Originally this started as a post talking about rumors of Zendaya Coleman being cast to play Mary Jane Watson in the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming movie, because for every
action, there is an equal, and opposite reaction Black casting of a historically white character there is an equal, and opposite internet backlash. I was going to make light of the situation and talk about how Zendaya would be walking on white tears.
How her MJ would have Peter Parker swinging through NYC listening to Beyonce (or Destiny’s Child), and getting their house party routine down, but I knew, within a week or a few months time, we’d be right back here. With a new Black or POC actor being allowed to play the role of a white character, and I could simply switch Zendaya and MJ out for the next two and so on, and so on. Every time a Black actor gets cast, the same minuscule arguments for why the actor can’t do this role appear (never anything detrimental to the character, mind you) and then comes the inevitable solution that always gets suggested:
“Rather than create a new and exciting character and exercise intellectual honesty, let’s just teach PoC that the best thing they can aspire to be is a white person. Makes perfect sense. And while diversity is the rallying cry of the year, I think Betty White should play Black Panther.”
Yo, why is Black Panther always the go-to in this reverse cast-ism argument? Black Manta would have been the perfect misdirect for that complaint. Whenever I see this “solution” I instantly think of the Black characters that were created by Marvel and DC Comics alike, for just this purpose, that are nowhere to be seen today. The problem with this assembly line of creating more and more new characters is that we end up with an abundant number of diverse characters with potential that become stuck in comic book limbo. Comic book limbo is basically the upside down from Stranger Things, where characters hang out in obscurity, which is why seeing a Black MJ, Ben Urich, or Nick Fury matters because if you grew up as a person of color and a comic book fan, you had no idea when you were going to see your favorite character again! I brought this up with The Crew returning in Marvel and one team member, Kasper Cole, making a cameo after a thirteen-year hiatus.
These characters aren’t just missing in action, they’re straight missing in fiction for decades. They literally become raisins in the sun, presented for the moment then left to dry out. There are so many characters of color created to have their stories told, once. I can sound off on a bunch of characters I grew up with (by grew up with I mean been scouring for shreds of cameos and appearances still to this day) and haven’t heard from in years…
“Rap Sheet show you Details of wars in streets
Where the most live catch Vibe and Blaze heat”
Created to be the Black Batman by Alex Simmons and Dwayne Turner, Gavin King was a Gotham kid that traveled the world and came back to help out in the city. His whole stance was Black people need to see themselves out there fighting crime as well, and Batman couldn’t be everything to everyone. Fam, King was my dude. Using disguises to get information from police, woke as fuck, worked as a TV producer by day, and my. man. was. hilarious. Not only did he have a ghost network as a crew behind him that was nice; I’m talking so nice that Oracle couldn’t hack them.
Gavin told that shit to Batman too (“Oracle is nice but my people are ghosts, breh”) and even asked if Robin was around ’cause he knew a partner that wanted some tips. I looked for this dude in every bat title after his debut in “Orpheus Rising.” Son didn’t appear till like a year later in an issue of Birds of Prey, then maybe once more before he was killed off in War Games. Yeah, a new character that got his story cut off after a year, fam. We didn’t get any expansion into the organization he was involved with that trained him or who anyone else who was involved.
“Next time get your facts right, Google me and act right”
Anita Fite showed up in the pages of Young Justice and she was flourishing with Peter David and Todd Nauck. She was the new member but had her own character development and back story: her father Donald Fite was an agent of a clandestine organization with his partner, Ishido Maad, Anita’s godfather. Anita became apart of Young Justice, delved into her own backstory, and even had her own villain, The Baron Agua Sin Gaaz that killed her mother, then later her father. When that happened, every teen hero in the DC Universe answered the call to ride with her and attack Zandia where she was hiding for the 187.
Anita’s story is fucking wild. She remains one of the most underused characters in DC Universe. She hit the scene with a unique set of mystical powers, her dual bladed emperor’s stick, plus she had the flyest and most intimidating outfit. Anita was well rounded, facing adversity being the new team member and getting treated a type of way from the member she “replaced” and working through that, death, vengeance and even dating Lobo/Slobo. Anita is a character still in her prime but stuck in comic book limbo since Final Crisis.
“They see me on the streets they be like “Yo he nice!”,
So I came to the game (“real name, no gimmicks”) Rap my living…”
Jakeem Thunder is the only reason I read Justice Society of America. The typical angry kid known for cursing, having an attitude, and being anti-authority was put in circumstances where he had to grow up real fast. Oh, plus he has a magical sprite Ylzkz can grant his every wish. Yeah, he wields top-level power but all he ever wanted was a friend and Ylzkz becomes his best friend.
Jakeem loses the edge on his shoulder, we see more of his back story: his father doesn’t know he was born, his mother died of cancer, and he was raised by his aunt but often left alone. We’ve seen the effect of Jakeem’s power but never full scale what he can do. We got a young Black boy wielding damn near god-level magic and haven’t heard a peep out of him in years.
Don’t think for a moment that the list stops there, I could keep going and drive the point home about the characters and their stories that aren’t continuing. Back in 2002, there was an issue of Superman (Vol.2, #179) that introduced a character named Muhammad X that Superman ran into in Harlem. The story centers around Muhammad X stating, “Superman doesn’t come up to Harlem,” and Clark pondering if there isn’t enough representation or people of color superheroes being seen, or recognized, or that he’s actually hurting the Black community by helping. It’s a comic on race but whose story are we talking ’bout here though? Muhammad X’s story? If it’s his story then why is he only in 4 pages? This new Black character was made but we ain’t hearing further into his side of things of the issue. Not fully, at least, or what brought him to his belief. Nah, this is for Superman’s development.
That issue took place in 2002; it’s now fourteen years later and that is the only appearance of Muhammad X. In 2011 there was supposed to be a story about Superman coming to the aide of Sharif, a hero that was a follower of Islam that was receiving pushback from the people (Americans) he’s trying to help. That story didn’t drop because it didn’t fit the current story of Superman walking across the United States in search of the real America. Breh, if you want the real America, it ain’t gonna get any realer than Islamophobia (don’t worry racism, we see you too). You can’t tell us we need new heroes for our stories to be told when the heroes already exist and aren’t getting an opportunity to tell the story because they get killed off (Ryan Choi, James Rhodes), sidelined (Eli Bradley, Crimson Avenger II), or shut down before they even have a chance. Meanwhile, we’re just waiting and hoping they appear again somewhere.
Which is why it’s so important in film when a person of color is the best actor for the job and gets cast for a historically white role. The average comic book reader has likely never heard of anyone I’ve listed thus far; none of these characters are ever going to have a film to call their own if they’re even lucky enough to make it to television (shout out to Icon and Rocket on Young Justice). Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to see Riri Williams take over as Ironman and Luna Lafayette as the smartest person in Marvel, but let’s not act like there isn’t a pattern when the new hero of color comes in on a legacy slot. Peter Parker was dead for years in Ultimate Universe when Miles took over… then came back (as the title was ending, mind you). Sam Wilson was Captain America until Steve was restored, and now shares the title of Captain America.
Kamala Khan took over Ms. Marvel’s legacy and is safe because there is no one to contest that slot with her. The status quo only changes for about two years. Riri will take over Ironman for about two years, then Tony Stark will come back and she’ll become the new Rhodey (who isn’t coming back to life). This isn’t me complaining, I’m just pointing out a pattern a white consumer may not be aware of while their favorite character has three separate titles to flood the market with their story.
But now we get a Black actor playing Mary Jane Watson? Or let’s say hypothetically it was a Black actor playing Batman or Spider-Man? Now you care because it’s a character you know. A character you grew up with is Black and you don’t how to act or what to feel now that you’re directly affected. You can’t claim color blind anymore fam, ’cause now it’s at your front door. I’ve gotten into a discussion with a family member who preferred a white comic book character be cast as a white actor.
Me: That’s fine, you’re entitled to your opinion. Tell me why though.
Them: They’re white in the comics. That’s what I grew up with.
Me: None of that is dire to the character.
Them: Alright, then why can’t Tom Hanks be Black Panther?
Me: Why is it always Black Panther? We can agree there’re more white heroes in Marvel than Black, right? Let’s say hypothetically there’s a team of two thousand white heroes and a team of four hundred Black heroes. Which team does it make more sense to trade from?
If your argument is “because that’s the way it’s always been,” you don’t have an argument. Making fictional characters white is not a time-honored tradition of religious significance. Your comfort zone isn’t detrimental to the character either. Look at the formula for all the Marvel movies so far too. The majority are cis white male leads, with the Black friend (Rhodey [Cheadle], Falcon [Mackie], Karl Modo [Ejiofor]). So, what you really trying to say is, it’s cool when we’re the support, but we can’t be the lead, *Cough* EvenThoughBladeActuallySetAllThisShitOffButWhatever *Clears throat* or a major character because a Black person displaying emotions just doesn’t translate to your “comfort zone” and it’s going to be Rue-gate from Hunger games all over again.
“Like the ONLY reason you don’t give a shit about this character you loved and cried about while you were reading is that she’s black [cue Michael Jackson’s man in the racist ass mirror]”- Nicole Homer
I’ll never forget when I saw this tweet. You can say, “but Rue isn’t real,” but if that’s what you’re thinking for a fictional Black girl being killed I can only imagine how news of Black women like Sandra Bland, Korryn Gaines, Jessica Williams or Black trans woman like Mya Hall were killed and they still felt nothing because when you’re Black and you die it’s just not as sad. “Muh fuckas never loved us,” and to use something as trite as hair color or ethnicity to prevent their come up is just petty wap, man. I know I could keep listing more sidelined heroes, I could keep hitting ’em with the bars, but you reading this piece and me writing it, both know this argument isn’t going to change.
“They have to leave a breadcrumb trail from the white characters they love to the black characters they might not maybe won’t hate and all those crumbs are made out of respectability politics”- Nicole Homer
It will be a new actor of color portraying a historically white character next month, same backlash, and we’ll be right back here in this nonexistent post-racial Groundhog’s Day cycle. We’ve got a lot of Black and POC characters from independent artists and writers flooding the market now as well. This is not to take anything away from them doing the damn thing because they’re providing that route we need. This argument is strictly from the consumer standpoint toward the Marvel and DC Comics because now we as consumers have social media to give us megaphone of our voice.
We are not critiquing the patterns to be petty. Everyone can love art and still see where it needs to be improved upon and inclusive towards its intended audience. But fuck me though, right? I’ll just get ready to re-edit this for the next great race casting debate, and the next one, and the next one…