The Battle For Multicultural Heroes Panel

CC Panel Promo

I’ve been a nerd as long as I could remember. My earliest memories were scribbling drawings of monsters, aliens, superheroes, and spaceships. Even at a young age, I knew this would be a world that  would fuel my passions and creativity for the rest of my life. However, what I didn’t know was how few role models there would be for me as an impressionable Asian-American kid. The only ethnic representation in comics would either be broad stereotypes or relegated as villains. Many years later as an adult, I can see progress has been made but is it enough? Will we ever see a black Superman? Could the Fantastic Four be a family of Asians? In the Battle of Multicultural Heroes panel, our pop culture experts and diversity advocates, will share about their own experiences and their own identity journey. Panelists include myself @Crazy4ComicCon, Andre Meadows @BlackNerd (creator of Black Nerd Comedy on YouTube), Linda Le @VampyBitMe (cosplayer and designer), and Marlene Bonnelly @ILikeComicsToo (producer of If this is something that you are interested in then please come join us on Sunday 4:00 in room 7AB.

You can really help us out by commenting of these questions below:

1. As a minority, have you ever struggled to find a hero as a role model? What was that experience like?

2. What do you think is the state of multicultural heroes in comics, TV, or film?

3. If you could change any comic book character to be ethnic, who would it be?

4. If your not a minority, have you ever thought about this topic and what’s your perspective on it?

22 thoughts on “The Battle For Multicultural Heroes Panel

  1. First of all, I’m from Mexico. 😀
    1. Personally, no. From comic books, my role model has always been Superman, for the way he is, not from where he was raised (even with the ‘american way’ thing…).
    2. It’s a good thing, but most of them do not feel umm… ‘natural’. People use to think someone created that character just to be ‘politically correct’.
    3. I’d like to see an egyptian or greek Captain Marvel, I mean, Shazam! His origin is not-so american… XD

  2. 1) though I’m a minority, Asian, I grew up in America it wasn’t typically hard to find a role model. I grew up in the 80’s the two characters who I personally saw as role models, due to the fact that I was nose deep in comics and fantasy were Spider Man and Benji from the cartoon bionic 6. Peter Parker learned lessons from Uncle Ben and was a nerd who got bullied then there was Benji who was Asian and had powers with a diverse family of heroes of different cultures.

    2) it’s good, I’ve seen growth recently in comics i.e. DC Comics: Cyborg and Blue Beetle, however still a lack of Asian heroes unless you think of anime sadly. I’d love to see an Asian super hero in the JLA

    3) Deadpool or Spider Man or Deadshot I guess because knowing the skill set of those characters I can see Asian resemble those characters the most.

  3. These questions have really got me thinking but I just can’t get it out and down in a comment. Just when I think I have an answer another question arises. I need to state that I do not read comic books but I do know most of the common stories and I love the movies and shows that have been created.

    1. I am not a minority in that I am Caucasian but I am a minority in that I am a female and in the comic book world I do view them as a minority – especially non-sexualized females. When I thought about cosplaying the main people I cosplay are Dana Scully, Zoe Washburne, River Song and Amy Pond. The main point of them being… they are almost always fully clothed. They are heroes I can look up to and see myself being.

    2. I would love to see more multicultural heroes in all genres. I believe myself to be a very open minded person and color blind. Unless the background/ethnicity is crucial to the hero’s story, why can’t any hero be anyone?

    3. A black Superman, an Asian Spiderman, a Spanish Rogue, any one playing Dr. Who, I’m up for any and all to be different.

    4. I have thought of this topic before but not to the extent as these questions have made me think. I respect you Tony and I want to support you and all that you do. This is why I am attempting to get my thoughts in order but it is quite a big topic. I will continue to think on it and hopefully I will be able to attend the panel to have my mind opened even more.

  4. I’m about as white as possible, but I live in the most ethnically diverse big city in the US, and it’s a good bet that during my lifetime, much of the US will start looking more like Houston, where no single ‘race’ is more than 50% of the population. More diversity in pop culture is inevitable.

    But I think that the most important factor in increasing diversity in pop culture media in the short term will be a more diverse mix of creators. The more we can encourage people from different races/cultures/viewpoints to write, illustrate, film, act, produce—or, if you don’t feel like you have a creative bone in your body, fund those who do—the sooner we’ll have pop culture heroes for all of us.

  5. 1. As a minority, have you ever struggled to find a hero as a role model? What was that experience like?
    As it applies to comics and geek culture in general, I definitely struggled to find someone that was both a role model and that I identified with. I’m Chicana, and I never thought much of it until I started going through puberty, which was when I started noticing who are leaders and who is considered beautiful. I realized that the characters did not look like me nor did they share a similar background unless they were bad guys. I remember for a long time I thought there was something “wrong” with me because even though I admired them, I was not like them. Though some may argue that we should not rely on media for role models, it’s something that is common in our culture because we are exposed to media all the time (and we enjoy it!). Not having role models that you can identify with can impact your self-esteem.

    2. What do you think is the state of multicultural heroes in comics, TV, or film?
    I think it is slowly getting better. However, there’s still a LOT we could improve. I get sad when I hear about a role that may have been intended for a woman or minority (or both) but the people in charge thought there was no way it was “believable” or that fans won’t bother with it thus it’s not worth making. It’s really mind-blowing that it is 2013 and people still think that way, especially considering how diverse this country is! Also, hiring writers from a variety of backgrounds well help avoid a lot of stereotyping and will result in a more realistic portrayal of different cultures.

    3. If you could change any comic book character to be ethnic, who would it be?
    Honestly, any number of them I would love to change to be ethnic. I think you could argue that almost all of them could change (and often the character changes anyway so it’s a no-brainer). Most of all though, I would love to see *new* characters who happen to be ethnic with strong development. I think it’s time! One in particular that stands out is recently is Mara (Image Comics). It’s also a fantastic comic. I don’t recall them really describing her background, but she is darker skinned and her features show that she is likely of an ethnic background. It makes me wish the comic came out when I was younger, as I think that would have left a very positive impression on me growing up.

  6. I am a Deaf person. Most people do not realize that Deaf people have their own language, community, and culture. The common misconception of American Sign Language (ASL) is just a visual code of English.

    1. When I was a child, there was no Deaf role model in the real world, left alone finding a Deaf hero in the comic book. I was trying to be like hearing people so I could fit in. I had many years of speech therapy to help me speak because I wanted to be able to communicate with other people. Now I’m all grown up and I feel proud of my Deaf/ASL culture. I do notice there are still no “hero” role model for the Deaf children. I worked for school with Deaf children, and one of the student loved Spider-Man. He is Black, so I thought I ll introduce the Miles Morales verison to him. He was immediately hooked, telling me he felt stronger bond with the new Spider-Man. This led to more reading instead of looking at pictures.
    I would love to see Deaf characters in the comic book, but ASL is very difficult to translate in the comic book.
    2. Honestly, I do not see any true multicultural heroes in the film or tv. The film/tv contains predominately caucasian characters. If there is one, he or she will feel more of a token character. Some of the multicultural heroes are grossly misrepresented in the film or tv such as Steel. The good ones that come to my mind are Blade, Hancock, and Sulu of the current Star Trek films. For the comic book, Martha Washington is an excellent character. Too often I see Asians and Indians as the villains (Scott Pilgrim is an good example).
    We need more multicultural writers for comic books, film, and TV industry. This way, they can provide their experience to create an authentic story that people can relate.
    3. We already have a blind superhero, but he doesn’t have a unique culture. I would like to use Namor, not to change him into a Deaf person, but as an ASL user since it’s not possible to verbal communicate English underwater. His race can benefit from using ASL. If Marvel ever decide to use the world first mutant into TV/Film, people can accept signing underwater easier.

    • Wow, your comment is truly awesome. What a unique perspective and you bring up some very valid points. Heroes should be advocates for change and we need more diversity for all the reasons you listed. Thanks again and I hope to see you at SDCC.

  7. 1. As a Korean American kid growing up in LA, I never struggled to connect with a character because of race. I grew up reading Wolverine, Iron Man, and Batman, and not once did I feel that I couldn’t connect with these heroes just because they were not Asian. As children, we never viewed these character as specific races but as heroes that stood up to evil. We were attracted to the principles and ideals that these heroes stood for (and their flashy costumes) and the things they did to uphold those beliefs.
    Even in my teens and when I started learning about different races, cultures and the existence (past and present) of racism and discrimination, I still felt connected to the heroes I grew up loving. I didn’t distance myself from Iron Man just because Tony Stark wasn’t Asian. Those ideas of good versus evil was stronger to me than the color of they’re skin.
    Was I mad when I found out Snake Eyes was white? Nope
    Am I suppose to like Storm Shadow the best because he was Asian? Nope.
    Do I like Snake Eyes more than Storm Shadow? Yes, because he’s a good guy.

    2. Asian influences in pop culture has always been there. Extremely proud that some of the biggest movies and comics properties were influenced by Asian culture especially Star Wars. Is it better now than in the past? Hell yes.
    As a Korean America, I’m extremely proud that actors like Grace Park (BSG, Hawaii Five-O), Daniel Dae Kim (Lost, Hawaii Five-O), and Steven Yuen (Tge Walking Dead) are representing the Asian community as complex characters in American hit TV shows. I’m extremely proud that Lee Byung Hyun (GI Joe, Red 2, Will Yun Lee (The Wolverine, Red Dawn), and Sung Kang (Fast 5/6) breaking in big time in big blockbusters. I’m extremely proud that directors like Chan Woo Park (Old Boy,Stoker) and Kim Gee Woo (The Last Stand) are breaking through and helping Hollywood produced films. Even Korean pop music is breaking into American pop culture due to acts like Girls Generation and Psy (even though they are both extremely annoying). Asians, especially Koreans are breaking through and it can only get better.

    That being said, I’m not a fan of “racebending”, but I understand why it’s practiced in Hollywood.

    3. I’m pretty happy about where comic book characters are right now, but I’m willing to admit that I wish Iron Fist and Snake Eyes were Asian. Only because they are so bad ass.

    4. N/A

  8. I’m Filipino.
    1. I never really struggled to find a hero as a role model when i was a kid. Because my neighborhood and school was so diverse i never really looked at race. Superman would have been Superman to me whether he was Black, White, Mexican or Asian.

    2. With the emergence of Glen and Michonne (two badasses) from the mainstream Walking Dead comics and tv i think it’s definitely getting better. Not only are the heroes non Caucasian but also in this case a sword wielding dicing, slicing, African American woman.

    3. I don’t know if i would change any of them to be honest. They all have their own backstories and driving factors already attached. A new minority hero would be great though. I was really digging Grail from Wetworks when he was around.

    4. I’m actually a minority.

    Good luck with the panel!!!

  9. The superheroes that brought me up were spiderman, batman, n superman. Because of these heroes, I always grew up either h everyone being white. It wasn’t until I watched the superfriends that I saw that there were oth r minorities that could b heroes. To this day, it doesn’t bother me to see all white heroes, but I would like to see more diversity. I lov to see glen on Walking dead n mre asian characters. I am filipino n to see personal heroes like manny pacquiao become mainstream in America makes me happy to see that we are welcoming different minorities into the fold.

    The hero I would love to be Asian is Spiderman. Just because I grew up with him. Also batman, plus I love how he is going global n there is a japanese batman.

  10. 1. Finding a role model (personally) with superheroes have come almost natural to me. I’ve always thought about the significance of the mask that is usually donned by them as a equalizer to be honest. Leaving behind your old self and putting a costume and a mask on, is more than a safety-precaution to heroes’ identity but to assure that the general public accept them equally, regardless of their race/culture. That has always stuck with me in a way, when I find a character that I look up to.

    2. I think that multicultural heroes in comics don’t really leave a big footprint, but without them, the comic book universe would be a compilation of monotonous characters. I think that writers do give the occasional nod to multiculturalism and it’s fine by me. Now if you asked me if I were to restart the history of comics and put in more multicultural superheroes, would I? I’d say sure, who wouldn’t like larger universe for characters?

    3. Instead of naming any superhero specifically, I’d say I’d champion for a Universal superhero to be multicultural.. a hero who has an obligation to the whole world.

  11. Great piece, I am not a minority of any kind but I think as far as over personality the John Stewart Green Lantern is my favorite Green Lantern. Its not that he is a minority but he is easy to relate to on a basic human sense. He can also be a hard ass when needed but has a sensible side too. In short I have thought about this topic and my general thought is that it would be nice to add more minority super heroes without it focusing on race. They should just be there as they are, a symbol, something to look up to. If anything it can make a hero more appealing to a larger audience.

  12. 1. As well as Skywakko, im a fellow Mexican nerd. Even though I do have struggled in finding heroes as role models, (because all the mainstream media/films/comics come from a country different than mine) their ideals and ‘heroism’ are universal. What I mean is that, just because most heroes are American it doesnt stop me from admiring them.

    2. Most TV and movies are trying to be all-incusive and sadly tend to become the stereotypes they are avoiding, as far as Im concerned. However, I do think comics embrace more openly different cultures and races (and have been doing it since the 60’s!!).

    3. This is actually the hardest question so far… Because, by changing their ethnicity you’d have to change its whole history, something that could happen in say, Marvel’s Ultimate Universe (I loved how Wasp was changed to an Asian-American).
    It would be interesting to see a Latin American Spider-Man though… Pedro Parker would have a lot more to face!

    • Paulina, Thanks for sharing your story. It’s a hard tension and balance to be represented without stereotyping. I think if there were more ethnic creators- writers, directors, producers, etc that would help. Thanks for commenting!

  13. 1. Well, I grew up and live in a very diverse city, and when I was a kid I didn’t really think much about finding heroes as role models. That is, I didn’t take ethnicity into account when following them (I’m mixed Asian American, by the way). Then, the comics I read were mainly Spider-man, X-men, and Captain America, followed by the 90’s heroes cartoons. I agree with a lot of the other comments that it was never difficult to find a hero to look up to, but as I grew up and became more self-aware, suddenly criteria got to be a bit more specific and it was a bit tougher to actually identify with a hero.

    2. What do you think is the state of multicultural heroes in comics, TV, or film?
    I think that the state right now could be better, and in general, diversity seems to be increasing across all forms of media, even though portrayal can be different (I thought it was awesome how the Mandarin was done in Ironman 3! Toying with the old fu-manchu villain was great) It’s just a bit disappointing to see movies made with obvious problems in casting over the original minorities written for the role in the source material. I think the next awesome step would be just to take a hero for any upcoming film and just say “let’s make him this ethnicity.” Or for example, getting over the Green Lantern movie by making the next one John Stewart (who isn’t my fave lantern but I think would be best for the next movie).

    Comics are doing pretty well, but could be better, I think. I like that newer characters have been different, like the Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle, and more recently Simon Baz as the latest Earth Lantern. I remember not long ago, maybe a couple of years ago I filled out a survey for a research project on the state of Asian American heroes in comics and the ones I could recall (that were relevant characters), was small. I think though that comics have come up with ways to increase diversity as well by introducing new groups, but not really increasing ethnicity.. like the mutant population, or the Green Lantern Corps.

    Then again with regard to comics there was a huge WTF when I read the issue of Titans in which Ryan Choi got straight up murdered. (I’m also meh about the reasoning behind keeping Sunfire’s costume).

    3. I’d like to see more Asian American heroes, specifically more males, but females wouldn’t hurt either. I think it would be interesting to make Oliver Queen hapa, just change any yet-to-be produced movie superhero to an Asian American..

  14. 1. I’m mixed – Chinese/White and am often assumed by others to be white. Relating to superheroes growing up – i was always into Star Wars more than comic heroes (though i always thought Green Lantern and Flash and the Thing were the coolest), and didn’t get into comics until after college. i never really struggled for role models because of race or ethnicity, but sometimes struggled with that sense of fitting in – trapped by categories that didn’t apply to me and not quite fitting in anywhere. in college i joined a chinese-american student association, but always felt out because i wasn’t chinese enough (didn’t look it, didn’t speak it much)

    2. I think things are getting better with multicultural heroes in the media, but sometimes it is just skin deep – sometimes it still feels like tokenism or old stereotypes are still being perpetuated, like having black males always playing military/police/protector roles, willing to die to save the white folk, or the lack of romance and sex for males who are not white or the general sense of less than happy endings are ok for the people of color (like in Hancock, where the alien who is white gets to keep her life and family while the alien who is black has to move on and continue to be alone).

    3. changing comic book characters to have a new racial or ethnic background – frankly, i’d rather have new heroes, but in terms of popularity, the old heroes still dominate, so maybe re-booting them has some bigger impact, especially if their new identity is meaningful. i would like to see a hapa or mixed heritage character – someone trying to find their identity in a world that prefers to categorize, where even the character’s own kin treat the character as somewhat different (heh – most superheroes don’t have much in the way of living family members). Imagine if Bruce Wayne’s mother was a Latina or Middle Eastern – what would Bruce Wayne have faced in the business world? Would the US government treat him differently if Hulk was a black man on a rampage instead of a white man? But as others have mentioned, we need to see more diversity on the other side of the heroes: writers, directors, etc.

    Random extra – back in 2000, i came across this comic at Comic-Con by Jimmy R Smith:
    where in a future america, Those in Power use racial division to try to hide their real agenda for keeping the status quo for the rich and powerful , and it’s up to The Truth to stop them. kinda basic but engaging and eye opening. also, came with a cool soundtrack.

  15. 1. I’ve never struggled to find a hero as a role model despite, or perhaps in spite of my ethnicity (Taiwanese-American). Growing up, I was a Marvel fan through and through. The Marvel Universe was just chock full of conflicted & complex characters that I found more interesting, with Peter Parker being the one I really clung to. It wasn’t until I got to college when I noticed the relative lack of diversity in comic books & media in general, and I truly believe that has to do with how innocent we are as children. Children don’t see each other as different races, they see each other as other children, and at what age they’re taught to discern a difference in skin color and what to think about it is up to the parents. For me, the heroic archetypes are universal… the heroes transcend race because of their inherent goodness.

    2. The state of multicultural heroes in media today is better than it was, but we still have a ways to go. Of the three forms, I believe comics have progressed the furthest, as whenever I go to a comic book store I see more examples of diversity and fewer stereotypical representations than on TV or film. I think the comics industry is quicker to change because the creators are more aware and diverse, and the process to bring change is easier. TV seems to be the worst offender, with film in the middle.

    3. To me, this is a double-edged sword, because though I’d like to see more diversity and respectful representations of other cultures, I don’t think an iconic or popular character should be ret-conned or rebooted to be a different ethnicity just to promote diversity. For some reason that to me is a cheap means to an end. Would I feel better if the “New 52” Superman had darker skin & different facial features? Eh, I guess I could accept that since he’s an alien. Could I as easily accept a similar change to Bruce Wayne, perhaps making him African-American or Native-American? I don’t know. I do like how Marvel handled the new Spider-Man, and I think it’s because it’s truly a “new” Spider-Man and not just a different colored Peter Parker.

    Talking about diversity, or the lack thereof, in media today is definitely a worthwhile and complex topic. I do remember a time when many of the ethnic portrayals, on TV especially, were very stereotypical & not quite respectful. Sometimes that would find its way into my life in not so nice ways (being called a Japanese Jackass hurts when you’re 10), but I would always find strength in Peter Parker and shoot a clever comeback (“I’m Taiwanese, not Japanese, if you’re going to make fun of me at least get it right!”).

    Hope this helps, and I’m looking forward to this panel! I hope I can make it after Dr. Who 🙂

  16. 1. As a minority, have you ever struggled to find a hero as a role model? What was that experience like?

    As a woman, I can’t say that I’ve ever really struggled with finding a role model. When I was a kid, I didn’t even think about how all my favorite heroes were guys and I wasn’t – I just wanted to be like them. As I got older, I did think it was awesome when there were female characters in my favorite games (Jill Valentine and Claire Redfield, for example, since RE got me into gaming), but I was never really bothered that there weren’t very many. Even when I cosplay, I can cosplay as any character regardless of gender (although that might not be the case if I were a man, but luckily there are men out there willing to try and break that barrier).

    2. What do you think is the state of multicultural heroes in comics, TV, or film?

    There is definitely a need for more diversity in media, as our country is becoming more diversified. I think, though, sometimes the efforts to do so are misguided. There is so much focus on making sure there’s a 1:1 ratio of minority to majority that we get these token characters who have no depth and substance. A black Superman, for example, seems like a cheap gimmick to me. It’s a cop out, in my opinion, when I think our culture would benefit much more from a new and unique character who is black (or gay, or hispanic, or whatever) and that their race/sexuality/gender is part of their experience. Since the experiences of a young black boy are likely (not always of course) to be very different than Clark Kent’s, I would rather see a hero that has similar life experience, and how that shaped him into a hero – something those young men and women could relate to on more than just a surface level.

    3. If you could change any comic book character to be ethnic, who would it be?

    I like a previous comment’s point about the masks some heroes wear. There are some characters that could easily have their race/ethnicity changed without it being forced. For example, while I think Bruce Wayne shouldn’t change, the comics have established that he isn’t always Batman. You could easily create a new character who starts out as Robin (which they’ve already made female, twice) who later takes the cowl in Bruce’s place (which has also been done). Even if you rebooted one of the previous Robins (Grayson, Todd, Drake) to have a different ethnicity, then the only problem with the character would be if they were written terribly.

    4. If your not a minority, have you ever thought about this topic and what’s your perspective on it?

    To move forward and keep pace with the changes in our culture and society, we need to look beyond correcting the discrepancies of the past. Going back to change old mistakes will keep the media far behind what the next generation needs. When we look for the best way to adapt to the changing demographics of our country, we need to look at the next generation, or two or three, to see where we need to be, not where we have been. The fastest growing racial population in our country is not a single ethnicity – the highest rate of growth is with mixed race individuals. If we continue to only focus on the surface differences, we’ll miss the opportunity to connect with this group of individuals who don’t have a singular racial identity. They will look for characters who are more than just black, or asian, etc – they will be looking deeper into their heroes for that sense of commonality. At the end of the day, we don’t look for our heroes just because they look like us (because even if we match the characters race, skin tone, and gender, we will still look very different of course) – people look for heroes that they can relate to, and identify with, which is more than just our outer shell. And while the outer shell is important (it is, after all, the first impression we make on others), what we see in our heroes goes much deeper than that. If we don’t keep that at the forefront of the diversity conversation, then I think we risk losing sight of why the diversity conservation is important to begin with.

  17. Don’t have an answer to be productive to your post, but just wanted to point out that throughout my childhood of watching the X-men, I NEVER knew Jubilee was supposed to be Asian. That’s already pretty sad. Then I got even sadder when I thought about the whole “Asian = yay fireworks!” thing, haha.

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