News that there is indeed going to be a live-action Static Shock movie that leads to the question of who will play Virgil Ovid Hawkins/Static. Considering the limited amount of Black comic book characters that get to lead, not just star, in a comic book movie, the optics of this are very important—not just for Virgil, but his family and the world that surrounds him.
Virgil’s origin is rooted in a Black American experience, including both of his names. While the name Virgil Ovid Hawkins invokes the thought of Roman authors, he is actually name after Virgil D. Hawkins, a Black lawyer from Florida who was initially denied attendance at the University of Florida School of Law on the basis of his race. Likewise, Christopher Priest, who cowrote the Milestone bible with Dwayne McDuffie, suggested that the name “Static” came from the James Brown song of the same name.
McDuffie spoke often about the importance of creating the character of Static and what it meant for people to see themselves reflected in the comics they consumed. “You don’t feel as real if you don’t see yourself reflected in the media,” he told The Chicago Sun-Times in 1993. “There’s something very powerful about seeing yourself represented.” Virgil/Static was created to help shift the idea of what Black comic book characters could be, not only in terms of their personality but in the colors they were even drawn with.
“You only had two types of characters available for children,” said McDuffie, back in ’93, to the New York Times. “You had the stupid angry brute and the he’s-smart-but-he’s-black characters. And they were all colored either this Hershey-bar shade of brown, a sickly looking gray or purple. I’ve never seen anyone that’s gray or purple before in my life. There was no diversity and almost no accuracy among the characters of color at all.”
Color will also be an issue in who gets to play a live-action Static. Colorism is often brought up when it comes to women, but it matters for men, as well. Black men who are dark-skinned are often hyper-masculinized, painted as exceptionally aggressive and overly sexual. Virgil, while smart and geeky, is a multi-layered, dark-skinned Black teenage boy, and that matters. Static is also the perfect role for a new Black American actor who could use this as a chance to get a big break in this industry.
In a world where the industry seems to be getting smaller, with comic book movies taking on a bigger role, rather than dipping into an increasingly circular pool, I’d encourage, you know, not just casting John Boyega (save him for Jason Todd) and helping cultivate a new generation of young talent. We’re going to need a Young Justice movie, after all, in the next few years.
(image: DC Comics)
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