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Do They Have to Be a “Dysfunctional” Black Team?

29 May 13
Jerrod Smith
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I was having trouble thinking of something to write about today. Then I went to our website and noticed the image we currently have on the home page is of four black characters apparently being arrested. I wondered how that image may look to someone unfamiliar with BlackGuard. Will they look at it and be offended that even black superheroes can’t be portrayed in a positive light? Or will they see it as a statement that no matter who you are, society still sees blacks in power as a threat? I guess it all depends on the individual. This did, however, remind me of something Will told me once.

A while ago, Will had a conversation with a woman about BlackGuard. He was describing the comic to her and stated that it was about a “dysfunctional black superhero team”. Her response was, “Do they have to be dysfunctional?” I’m not sure if she asked that question jokingly or really had doubts about our creative choice. I assume the first image that came to her mind was a Soul Plane with capes and super powers. Actually, when put in those words, I can see why she might have had concerns.

I understand why some people have an apprehension to incompetency amongst blacks in the media. There was a time when black characters were only allowed to be played as buffoons by whites in blackface. There’s a legitimate fear that society’s perception of us will never improve as long as we allow ourselves to be portrayed negatively. The problem is that we often allow that fear to limit us creatively. Too many black creations suffer from the over-compensating black character. You know, the one who’s just too good at whatever it is he or she does and has very few flaws. In the attempt to turn around the negative view the media has of us, some have forgotten that, above all else, characters need to be engaging. All interesting characters have flaws. To avoid certain flaws because they fit certain stereotypes only narrows your possibilities.

When Will and I began creating BlackGuard, our goal was to make a comic we would want to read. It just so happens that we prefer our heroes to be a little reckless and chaotic. We love Deadpool, Raphael and Michelangelo, Mugen, Naruto, Mike Lowry and Marcus Burnett, etc. So, naturally, that’s the type of team we made for our very first comic. We made the team incompetent because we thought it would be funny. We decided they wouldn’t get along with one another because we thought it would be interesting. The team is not dysfunctional because its members are are black, it’s dysfunctional because its members are a ninja from the hood, a mad scientist, an impulsive mercenary, and a black supremacist with anger issues. It’s a dysfunctional team that happens to be black. If we were any other race, it would be a dysfunctional team of that race.

When it comes down to it, we want all the same rights and opportunities that Caucasians have. If a white writer can tell a story about an idiotic, alcoholic criminal who’s in and out of jail and not be criticized for how that book makes his entire race look, then why can’t I? We often complain about the limited roles blacks have in movies and television, but have we ever stopped to think that maybe we limit ourselves because we’re so quick to call racism on every little thing? “Why did Denzel Washington have to play a crooked cop to win an Oscar?” “Why did Hancock have to be a homeless alcoholic?” Maybe writers are reluctant to come up with truly interesting roles for black characters because they never know if we’ll find some way to call it racist. I’m not saying that’s the sole explanation for the lack of African American roles, but it is something to think about.

So my answer to the question “Do they have to be dysfunctional?” No. They don’t have to be dysfunctional. We choose for them to be. It’s part of our creative freedom.

Until next time,
Jerrod


Read the BlackGuard comic here!

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