How 'Shazam' became Hollywood's most diverse superhero movie yet

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment

After playing catch-up to Marvel Studios for a few years, the DC Extended Universe has pulled even with its distinguished competitor by embracing the diversity of its onscreen superheroes. 2017’s Wonder Woman was the first female-fronted superhero movie to cross the $400 million mark at the domestic box office, beating Captain Marvel to the punch by two years. Last year, Aquaman swam to a billion-dollar global gross on the back of its biracial leading man, Jason Momoa. Now the DCEU’s latest colorfully clad crimefighter, Shazam, is flying onto the big screen and bringing his equally colorful family along for the ride.

When he’s not flying around looking a lot like Zachary Levi, young orphan Billy Batson (Asher Angel) lives with a blended family of foster kids who hail from a richly diverse background. In that way, Shazam! can claim to be the first multicultural superhero clan to appear onscreen in a major studio comic-book movie, and that achievement delights Levi. “The fact that our movie in its own true DNA is about a foster family made up of a very racially diverse group of kids, and parents [means] we have a very cool privilege to represent a lot of underrepresented people. And that’s very groovy.” (Watch our video interview above.)

Jovan Armand as Pedro Pena, Ian Chen as Eugene Choi, Zachary Levi as Shazam, Jack Dylan Grazer as Freddy Freeman, Faithe Herman as Darla Dudley and Grace Fulton as Mary Bromfiels in Shazam! (Photo: New Line Cinema/Warner Bros. Pictures )

Shazam! director David F. Sandberg notes that the movie’s multicultural element comes right out of the comic-book pages — specifically the pages authored by DC Comics guru Geoff Johns, who revived the character in 2011. “That’s what makes it so great, that it is very inclusive and representative.” Adds producer Peter Safran, “Our film is about family and that perhaps a non-traditional family is just as good as the family that you think is the ideal family.”

(Johns purposely updated the original comic version of Shazam’s family, known as the Marvel Family, which was all-white.)

The original version of Shazam's foster family as they appear in the first issue of Marvel Family Comics (DC Comics/Fawcett)

Even Shazam’s nemesis, Mark Strong’s Dr. Sivana, can’t find anything wicked to say about the hero’s positive message. “We’re living in an age now where we’re all learning about inclusivity, and we’re learning about the fact that there have been many people excluded from the mainstream. That can only be a good thing. I want my kids to grow up and realize we’re all multi-hued and multi-colored.”

Shazam! is playing in theaters now. Visit Fandango for showtime and ticket information.

Yahoo Entertainment's Diversity in Hollywood 2019 Report

Read more from Yahoo Entertainment:

Want daily pop culture news delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for Yahoo Entertainment & Lifestyle’s newsletter.