Black History Month is the time of year when we pay special attention to the achievements of African Americans in our society. People like Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Frederick Douglass, who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I’ve noticed. But there’s another prominent black American who has routinely been ignored for his contributions, and it’s time we fix that. I’m talking, of course, about Meteor Man.
Now who, you may be wondering, is Meteor Man? Meteor Man is a superhero created by writer/director Robert Townsend who debuted in a self-titled 1993 film that is truly an important and underrated piece of Hollywood history. The titular hero is a Washington, D.C. teacher portrayed by Townsend who receives super powers after being struck by a meteor. With his newfound abilities, Meteor Man decides to clean up his neighborhood, which is under de facto rule by a vicious gang. Sounds like pretty generic superhero stuff by today’s standards, but back in 1993 there had been exactly zero studio films starring black superheroes — making Meteor Man the first of its kind.
Meteor Man wasn’t exactly a hit with critics, as few kid-focused superhero movies are. And although the PG-rated movie is certainly cheesy at times, it deserves loads of credit for proving there was no reason why people of color shouldn’t be given the same opportunities as their white counterparts to play superheroes, and by shattering that glass ceiling it helped pave the way for films like Blade, Hancock, and Black Panther, which is expected to be a massive blockbuster for Marvel next year.
Meteor Man also deserves some credit for not only featuring a black superhero as its lead, but for not shying away from tackling some controversial issues. The film’s main plot centers around the hero’s battle against gang violence and drug use in his inner city neighborhood, and touts police reform and community cooperation (in addition to superhero intervention) as ways to deal with such problems. Although its handling of these complicated issues may be clumsy at times, at least the film was trying to start a conversation.
So while Luke Cage and Black Panther may get the praise and headlines today, they might not exist were it not for the revolutionary and forgotten Meteor Man – Hollywood’s first black superhero.
You can catch Meteor Man on COMET, Sunday, February 19, at 6 p.m.