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Superman’s New Purpose

Alum’s Movie Imagines Beloved Superheroes Fighting for Racial Justice

By Sala Levin ’10

screengrab from "The Black League of Superheroes"

Image courtesy of Marcus Nel-Jamal Hamm

Marcus Nel-Jamal Hamm ’03 plays all five characters in his new short film, "The Black League of Superheroes."

Growing up in Prince George’s County, Marcus Nel-Jamal Hamm ’03 devoured comic books and worshipped the classic, all-American superhero, Superman. Last summer, pained by the killings of unarmed Black people and moved by the Black Lives Matter protests, Hamm decided to turn to the heroes of his youth to send a message—with a twist.

His new short movie, “The Black League of Superheroes,” brings together several iconic superheroes, including Superman and Spider-Man, but this time they’re portrayed as Black men forming a new group poised to avenge violence and injustices committed against Black people.

“I felt my voice alone won’t be heard, but maybe since there’s so many fans of these characters, maybe if I speak through all five of these characters, somebody will listen,” said Hamm. 

Now an actor and filmmaker based in Los Angeles, Hamm, who had a small role in HBO’s “The Wire,” wrestled in high school and graduated to professional wrestling. He sometimes performed as the multiracial superhero Miles Morales, who stepped in for Peter Parker after the original Spider-Man was killed in one version of the Marvel comic book universe. 

During his time at UMD, in between professional wrestling gigs, he took a theater class that changed his life. After Hamm performed a scene from the musical “Chicago,” the instructor pulled him aside and told him, “Marcus, you’re not a wrestler, you’re an actor,” Hamm recalled.

The events of 2020 shook Hamm, who has endured his own moments of feeling that “it isn’t safe to be Black in America,” he said. Last fall, he wrote a script for the movie and filmed it with co-director Steven Alan Davis; Hamm played each of the superheroes himself.

“I just pushed the idea, like, ‘Could you film me playing multiple (roles), kind of like Eddie Murphy in ‘The Nutty Professor?’” Hamm said he asked of Davis. “And he said, ‘I can shoot anything.’”

Hamm hopes the 25-minute film will encourage viewers to consider multiple points of view and perspectives without automatically discounting the victims’ stories of police violence.

“I really just want people to think about (other) people and start really just accepting that there is a problem in this country,” Hamm said. 





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