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Step aside, Superman

Will Black Panther lead to more diverse comic book movies?

The headlines don’t exaggerate.

CNN Money: “Black Panther crushes box office records in opening weekend.”

Forbes: “Black Panther: All the box office records it broke (and almost broke) in its $242 million debut.”

CBS News: “Black Panther shatters records during opening weekend.”

The latest superhero movie from Disney’s Marvel Studios earned a whopping $241.9 million over the course of its four-day holiday opening in North America ($40.16 million on President’s Day alone). And then Black Panther went on to earn another $21 million on the Tuesday after President’s Day — when many people were back at school or work.

Forbes reported that on the movie’s first weekend out, Black Panther already had beaten the lifetime domestic take for superhero films such as Doctor Strange, Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor. It may be on the way to surpassing many of the Spider-Man movies.

“I’m not surprised that it’s making all the money that it’s making,” said Frederick Luis Aldama, professor of arts and humanities at The Ohio State University, founder and curator of Planetary Republic of Comics and author recently of Latinx Superheroes in Mainstream Comics. “You’ve got an excellent cast and excellent writing and a huge marketing machine behind it.”

The success of Black Panther starring African American actors playing African characters in an exciting, well-written story inspired hope in Aldama, too: hope of even more movies with diverse characters and diverse stories.

Specifically, Aldama dreams of seeing some big-time movies starring Latinx characters — those representing Latin American identities — and depicting their cultures in ways as powerful and nuanced as those depicted in Black Panther.

“I’m always hopeful,” he said. “Maybe now we’ll start seeing some Latinx superheroes in the Marvel studio world.”

Maybe White Tiger?

Aldama pointed to White Tiger, a Marvel character originally created by artist George Perez and writer Bill Mantlo in the 1970s, as prime material for a future Latinx superhero movie.

Hector Ayala, a Puerto Rican studying in New York City, happens upon mystical amulets in the shape of a tiger’s head and paws. As White Tiger, he is known for his martial arts prowess and superhuman strength.

He is considered Marvel’s first Latinx superhero. Later, the amulets were passed down to Hector’s niece, Angela Del Toro, who assumed the identity of White Tiger. Hector Ayala’s younger sister, Ava Ayala, also adopted the White Tiger role at one point.

Of course, Aldama says there are other Latinx characters and compelling figures from other ethnic backgrounds as well whose stories could be told in a feature film.

Others have been portrayed already by white actors on the small and silver screen, such as Ghost Rider/Johnny Blaze, who was played by actor Nicolas Cage in a feature film but is also portrayed by Gabriel Luna in the television show “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Another possibility is Echo/Maya Lopez, a supporting character in the Daredevil comics who is deaf.

The key to the success of any such movie will be marketing, Aldama noted. Conversely, if studios don’t invest in those movies, it’s akin to setting them up to fail.

“Money talks; so maybe Black Panther will be our watershed,” Aldama said. “Maybe it will have that kind of ripple effect that we’re hoping for, across genres and across stories.”