Years Before Black Panther, We Had Blade: The Black Superhero We Forgot

Pop Culture

Years Before Black Panther, We Had Blade: The Black Superhero We Forgot

Illustration: Ahmed Sikander


arlier this year, Marvel’s Black Panther made history as one of the first superhero films to unapologetically embrace its protagonist’s African identity, in a refreshing break from the conveyor belt of Caucasian faces that usually feature on the posters of these comic book movies. I was one of the fans who contributed to Black Panther’s success, booking a ticket to Wakanda… and I had a great time. However, I can’t say the same for the people sitting on either side of me in the theatre, because I spent a considerable amount of time being the insufferable nerd who went, “Well, actually, Black Panther isn’t the first black superhero to get a mainstream Hollywood release.” Sorry King T’Challa, but that honour goes to Blade.

The year was 1998. Superhero movies were far from being the all-consuming entertainment juggernaut that they are today, with a new one arriving with greater frequency than BEST buses. Back then, the genre was still reeling from the campy, cartoonish embarrassment that was Batman & Robin, directed by Joel Schumacher and starring George Clooney’s latex Bat-nipples. While the comic-book source material was getting increasingly mature, with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns releasing in ’87, Hollywood studios still thought only kids want to watch superheroes, leading to the glut of childish crap like the Batman disaster and Superman franchise, which only got worse with time.