Superman Ain't Coming: Capes, Heroes & Fighting Back
In 1998 a woman was hurled into the street by a man at least four feet taller than her, he slapped her in the face and as she cowered, he used his voice to wear her down. I watched with the rest of the village, Superman was on television, I was waiting for him or someone like him to save her, I think everyone else was too. A few seconds later she was on the ground wailing. I was angry at the man for beating the woman, I was angry at the other adults for doing nothing, and I was angry at superman. I noticed he never flew to Barbados and if he did come it would probably be for a holiday. I wanted to help her, and I wanted a cape.
The cape was not historically worn by crime fighters, as Edna Mode from the movie ‘The Incredibles’ so rightfully pointed out, capes are for pageantry only and do very little to aid the hero as they are a hazardous inconvenience. Unless of course you are Dr Strange, whose Cloak of Levitation behaves like a sidekick. The first uses of the cape were most likely practical and made of heavy materials to provide warmth, and in medieval Europe capes were often worn with a hood, which also made it easier to carry out suspicious activities late at night. In the 1930s a popular television show called ‘The Shadow’, showed how a cape could be used to conceal an identity while working as a vigilante and it was not long after this when superheroes wearing capes began to emerge in comic books. Capes were also used as a status symbol across multiple civilisations including the Aztecs where nobility would wear capes draped in colourful weaving embedded with lavish stones. In war, capes were used in early centuries by high-ranking officers, and today capes can still be seen in military wear. Overall, capes are heavily connoted with power and prestige, but like most power outfits these garments mean nothing if the person wearing them feels small and insignificant. Earlier this year at London Paddington, I watched a girl skip and run around her father wearing a cape over a princess dress. All that glittered was gold and the sequined gold trim was reminiscent of the Fendi 2022 couture collection, where gowns were draped in the fashion of Roman togas with a Superman palette. The girl was regal, fashionable and brave, I approved. Her father and I exchanged a joyous expression when the girl extended her flight around me, I asked her father where his cape was, and the conversation soon turned into an introspective and thoughtful experience. He told me, ‘My cape is somewhere in my wardrobe but I’m too afraid to look for it, I might have to put it on, or maybe it’s gone, or maybe it didn’t exist.’ When he finished, he immediately apologised for such a deep thought, so I reassured him that his profound words moved me. We continued our conversation, discussing what it meant to wear a cape and who has the right to believe they are “worthy” of wearing one. Communicating, really talking, is a beautiful thing, we should do it more often. The art of conversation is an underrated one these days. I digress. It turns out we both wanted to be superheroes when we were younger before we realised, we can’t save everyone. We spoke about the toxic cycle of abuse and how sometimes it is difficult to learn how to fight for others when you have seen the act of hushing and placation within personal spaces. At the end of our conversation, I asked if he thought he could put on a cape now and he said, ‘I think I should, this one here [his daughter] shouldn’t have to be the one wearing the cape. And you. Promise me you’ll start wearing one, real or not.’ I promised. I would have pinky-sweared but to be fair we only just met.
Life is not like Sesame Street.
At the time of this conversation I was spiritually on my knees; my voice was small enough to fit inside a turtle’s mouth. However, as the wise saying goes, ‘falling is an accident, but staying down is a choice.’ The conversation at London Paddington triggered the memory of the woman in 1998, and on the train journey home I remembered what happened next. I heard an awe-stricken crowd cheering on Superman for saving Louis Lane yet again, she would always be saved. I was no longer interested in a man who wasn’t interested in helping my people. The woman in real life who was on the floor wailing however did something extraordinary. She wiped her tears all by herself, without her gran gran. This, to me was profound. Then, she lifted herself off the ground and looked the man straight in the eye. I was awe-stricken, I was confused but most importantly I felt a warm glow and my hands slowly curling into fists. I was rooting for her, in my own child-like restrained way where I did not make too much noise because I am pretty sure I would have been told to stop watching the drama unravel. Back on her feet, this woman strode towards the man fearlessly and slapped him back. She slapped him so good she didn’t even need a slipper. My fists tightened; my head began to nod. Now let me make something very clear to you dear readers, I do not condone violence unless necessary when you are in fear of your life. This incident did not teach me violence, it taught me sometimes you must be your own victor and look deep within yourself because even your neighbours may not help you. The neighbours made their comments, they laughed, they jeered, but they did not help and my understanding of community and all the other songs I learned from Sesame Street were quickly dissolving. Life is not like Sesame Street. It is possible the man was also a victim, I never learned the whole story, which raises another problem. Sometimes a hero and a villain is dependent upon your perspective. When there are clear violations of human rights, fine, but when everyone has their own opinion on what justice looks like the waters can become muddy. I believe having integrity is not about being perfect but making the effort to learn from your mistakes and doing better so you can be a role model to the next generation. This is the only way we can truly live a meritorious life. Abuse is despicable and sometimes we continue the violation by staying down because we believe we deserve the abuse. Again, I do not know what happened, but there was something about the way that woman lifted herself off the floor which made me respect her. No matter what, we need to show up for ourselves and each other. On the train, I decided that I too would rise again and honour my agreement to wear the grand accessory because children should not have to be the only fearless ones willing to run after falling. The next day, I began planning my first cape. 1998 was the year I learned Superman ain’t coming and it was also the year I learned, he ain’t needed.
Dress by Agnes Mira Rosa. Photography by David Kwaw Mensah Make-Up by Rumel Make-Up Jewellery by Jagartha Studios & Victoria JB Hair by Akous