Rapman Explains the Special Significance of Supacell’s Title

There's a deeper meaning to these superpowers. Spoilers.

Cast of Netflix's Supacell
Photo: Netflix

Warning: contains spoilers for the Supacell finale.

Supacell’s finale is action-packed, including the kind of big superpower smackdown we were promised from episode one. But among all that, there was a huge reveal that slipped by almost so quickly you might not have noticed – the reason for the show’s name.

The reveal comes when the super strength-wielding Andre is taken into custody by the mysterious organisation that has been monitoring Supacell’s powered individuals. As Eddie Marsan’s politely sinister official attempts to recruit Andre, he tells him, “At least one of your parents had sickle cell, or they both had the trait. And supacell is a mutation of sickle cell. It’s very rare, and even if you have it, it can lay dormant in your body forever. But it can also awaken, given the right conditions. Close proximity with another activated supacell is most common.”

The breadcrumbs for this reveal have been laid throughout the series, from the title of the show to Michael’s own mum being treated for sickle cell.

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Secret Origin

It was a decision that Supacell’s showrunner, Rapman, made early on for the series, based on all the superhero stories he had already seen.

The big thing for me watching all the superpower films and superheroes from childhood to adulthood is that I always wondered where the powers came from,” he tells Den of Geek. “Even in stuff like Heroes they never explained where the powers came from. We just met them with powers and never understood, and no one argued because sometimes you just don’t know why. But I wanted mine to mean more.”

A good superhero origin story is tricky at the best of times, especially when you want to introduce a lot of superpowers at once, as Rapman did with Supacell.

The first thing I did actually, after I built the world, was I chose the powers that I wanted to be in the show,” Rapman says. “If you go down the route of the character first, you could be there forever. So instead I picked these five powers that are my favourite powers. Then I distributed them to who would make the best storytelling with this character and that power.”

Sometimes this was about choosing powers that would help the character in their life, like Rodney whose speed power lets him be anywhere at any time, making him the most in-demand weed dealer in South London. For others the opposite is true – Andre quickly discovers that in real life super strength has very few practical applications. Michael meanwhile, with his ability to manipulate space and time, essentially has the power of “super editing”.

“Someone like Michael he didn’t need an offensive power, but he needed a power where he could get from A to B without us watching six hours of someone driving from his house to here to here to here,” Rapman says. “So it made sense. If he could teleport that saves us a lot of time and we could use that to really work on the story.”

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A Real-Life Mutation

Of course, one of the most famous triggers for a storyteller who wanted to unleash a whole lot of superpowers at once is genetic mutation, as used in the X-Men stories. Rapman wanted to tell a story about Black people with superpowers in South London, and so it made sense that he was drawn to a real-life mutation that predominantly affects Black people.

Sickle cell disease is a blood disorder passed on genetically and marked by flawed haemoglobin – the protein in red blood cells which carries oxygen around the body. The blood cell is unable to carry enough oxygen, and literally changes from a sort of flattened doughnut shape to a kind of sickle shape. That goes on to cause other problems. Because the blood cells are a different shape, they are more likely to get filtered out by the body’s own spleen. They can block small blood vessels, damaging the supply of healthy blood and causing the patient pain. And these blood cells live only ten to twenty days, compared to a lifespan of 120 days for healthy blood cells. So as well as pain, this puts the patient at risk of chronic anaemia and leaves them vulnerable to infections.

“The big thing with sickle cell is that it affects Black people predominantly, right?” he says. “And I never understood why, and I went down a big rabbit hole before the show wondering why there’s a disease that only affects me. What is the difference between dark skin or white skin? My skin’s a few shades darker than yours, but I get this disease because of that? It just never made sense. So I said, ‘You know what? We’re gonna spin this on its head. How about we raise awareness and make that the source of the power?”

Ironically, sickle cell has been found to have advantages of its own. The condition originates from geographic areas where malaria is common, and the blood of people with sickle cell has been shown to be more resistant to the disease.

But by using sickle cell as the source of the powers in Supacell, Rapman also creates a space to tell stories about Black people, Black communities, and the obstacles they can face in a racist society. It was a story that Rapman wanted to tell in response to current events, but while the process of making the story was longer than expected, its themes are just as relevant today.

“It was at the same as George Floyd just got murdered. That hit the Black community hard and we were like ‘Enough is enough’,” Rapman recalls. “At the time I didn’t know it took four years to make a TV show, I thought that if I started writing it now it’d be out by the end of the year and that’ll be my contribution to lifting up the community. Now it’s four years later, obviously, but it still means very much to me that the whole of the community’s going to take it in.”

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Supacell is streaming now on Netflix.