Netflix’s ‘Supacell’ Is a Bold and Daring Drama About Black Superheroes: TV Review

In his new Netflix series, “Supacell,” creator Rapman examines the lives of five ordinary Black South Londoners who develop unexpected superpowers. Though the excitement of supernatural abilities and the magic of science fiction ripple across the show, the series also explores major themes that disproportionately affect Black people, including human trafficking, extreme surveillance, pervasive global anti-Blackness and predatory medical practices.

“Supacell” opens with a distressing event. An older Black woman is seen running down a dark corridor dressed only in a hospital gown. As she steps toward the sunlight, she is gunned down. Her limp body is then dragged back through the facility as prisoners — all Black people — look on in horror from glass cells. From there, the setting transitions into more familiar territory. Viewers find themselves on the modern streets of South London, where we meet Michael (a stellar Tosin Cole), a package delivery courier anxious about proposing to his long-term girlfriend, Dionne (Adelayo Adedayo). Elsewhere in the neighborhood, Andre (Eric Kofi Abrefa) is determined to reconnect with his teenage son after his stint in prison.

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Meanwhile, Tazer (Josh Tedeku), a small-time gang leader, is plotting revenge against his rivals. Concurrently, Sabrina (Nadine Mills), a gentle and empathic nurse, is desperate for a promotion, though her sister Sharleen (Rayxia Ojo) warns her not to get her hopes up. Finally, Rodney (Calvin Demba), an aimless weed dealer, is struggling to make a living.

Michael, Tazer, Sabrina, Andre and Rod aren’t linked in any obvious way. Still, Rapman carefully illustrates how these individuals orbit around one another in various eateries and institutions in South London’s boroughs. Triggered by varied stresses and everyday anxieties, the five accidentally activate their differing powers — which all start with a flash of orange in their pupils.  What’s most interesting in “Supacell” is how each person uses their abilities. While Tazer and Rod quickly activate their newfound energies for personal gain, Andre is apprehensive about how to proceed. Meanwhile, Sabrina is horrified, especially when she inadvertently hurts someone. It is Michael, however, who has the most at stake. After inadvertently teleporting into the future, he learns he must connect with the other four if he hopes to stop a tragedy that will shatter his world forever.

Amid the onslaught of Marvel and DC Comics titles in film and on television, the superhero genre isn’t rare. “Supacell” has the familiar and sometimes predictable themes found in these types of projects, including ultraviolence, teamwork and hardships. Moreover, some small story beats lean toward the absurd, like Dionne and Michael’s luxury car and condo in London on a delivery driver and social worker salaries. Also, a club scene in Episode 3, “Sabrina,” showcases Sabrina leaving Sharleen alone on the club dance floor for a restroom trip, which would never happen.

Still, Rapman’s exploration of what it means for Black people specifically to gain powers makes the show unique. Throughout the series, Andre is forced to confront his criminal past as he struggles to maintain employment. Despite her competency as a nurse, Sabrina encounters both overt racism and sexual harassment at work. All of our heroes also contend with gang culture and knife violence in their South London neighborhood. Through all of this, while Michael is desperate to form a bond with his fellow heroes, they are all hyper-focused on themselves. As a result, “Supacell” considers how individualism has caused fractures in Western societies, specifically in Black communities that previously thrived because of collectivity.  The show also reflects on why our dependence on technology undoubtedly comes at a cost.

The series has an array of storylines and characters, but Michael and Dionne’s relationship stands at the heart of “Supacell.” The depth, intricacies and beauty of Black love are so rarely showcased on screen that seeing a young couple who has built a life together from their teen years into adulthood is beautiful to behold. Throughout the show, the audience is privy to the duo’s highs and lows and why our desire to shelter loved ones doesn’t necessarily spare them from anguish and hardship.

In December 2020, Black folks gathered on social media platforms to joke about receiving superpowers when, on the 21st of that month, Saturn and Jupiter aligned for the first time in 400 years, and Black Twitter was all abuzz saying the cosmic event would unlock extraordinary skills in Black people. It was wishful thinking, of course, but the memes, tweets and TikTok videos were enjoyable nonetheless. However, as “Supacell” suggests, for a community that has been continually victimized and discriminated against for generations, Black people gaining ultrahuman capabilities would generate an onslaught of various issues. In fact, it could quickly transform into a nightmare for the entire race, especially if those wielding true power in society use these distinct qualities for their own gain.

“Supacell” premieres June 27 on Netflix.

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