'Supergirl's David Harewood on Why Martian Manhunter Chooses to Be Black

Tomorrow night, The CW's latest superhero show, Black Lightning, debuts bringing DC Comics' first African-American superhero with his own standalone series to life. More than that, Black Lightning is unique in that it's a show written by and starring black talent, contributing -- much as Marvel's Black Panther does -- to a movement towards authentic representation and greater diversity in the genre of superhero entertainment.

But it's not just the heroes of Black Lightning that are making a difference. During the "The Many Shades of Heroism: DC Heroes Through the African American Lens" panel this weekend at DC in D.C., Supergirl actor David Harewood joined Black Lightning creators Salim and Mara Brock Akil as well as The Flash's Candice Patton and others in talking about the importance of black heroes and Harewood revealed that, when it comes to his character Martian Manhunter, there's powerful significance in how he presents himself.

“Here is a character that chooses to be black," Harewood said. "He's a shapeshifter, he could be anybody, but he chooses to be black. And I think he chooses to be black, particularly in this day and age, because he understands injustice, he knows what injustice is about and as one of the most powerful people on the planet, chooses to stand with those who are fighting injustice."

As Harewood notes, Martian Manhunter is a shapeshifter and can choose what human form he wants to represent himself, but he frequently appears even in comics as a black man and it's even been mentioned that he had gone undercover as a black man during the Civil Rights movement during the 1960s. And while there have been other forms Martian Manhunter has taken -- including an Asian female journalist named Hino Rei in JLA #27 -- the idea that one of the most powerful heroes in the DC Universe would choose to be part of a group of people who have experienced inequality and powerlessness adds a greater level of depth and meaning to the character.

It's meaning not lost on Harewood.

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"That's what's been wonderful for me to embody this person that could be anybody but chooses this skin and is proud to be wearing this skin," he said.

Supergirl airs Mondays at 8/7c on The CW.