I Want to be the Superhero, not the Super Magical Negro

T
6 min readNov 19, 2019

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Black women deserve better representation. We are not your mammy, sassy, best friend, or your magical negro. We can be superheroes too!

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

It feels very obvious to say this, but I guess not a lot of people don’t understand this concept, but… black girls are NOT a monolith. There’s not just one way to write about us. We cannot just be summed up as one character or one kind of person in books, TV shows, or films. There are hundreds of millions of black girls on this earth and not a SINGLE one of us are the same, so why doesn’t that reflect in the way we are represented in popular culture? This is something that has always bothered me throughout my life, especially when I was younger because I would watch shows like the original Teen Titans, The Powerpuff Girls, or even Danny Phantom and wonder why there was not a single badass, black girl in these fictional universes. Like, you mean to tell me that you couldn’t write in ONE black girl with dynamic and interesting role into these shows? How hard can it be to be inclusive and give black girls the representation we deserve? It’s not like black girls DON’T watch fantasy, sci-fi, or superhero related tv shows, so why not let us see ourselves represented in these original, action-driven, and exhilarating universes rather than force us to project ourselves onto a character that looks and is described as NOTHING like us. I think what’s even worse than not including us into these fictional, fantasy universes at all is creating black, female characters that follow a stereotypical and racist trope. You could’ve given me a plot, some character development, kickass superpowers, and an interesting yet relatable personality that’s not dependent on anyone else, and instead you gave me the sassy, secondary character with no mention of having a family, personal interests, hobbies, or a life outside of being the main protagonist’s magical negro, mammy, and disposable best friend. We hate to see it.

But, the reason why I wanted to write this article was to discuss how when black women are ACTUALLY written into fantasy or superhero-related shows, books, movies, or TV shows that are usually given to our white female counterparts, there’s ALWAYS a racist backlash from the general public that occurs because people don’t believe that black women belong in such dynamic roles. People would much rather abuse and attack black female fans who champion these steps toward positive representation of black women in these kinds of content rather than appreciate them for actively being inclusive and finally giving black women the representation we deserve.

It’s disheartening that we have to go through so many barriers, endure harassment, beg story writers and casting directors to write our stories properly, and receive vile, racist remarks from the people who don’t believe that black women deserve interesting characterization. Why is it that every time black women are hired to play a role in these kinds of TV shows, movies, or books, they’re only the secondary, super-duper magical negro that comes to the rescue?

Why can’t we just have a black, female character who is ALREADY the hero and not the one who has to clean up the mess for her white counterparts? Let’s have less Trixie Carter from American Dragon: Jake Long, Davida Kirby from Spider-Girl, Chloe Flan from Sabrina: The Animated Series, and Monique from Kim Possible. And, instead more Abbie Mills from Sleepy Hollow, Anna Diop as Koriand’r (Starfire) in Titans, Tessa Thompson in Thor: Ragnarok as Valkyrie, Maia from The Effigies, Vixen from Legends of Tomorrow, and Storm from the X-Men Comics.

There has been a plethora of racist responses directed against characters like Anna Diop as Koriand’r (Starfire) in Titans, Tessa Thompson in Thor: Ragnarok as Valkyrie, Zendaya in Spider-Man: Homecoming as Mary Jane Watson, to more recently — Halle Bailey’s casting as Ariel in The Little Mermaid. All of the backlash from angry, racist trolls was because these were previously either white characters or characters without a racial identity that were cast as biracial/black women. We’re slowly yet surely seeing black women in more fantasy and superhero related content, yet people still manage to be bitter about it. Regardless of how incredibly talented and well-ranged these actresses are, they’ve received an outpour of hateful and discriminatory comments as people expressed their disdain towards this obvious lurch towards representation and diversity. Black women who voice how important these acts of inclusion are in film are often met with messages telling them that black people don’t belong in these kinds of fantasy roles, that these black actresses can’t act, or that these roles should’ve gone to someone more talented (and whiter). It’s just another tactic that people use as an attempt to convince black women that we are not smart or good enough to have an open discourse about different elements of pop culture, that we should just stay in our lane, and that we’re undeserving of these roles. It’s disgusting, but all the more proof that black women are constantly berated and dismissed for just wanting fair representation and not ones that characterize us poorly.

On top of that, we don’t usually get to see a black woman in leading positions who not only have dynamic and interesting roles, but also have a lot of speaking parts that don’t revolve around their white counterparts. Quite often, when we see black women in tv shows or movies, they are relegated to the secondary roles where they are forced to perpetuate negative black stereotypes, like being aggressive, hyper-sexual, bitter, aimless, and so on. This is why Candice Patton playing Iris West in The Flash was so essential to so many black fans. She may not be the main superhero, but she is still a super character. She’s not only a well-renowned journalist, but she’s also the leader of Team Flash. It’s not often that we see a black woman in a superhero show who gets to be carefree, intelligent, desirable, silly, and so much more. It was super important for The Flash’s black female fans (also known as the Iris West Defense Squad) to ensure that Iris’ character remained as she was and wasn’t pushed into the backseat of the show as many hating, racist fans wanted and even demanded from the producers and cast-writers to do (despite the fact that her character did get played a few times). The Iris West Defense Squad’s purpose was (and still is) driven dual functions: the typical love of their fan object intertwined with a desire for racial visibility on screen that when put into action mobilizes them to fight for good characterization both within the series and as an identificatory model of their Black female selves.

Black women just want to be able to talk about what they love and ensure that they have the representation on screen that they deserve. It’s especially important for black girls to be able to see such powerful and dynamic characters in a leading role being able to experience the ups and downs of life without their entire storyline being riddled by trauma and racist tropes, especially in a universe as unique as those in comic books or fantasy worlds. Black women are complex and multi-layered in age, personality, body type, complexion, sexual orientation, and so on, just like everyone else and so we deserve representation that displays that. Enough is enough of the invisibility and devaluing that black women are subjected to. We will not accept racist and stereotypical tropes nor our erasure in popular culture because we deserve better than that. We deserve for our voices to be heard, for our faces to be seen, and for fair representation. Black women CAN be superheroes too!

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