About the discussion guide
We generally watch films passively – not critically. The purpose of this guide is to encourage more active engagement of the documentary. I have never been a fan of providing students with guides prior to any activity for fear that they will focus only on the pertinent portions identified in the guide and ignore everything else. The questions included in the guide are intended only as points of reference for class discussions of the documentary.
The documentary pursues a critical engagement of the manner in which Black masculinity is represented in comic books featuring the first Black superheroes. Consequently, many of the questions focus on issues of representation, race, masculinity, and the influence of racial/ historical contexts on the first Black superheroes. This is not THE study guide. As the filmmaker, I am probably far too close to the material to develop a comprehensive guide. This is simply a initial point of entry for your class discussions. Additionally, the documentary should not be the only source for this study. The documentary shares scholarly space with a number of academic domains including African-American Studies, hip hop studies, gender studies, popular culture studies, communication, American studies, media anthropology, as well as ethnic and racial studies. Draw from your own area(s) of interest to use the documentary in your work.
This guide reflects only the documentary. I have not developed questions for 40+ video clips available on the film’s youtube channel. Many of these clips should be useful to your class discussions as well.
INTRODUCTION: BLACK MASCULINITIES IN COMIC BOOKS
1. In what ways is cool pose misread (Jennings)?
2. In what ways are Shaft and Sidney Poitier different (McDuffie)?
3. In what ways does the “DNA” of comic book masculinity potentially harm Black communities (Cobb)?
4. In thinking about the representation of Black men in popular culture, describe/ identify specific “signifiers” that constitute a “cluster of threatening signifiers” (Brown).
5. How is the comic book genre a White male power fantasy and how might this influence the representation of Black Superheroes (McDuffie)?
1. What might the response to LOBO #1 tell us about American conceptions of Black masculinity in the mid 1960’s?
2. How and why did the LOBO challenge conventions about the cowboy hero in the United States?
3. Was Dell Comics naïve to support Lobo?
THE BLACK PANTHER
1. How might American sensibilities about race relations influence the storyline addressing apartheid (Cha-Jua)?
2. How might the Black Panther’s status as an African superhero enhance/undermine his iconic status as compared to African-American superheroes?
3. Why is the notion of “Negro Dignity” problematic for the Black Panther (Cha-Jua)?
1. In what ways does the Falcon’s “retcon” reflect larger understandings of race and White supremacy (Chambliss)?
2. How does the “retcon” undermine his superheroic potential (Chambliss)?
3. How does the Falcon’s sidekick status undermine his superheroic potential (Chambliss)?
4. How did blaxploitation contribute to the Falcon’s “identity crisis? (Chambliss)”
1. In what ways does the “tension” in the representation of John Stewart reflect broader societal tensions about Black men and masculinity (Brown)?
2. What opportunity did DC comics sacrifice in deciding to produce a “White” Green Lantern film?
3. What is the potential significance of the fact that John Stewart refused to wear a
4. What is the significance of John Stewart’s place in the cartoon series?
1. In what ways does Luke Cage’s costume “control” his representation?
2. In what ways does Cage’s “hero for hire” status qualify his heroic status?
3. In what ways does Cage’s “hero for hire” status represent historical narratives about race in the United States?
4. What do Luke Cage’s enemies tell us about his status as a superhero?
5. How do Luke Cage’s enemies reinforce negative representations of the black experience?
6. How is Cage aspirational (Chambliss)?
7. Describe Stanford Carpenter’s love/hate relationship with Luke Cage.
8. Are there representations of Black life with whom you have a similar relationship?
9. When we resist stereotypes about the group to which we belong (or are assigned), what do we lose?
10. In what ways did the creators of Luke Cage fail to present an accurate portrayal of Black men?
1. In what ways can Tyroc’s superpower be interpreted (Carpenter, Singer, Nama)?
2. What connections exist between Tyroc’s creation story and African-American history (Carpenter)?
3. Why is Superboy’s failure to identify his own Whiteness problematic (Singer)?
1. How does the representation of Black Lightning compensate for his “late
arrival” to racial tensions in the United States (Chambliss)?
2. What were Tony Isabella’s aspirations for Black Lightning?
3. What are the potential differences between a Black superhero and a superhero that is Black (Carpenter)?
4. Why must a Black superhero be concerned with his race (Nama)?
ENTER THE BLACK AGE (SPECIAL FEATURE)
1. What are the origins of the Black age?
2. The Black Age is a response to what reality?
3. Why is “the Black corner” problematic?
1. How are Anthony Tallarico’s and Tony Isabella’s aspirations similar?
2. In what ways is the “Black Buck” stereotype confirmed/ challenged by the characters featured in the documentary?
3. Considering the time period (1965-1977), what relationship is apparent between American tensions about Black men and the representation of Black male superheroes?
4. How might we interpretively “recover” these heroes in ways that are more empowering, whole, and humane (Nama)?
5. What is the most common representational aspect of the characters featured in the documentary?
6. In what ways are the representations of these heroes consistent with common and current representations of Black men in popular culture?
7. How have the representational expectations of Black men in popular culture changed/remained the same?
8. What influence have comic books had on your understanding of your identity or that of others (including race, gender, sexuality, nationality, religion, etc)?
9. What are some common themes in the manner in which these comic book superheroes are represented?