Rapman Made A Clever Cultural Statement With The Powers In ‘Supacell’

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: June 29, 2024 (Last updated: 2 weeks ago)
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Where do the powers in Netflix's Supacell come from?
Supacell | Image via Netflix

Rapman’s Supacell is basically Top Boy meets the X-Men, with all of the cultural commentary you might expect from that premise. Set and filmed in South London, the show is firmly rooted in Black British culture, and its interpretation of powers — ranging from super strength to invisibility and telekinesis — is perhaps its cleverest idea in this regard.

While the execution of the powers themselves is pretty familiar, it’s how they develop that is intriguing. Even though the show hasn’t — yet; that may change with a potential second season — given too much detail away, it has given a simple outline of how the characters in Supacell acquired their powers and why they all seem to have certain things in common.

The Powers In Supacell Are A Mutation Of the Sickle Cell Gene

In the season finale of Supacell, one of the show’s villains, Ray, explains to Andre where the powers come from. Supacell is a mutation of the sickle cell gene.

Sickle cell is a serious and lifelong disease that is inherited — in other words, it is passed down through families, particularly those of Caribbean or African origins. All of the main characters in Supacell have sickle cell in their families, which is either mentioned in passing (Andre) or displayed outright (Michael’s mother.)

People who have sickle cell disease produce unusually shaped red blood cells. Serious flare-ups are called “crises”, and that specific terminology is mentioned multiple times in the series.

Quite how this gene evolves into the Supacell gene hasn’t been explained yet, but we do know that it causes a specific superpower to manifest. It can also lay dormant for a long time until it is “activated” by either extreme emotional stress or close proximity to another Supacell.

Why Are Supacell’s Powers A Cultural Statement?

Because sickle cell predominantly — though not exclusively — affects Black people from African or Caribbean backgrounds, it sometimes carries a negative, often racist connotation. It is also a big killer of people in the Black community, as though minorities didn’t have enough to worry about.

By making sickle cell the source of their superpowers, Rapman is taking a perceived weakness of Black people and turning it on its head. Where previously “only” Black people could fall victim to this terribly debilitating disease, now “only” Black people can evolve into outright superheroes. You can see how this might be a bit of an issue for an organization like… well, The Organization, all the employees of which seem to be white.

Taking something very specific to the Black community that is often used in a prejudicial context and making that the source of otherworldly power is a very smart way of politicizing the mechanics of superhero storytelling.

Are Some Characters In Supacell More Powerful Than Others?

While we’ve already met several characters with powers in the first season of Supacell, it’s clear this is only the tip of the iceberg and that there is plenty more still to learn about the show’s underpinnings.

Thus far, we can see that some characters are more powerful than others, but it seems to be based on random chance. We haven’t yet seen any evidence that the power one develops is specific to the individual, so it’s sheer luck who ends up being the most powerful.

In Season 1, Michael and Krazy Craig are head and shoulders the two most powerful Supacells. Michael has the ability to travel through time — among some other fun tricks — while Krazy is able to use the power of any other Supacell, which is how he ended up becoming the leader of the Organization’s Hunters.

While we’ve seen how each of the different powers can be very useful in specific circumstances, some being more widely beneficial than others has led, thus far, to two those two characters being pushed to leadership positions of their respective groups. What happens when someone with an even more impactful power is discovered?

Well, that remains to be seen.

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