How “Strange Fruit” Dangerously Missed the Mark

[caption id=”” align=”aligncenter” width=”316"]

Strange Fruit, Vol. 1 by BOOM! Studios.[/caption]

So yesterday, I had a lot to say after reading this post over on WomenWriteAboutComics:

You may be thinking “Gosh, CG, that’s a lot of contradiction in a tweet thread” and you may be right. There is no straightforward response in explaining why Boom studios’ Strange Fruit comic series pisses me off and makes me cringe. Instead, I can breakdown the myriad of reasons why it does so, with the hope that an essential question is asked:

should nonBlack creators be allowed to tell Black stories? And where is the line drawn between being insensitive and being a good ally?

To begin, we need some context. Strange Fruit, the comic, is a miniseries set for a four-issue release this year. The comic is written by J.G. Jones and Mark Weid, who also does the art. The series is produced by BOOM! studios, which also handles some of the most popular Cartoon Network cartoons-to-comics transitions, such as Adventure Time, and Regular Show.

BOOM’s Strange Fruit attempts to tell the story of a what ComicBookResources calls “Southern folklore”. The story focuses on a small Mississippi town plagued by heavy rains and the threat of freak flooding. A mysterious messanger descends from the sky and… well, strange things happen.

Now, immediately I have to introduce one of the many elephants in the room — bias. Every writer, creator, fan, and human being has a bias — this is because we are individuals that have been colored by our life experiences and our identities. It’s natural that any form of media that we encounter or process, is done so in the framework of our biases shifting the lens. But what is appauling and disturbing about BOOM’s Strange Fruit, besides the story (which I will get to in a minute), but it is the attempt to be unbiased in a culture that is not.

In J.A.’s post on WomenWriteAboutComics, she clears her bias from the beginning — and it is a major part of why so some may have found issue with her stance. I believe that as a Black woman, it is impossible for me (or J.A., or any other Black fan) to seperate that influence from our reading of comics. This also raises a question of privilege — have Jones or Weid done the same and informed their audiences with their own biases before giving us the story of Strange Fruit? No. And that’s part of their downfall.

The main problem I have with BOOM’s Strange Fruit is that it is graceless in its attempt to be unbiased and universal while telling a very centralized, specific story. As I stated in my above tweets, it would do more harm than good to limit everyone to creating characters or telling stories about people that only looked like them. In comics, too few creators of color are able to even show their talents to the mainstream, let alone tell our stories on a large scale. So what do we do? We must settle, and reel back some of that expectation and allow for nonBlack creators to crate three-dimensional, well balanced Black characters.

And it has been done. Many of the namesakes of the Black superhero roster — Storm, Black Panther, Luke Cage — were created by those who are not Black. And we love them all the more. But the line must be drawn when it comes to speaking for, or assuming ownership/posession of these stories. My stance is clear: unless you are living that experience, you have no right to tell that story over those who do live that experience.

BOOM’s Strange Fruit is deliberate in its carelessness of telling Black stories over those that are more equipped to do so. Even the use of the title — the term “strange fruit” itself stems from a long line of racist history that has been embedded into American culture. The obvious dismissal of this — or more, the deliberate glorification of using it as a selling point to “shock” readers into reading it — is dangerous and harmful. It mocks Black creators, reveling in the fact that others can do what we struggle to, with little regard to how hard our own fight is. Heck, even the way that the alien — who is in the form of a silent, superhuman Black man — raises questions about stereotypes and the potential for casual racism.

If the violence surrounding the Black community in 2015 alone has not been enough, the long history of lynching, dehumanization, and demoralizing of the Black community is enough to wager that BOOM’s Strange Fruit, even if it is being done “ironically” or to make a point, still contributes to the violence that Black people face in a world constructed delicately on their downfall to racism.

There are some that will disagree with my points; that will say that my bias is clouding me from appreciating what could very well be a great addition to the comics genre. But I stand with J.A, in her sentiment that, “Strange Fruit #1 could literally have been comics’ Second Coming of the Messiah and I would still think it shouldn’t have been made”.

Til next time,

CG

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