Dwayne Johnson states his belief that one day cinematic comic book adaptations will see a version of Superman played by a black actor. The action star is next to be seen in The Fast and the Furious spin off Hobbs & Shaw, which features a line where Idris Elba’s villainous super soldier Brixton Lore declares himself “black Superman.”
Recent years have seen POC characters from comics begin to receive greater prominence in movie adaptations, with the likes of Black Panther and Miles Morales’ Spider-Man headlining their own movies, while the likes of Falcon, War Machine and Captain Marvel’s Maria Rambeau have played important supporting roles. It’s also worth noting that the film often seen as the first Marvel movie of the modern age, the pre-MCU Blade, has a black protagonist.
The subject came up when Johnson was interviewed by Variety at the world premiere for Hobbs & Shaw. When asked about how he believes Hollywood is handling inclusion and diversity in its superhero output, he was optimistic, stating that Marvel has done a “tremendous job.” Regarding DC, he has a more personal perspective - Johnson is of mixed race descent, with a black Nova Scotian father and a Samoan mother - from his upcoming starring role in the standalone film of Shazam villain Black Adam. A for the subject of a black Superman specifically, he finally quips, “You’re looking at him!” You can watch the whole statement below.
A precedent for a black Superman already exists in DC Comics canon, in the shape of Kryptonian refugee Val-Zod on the New 52’s version of Earth 2. After spending most of his life inside his escape capsule he developed agoraphobia, and had only started to overcome it with the help of Lois Lane’s Red Tornado when he was called upon to battle Kal-El, who had been revealed as a clone under the control of Darkseid for an invasion of Earth by the forces of Apokolips. Ultimately victorious over the mockery of his planetary brother, he subsequently took on the mantle of Superman and began reclaiming the world from the invaders.
From his inception, Superman has largely been portrayed as white, but such a skin tone is often seen as a ‘default’ with little bearing on who the character is, meaning that should an adaptation see them played by an actor of a different ethnicity, it would not alter the character’s fundamental nature. Such a change was recently seen in the DCEU’s Aquaman, where a character historically depicted as a pale blonde man was portrayed by the Hawaiian Jason Momoa. Having a black actor play Superman would certainly cause a stir and possibly an internet outcry even bigger than any other time a similar announcement has been made, such as recently regarding Halle Bailey as The Little Mermaid or Lashana Lynch in the next James Bond movie. The very purpose of Superman as a character is to embody everything that is good and admirable about humanity, something for which a pale skin tone is not specifically required, meaning that anyone with merely the right kind of presence, charisma and physicality would suit the role. Perhaps Idris Elba isn’t so short of the mark after all.