Casting Superman For J.J. Abrams’ Reboot

A new Superman reboot is on its way, courtesy of producer J.J. Abrams and his Bad Robot label, so who should play the Man of Steel? Ta-Nehisi Coates will pen the new Superman flick, which will feature a Black Superman.

While Henry Cavill has expressed continued interest in donning the Superman cape, this latest take on Superman will be a complete reboot of the character. It’s an intriguing announcement that makes Coates’ involvement all the more exciting, as his work on comic book series like Captain America and Black Panther has been lauded for its high-wire combination of action and politics. Superman has long been considered a difficult character to adapt for the big screen, but a Black Superman could open up a whole range of possibilities, helping to make the character feel fresh again.

The reboot’s relationship with the DC Extended Universe is not entirely clear. With the DCEU also bringing in its own Supergirl, it may be abandoning Superman entirely. It’s also possible this new Superman will come from the multiverse, and could therefore maintain a connection with the DCEU. DC has found greater success with its standalone films as of late, so a standalone Superman story may not the worst thing for the character. For its part, DC Comics has recently begun emphasizing its first Black Superman, Calvin Ellis, who was first introduced in 2009 as an ode to President Barack Obama. Still, there is no clear indication as to who the reboot’s Superman will be. The new Man of Steel could be another iteration of Clark Kent, but it is perhaps more likely that Ellis (or a character similar to him) will be making his big-screen debut. So, who should play the new Last Son of Krypton? Here are a few options.

Michael B. Jordan is perhaps the hottest name attached to the upcoming Superman reboot, and understandably so. He’s one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, and he has an extensive list of big-budget fare already on his on resume. He starred in 2015’s Fantastic Four as Human Torch, and more notably played Eric Killlmonger in 2018’s Black Panther. Outside of the superhero genre, Jordan is known for his work as Adonis Creed in the Creed franchise, as well as his terrific turn as Oscar Grant in 2013’s heartbreaking Fruitvale Station. Jordan’s body of work includes a diverse range of characters, but one thread remains consistent: they are all strong, empowering Black figures. A Black Superman will almost certainly be forced to navigate racial tensions in America, and Jordan has always embraced those sorts of conversations in his work. He has previously communicated with Warner Bros. about the possibility of a Black Superman film, as he is a huge fan of the character, but the talks fell through due to creative differences.

There is even a more practical reason he could don the red cape, as the reboot wouldn’t be his first collaboration with Ta-Nehisi Coates. One of Jordan’s next projects is the Ryan Coogler-directed Wrong Answer, from a script by Coates, who is said to have bonded with both Coogler and Jordan as a result of their work on the film, as well as their shared investment in the Black Panther franchise. Coogler is a similarly exciting candidate to direct the new Superman film, but Abrams and Bad Robot may be inclined to distance themselves from the MCU darlings and pursue some lesser-known options.

When it comes to casting a character like Superman, sometimes it’s as simple as finding an actor who flat-out looks the part. Enter Dear White People star Brandon P. Bell, whose broad shoulders and chiseled frame make him a prime candidate to play the Man of Steel. Bell’s performance as Troy Fairbanks forces him to constantly traverse good and evil as Troy tries to find his place at Winchester University. On one hand, Troy is the Dean’s son, and is privileged as such. But he is also a closeted gay man who wants to fight for racial equality alongside the very same students who revile him. It’s a tricky balancing act that Bell navigates to perfection, and it’s not too dissimilar to the kinds of situations superheroes so often find themselves in, particularly as it relates to their secret identities. If Coates’ comic book work is any indication, his Superman will almost surely see his allegiances stretched and his identity threatened by the likes of Lex Luthor, and Bell absolutely has the chops to bring such a story to life. Bell also starred in Hollywood Heights on Nick at Nite in 2012 and has more recently seen bit roles in shows like Insecure and Traitors. If DC wants a relative newcomer to adopt the Superman mantle, Bell could be a perfect choice.

Ever since breaking out in Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning Moonlight, Trevante Rhodes has rapidly ascended through the Hollywood ranks, and for good reason.  His performance offered an unprecedented depiction of masculinity, one that is soft and tender and grounded in self-reflection. Superhero films are especially guilting of perpetuating a very specific form of masculinity, but with a poetic writer like Coates attached to this reboot, a more soft-spoken actor like Rhodes could be an intriguing choice. Besides, Rhodes remains in search of a signature role, one that could truly bring his career to the next level. Could Superman be that role? Rhodes does have plenty of experience in action flicks, playing supporting roles in movies like Bird BoxThe Predator, and 12 Strong. He is consistently captivating in every project he appears, evincing a calm yet confident demeanor that could ultimately contribute to a revolutionary take on the Man of Steel.

Stephan James is the youngest actor on this list, and could therefore be the perfect choice if Coates’ script calls for a more youthful rendition of the Man of Steel. James received critical acclaim for his performance as Walter Cruz in Amazon Prime’s Homecoming. As Walter, James had to stealthily navigate the inner workings of the Homecoming Transitional Support Center as he came to terms with his PTSD. It’s a complex performance that suggests James could more than handle his own in a similar sci-fi setting, particularly as that setting will likely call for a similar push and pull between two very different facets of a character’s life. James also gave a great performance in Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk, as well as the Jesse Owens biopic Race. At just 27 years old, James could provide DC with a worthy long-term option as Superman.

William Jackson Harper is already universally beloved for his performance as Chidi Anagonye in NBC’s The Good Place, which wrapped up its final season in 2020, but his star is sure to keep rising in the years to come. Harper proved his comedic chops as Chidi, hamming up the character’s hilarious indecisiveness throughout the show’s four seasons. He also, however, injected Chidi with a degree of sentimentality not often seen in sitcoms, and has been recognized for his accomplishment ever since. In 2019, Harper turned in excellent supporting performances in both Midsommar and Dark Waters, again demonstrating his knack for both comedy and drama. If Abrams and Coates want to offer a more comedic spin on Superman, Harper is the obvious choice. Besides, if this reboot is about a Black version of Clark Kent, after all, it’d be hard to turn down Harper and his signature thick-rimmed glasses.

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