
The jump to a massive franchise film such as Aquaman would definitely be a new challenge for Sterling, but his long body of work, including several strong more recent performances, show he may just have what James Wan is looking for opposite Jason Momoa.
9 Arnell Powell
Arnell Powell has been appearing in movies and TV shows regularly since 2004, but his name is not one most people will know off hand. He hasn’t had any major roles with which people will be familiar, but whenever he does pop up, he delivers a solid performance.
Despite the low profile, Powell has been able to show that he has the dramatic chops and deep voice necessary to make for a great Black Manta. His voicework as Jupiter in two Chronicles of Riddick games is great evidence to just how great he would sound under the black dome of the Aquaman villain.
While he might sound like a bit of a long shot, he's already worked with James Wan in The Conjuring, where he got some solid screen time as a reporter interviewing Patrick Wilson’s character. That relationship with Wan may just pay off, earning Powell a look for Black Manta once the director begins looking for candidates.
8 Andre Holland
The past few years have been the best of Andre Holland’s career. Stringing together several strong performances in 42, Black or White, Selma, and The Knick, he's been nominated for multiple supporting actor awards, even sharing a Best Ensemble win from the Black Film Critics Circle with his Selma co-starts. Holland definitely has the kind of talent any studio should be happy to cast in their next film.
While Holland would be an amazing choice that should make any DCEU fan happy, the only real concern with Holland is that he's never performed in a role that makes him look particularly villainous. Obviously as an actor he’s capable of expressing different emotions, but it’s hard to picture him playing a role that requires him to come off as fairly menacing. No doubt he has the skill needed to play Black Manta, it would just be hard for most people to picture until the first teaser or production images give fans a taste of his portrayal. Make no mistake, though; he's a tremendous up-and-comer with a ton of talent.
7 Demetrius Grosse
Bringing one of the more diverse portfolios to the list, Demetrius Grosse has played a number of different characters on the big screen, the small screen, and various stages around the world. Demetrius takes his acting very seriously, and backs up his roles with a strong performance education. He even spent time in Oxford, studying at the British American Drama Academy, which has instructed other notable students like Oliver Platt, Orlando Bloom, Paul Rudd, and Black Panther himself, Chadwick Boseman.
At 6 feet two inches tall, Grosse also brings the size necessary to even attempt to appear menacing next to Momoa’s 6 foot 4 inch frame -- a trait not shared by many other actors. Height aside, Grosse has a physical presence that would only compliment the intensity he’s shown in roles such as Deputy Yawners in Banshee, or Rock in Straight Outta Compton. He also has a voice that would work very well from behind Manta’s black helmet, an important characteristic considering the character traditionally has the headgear on the majority of the time (although that will probably be reduced for a live-action appearance).
6 Isaiah Washington
He may be more recently well known for his role as Dr. Preston Burke (and the scandal that surrounded his exit) in Grey’s Anatomy, but Isaiah Washington has been around for a long time and has a filmography that serves as a great testament to his work ethic. While he’s a very talented performer, his name likely wouldn’t even make an appearance here if it wasn’t for his role in The 100, where he plays the gruff Thelonious Jaha. If Isaiah were to play Black Manta, the only requirement would be for him to be like Thelonious wearing a scuba suit.
Like Michael Jai White, Isaiah himself has voiced a desire to play the Aquaman villain, declaring “I Am The Black Manta”via his Twitter account. Whether or not there’s any benefit to these actors that campaign for characters (there have been a few), it’s always cool to see a performer get excited for a role, because it suggests they would play the part with the utmost respect and dedication.
5 Colman Domingo
He’s been getting consistent work since 1995, but it wasn't until the past few years that Colmen Domingo started turning heads with roles in The Nick, Selma, and Fear the Walking Dead. Domingo has a deep voice and a serious attitude that make him a great candidate for a DCEU villain. Like Chadwick Boseman -- another actor to recently land a big role in a CBM -- Domingo has also served as an acting teacher, teaching classes at University of Texas at Austin and University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Colman has also been recognized multiple times for his off-screen performances, garnering a Tony nomination for Best Actor and a nomination for an Oliver Award for Best Supporting Actor. Those talents could be put to great use on the big screen as Black Manta, where Domingo’s no-nonsense persona could bring a very dominating air to the role demanding -- like Jason Momoa’s Aquaman -- that audiences take him seriously.
He's been our dark horse candidate for a while now, and we're sticking with him to the end.
4 Lennie James
Not everyone knows his name, but we all know his face as the guy that seems to be in absolutely everything. Lennie James has appeared on numerous TV shows, serving as a regular in at least ten programs, and he’s also had several memorable big screen appearances such as Sol in Snatch. Of course, most fans will know him for his role as fan-favorite apocalypse warrior Morgan on AMC's The Walking Dead.
James’s lengthy filmography doesn’t just speak to his talent and work ethic, but his demand, which is especially demonstrated by the number of shows that book him for multiple or regular appearances.
Physically, James is a little shorter and a little older than some other options, but his talent still makes him a very viable candidate. His version of the character would likely be more of a charismatic schemer than physical brute. His voice work for Destiny shows that he can strike a commanding tone, which is already a huge priority for Black Manta.
3 David Gyasi
After working in TV and smaller movie roles (such as “Skinny Prisoner” in The Dark Knight Rises) for a decade, David Gyasi has had a run of prominent roles, such as Cloud Atlas, Interstellar, and Alex Garland’s next project, Annihilation, in recent years. Gyasi’s star is clearly rising, and it won’t be long before someone tries to lock him down with a big role in a superhero movie.
He’s already been able to demonstrate that he can handle himself in on the big screen and land roles in blockbusters, but his most recent part as Lex Carnahan on The CW’s Containment miniseries demonstrates that he also has the dramatic chops needed to carry a villain role like Black Manta.
As his career really begins to take off, Warner Bros. and DC would be smart to get Gyasi signed to a multi-picture deal before he’s snatched up for a Marvel movie or show. At this point, it seems like it’s only a matter of time.
2 Peter Mensah
He may have gotten the most notoriety from that time Leonidas kicked him into a well in 300, but Peter Mensah has had a long career and been featured in many geek properties, from 300 and Avatar on the big screen to a major role in Spartacus on Starz, in addition to voiceover work for the Transformers Prime animated series and the Dead Space video game. He’s even featured in the MCU as General Greller in The Incredible Hulk, although that role was likely early enough in the MCU that he doesn’t have any sort of contract with Marvel Studios that would preclude him from playing Black Manta in the DCEU.
Just looking at his physical performance as Oenomaus in Spartacus and listening to his voice work as Predaking in Transformers Prime will show you exactly the kind of Black Manta he would bring to life on the big screen. At 6 feet 3 inches tall, Mensah also provides the full package for an Aquaman villain that can go toe-to-toe with Jason Momoa and still look (and sound) intimidating.
1 Michael Kenneth Williams
Bringing up the number one spot is Michael Kenneth Williams, another actor who is actively campaigning for the role -- and is currently listed on the movie’s IMDB as “rumored” for Black Manta (although IMDB can easily be edited). Williams is quite possibly the hardest working actor on this list, having booked at least 86 different roles since 1996, and that’s counting series-long runs on HBO hits like Boardwalk Empire and The Wire. Needless to say, he has the raw talent to make Black Manta a compelling villain, but he also has a look that would work perfectly -- complete with authentic facial scars he acquired after a mugging.
Considering he has the perfectly grizzled look and the skills to back it up, there’s very little reason why his campaign for the role should be overlooked by DC higher-ups. The DCEU has definitely made some unexpected casting calls in the past few years, but Michael Kenneth Williams as the villainous Black Manta is a decision that many consider a no-brainer.
Who do you think will make the best Black Manta? Let us know in the comments!
Suicide Squad is in theaters now. Wonder Woman opens on June 2, 2017; Justice League on November 17, 2017; The Flash on March 16, 2018; Aquaman on July 27, 2018; an untitled DC Film on October 5, 2018; Shazam on April 5, 2019; Justice League 2 on June 14, 2019; an untitled DC film on November 1, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps on July 24, 2020. The Batman solo movie and Man of Steel 2 are currently without release dates.