SXSW: Ta-Nehisi Coates Likens Captain America to Obama

Ta-Nehisi Coates GETTY - H 2016
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"He's somebody who believes in the ideal of America," Coates says of the Marvel character.

Ta-Nehisi Coates was interested in taking on Marvel's Captain America in a new comic book series because of the character's idealism. 

"He's like Barack Obama," Coates told a packed house during a Saturday afternoon keynote at the SXSW festival in Austin. "I want to clarify that. I don't mean that as praise or criticism. He's somebody who believes in the ideal of America — really, really believes in it." 

The author announced the new comic endeavor on Feb. 28 via a column in The Atlantic, where he is a national correspondent. In the essay, he wrote that "what is exciting here is not some didactic act of putting my words in Captain America's head, but attempting to put Captain America's words in my head." 

Coates, who has been a vocal critic of American politics, especially under President Trump's administration, explained further during SXSW why he wanted to tackle American idealism: "When you're writing comic books, you can't live in your place. You can't live in your world." 

He added, to laughs, "I wrote Black Panther and I don't want to be king of Wakanda." 

Jeffrey Goldberg, the editor-in-chief of The Atlantic and moderator of the discussion, asked Coates if since the release of the Black Panther movie, he has been approached by people who say, "Wakanda Forever!" Coates responded that a flight attendant recently did that to him. "It was great. I loved it," he said. "Anybody can do that anytime." 

Coates began writing the Black Panther comics for Marvel in 2016. He has also penned a spinoff, Black Panther and the Crew, that ran for six issues. 

He spoke highly of Ryan Coogler's film adaptation, which just reached the $1 billion mark at the global box office, noting that it shows the "very beautiful and intense relationship between black people across the diaspora." 

When asked about the politics of writing comics for Marvel, Coates said that enjoys the process of reading past comics to research a character. "You start with a story already in motion," he added. "I try to base it on what happened before. ... I love being part of some sort of bigger arc and bigger story. It's a lot of fun." 

During Coates' panel, which focused on journalism during the Trump administration, the author of Between the World and Me and We Were Eight Years in Power fielded questions about the role of activism in journalism, his relationship with Obama and the state of the mainstream media today. He said he's "oddly optimistic" about how the media has been covering Trump. "I see a lot less hesitancy about Trump than I've seen in the past," he explained.