• Jul 21, 18
  • teachit
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They fight crime in old cotton hoodies, shimmering black capes and glowing LED unitards. They can repel bullets with their bodies, leap atop speeding cars like a svelte cat or dissipate in a puff of eerie smoke, all in the name of justice.

But most impressive of all: They have a newfound power to break color barriers that were once considered impenetrable.

If it wasn't the blockbuster Disney film set in an African country so advanced it made America look like a developing nation, it was the steel-bending heroics of Netflix's Mr. Cage as he defended Harlem, or family man and high school principal Jefferson Pierce electrocuting bad guys as the protagonist on the CW's "Black Lightning," or Cloak of Freeform's "Cloak & Dagger" challenging corrupt New Orleans cops and robbers with his empathic abilities.

But as Ku Klux Klan rallies astoundingly have become a thing again, and unarmed black men and women are still disproportionately the victims of police violence, and the perpetrators of killings like Trayvon Martin's are given impunity simply because they believed a hoodie-clad teen was "up to no good," avengers of color couldn't be more timely.

Cress Williams, who plays high-voltage hero Black Lightning, lists some of the ripped-from-the-headlines issues his character was up against in Season 1: "Crime, police corruption, political corruption, drugs, police brutality."

The color Hollywood cares about the most is green.

Their recent impact on screen will no doubt be felt this month at San Diego's annual Comic-Con. The event will be full of fan boys and girls deconstructing the genesis of Cage's powers, claiming they were into "Black Panther" before anyone else knew the name T'Challa, and chasing down characters from "Cloak & Dagger" for selfies (then it's back to stalking "The Walking Dead" cast members).

This year also brought us more black female heroes, though not in lead roles. Domino (Zazie Beetz) brought luck to the foul-mouthed Deadpool, the fierce Wakanda warriors of "Black Panther" kept their king safe and Black Lightning's formidable daughters, Thunder (Nafessa Williams) and Lightning (China Anne McClain), both aided in saving their glow-in-the-dark dad more than once.

"The color Hollywood cares about the most is green," says Coker, who worked on both seasons of "Luke Cage." "Having more cultural heroes is lucrative. It's different than seeing your average 'expected' superhero, and culture is the cheapest special effect around. Or I should say it's the cheapest, but most profound, special effect available."

Notably it was "Black Panther," not a "Captain America" or "Iron Man" movie, that became the third highest-grossing film ever in America. The production starring Chadwick Boseman made a staggering $1.3 billion worldwide after its premiere in February.

Williams says that struggle is real for high school principal Jefferson Pierce (a.k.a. Black Lightning). But after so many decades of watching other superheroes save the world when his own neighborhood was burning, he found that enacting change required a new approach.

In his case, that meant enforcing a strong curriculum for his students by day and upending crime with high-voltage zaps by night.

"He has tried education as a means to positively affect his community," says Williams, "but sometimes you just gotta mess stuff up as well."