Today’s guest post is from a friend. He’s a dad in an interracial relationship with two kids. Mark is a very thoughtful man, someone who I am proud to have guest posting on my blog. He’s not a blogger. But he is an author and shares a male/dad point of view on how media affects him and his children’s outlook on life.
A couple of weeks ago, my kid told me some things that made my geek dad heart soar for about a minute, until some grim realizations sunk in.
On our way to pick up a Saturday night fast food dinner, my daughter decided to take the opportunity to workshop a comic book story she planned to flesh out later. It centered on all of the members of our family having superpowers. She gave me super strength, her mother super intelligence, and her brother super speed. “But what about me?” she wondered. “I know! I have a great imagination, so I’ll be like Green Lantern. I’ll have a ring that lets me do whatever I imagine!”
This thrilled me because Green Lantern typically gets less love than other super heroes. Batman, Superman, Spider-Man and so many others are very evident and obvious in their powers and how those powers manifest. It can be difficult for younger children to understand a superhero whose power stem from his will and his mind. So I had a big grin when she said that. Points to me and her for picking Green Lantern!
It’s too true that pride goeth before a fall though, because the thought that followed that one shook me out of my joy. One day my daughter will open up a Green Lantern comic – or really any mainstream comic book – and quickly realize that no one looks like her…because she’s a young black woman.
Before I go forward with this blog entry, let me go back in time a bit.
In the spring of 1984, I wandered into a 7-11 and saw the first issue of Marvel’s Secret Wars, the forerunner for pretty much every epic comic book crossover. I knew that comic book represented a special moment when first I saw it, and it took me about twenty-five years to find an additional layer of specialness in it: the cover to Secret Wars #1 features three black super heroes, none of whom are related and none of whom are good friends – they aren’t even all on the same team . I don’t know if this is something that has been repeated on a comic book cover – mainstream or independent – since that time.
And there’s still another layer of awesome to that cover: two of the three are black women. If you’re not trippin’ yet, hold on because I’m about to take you still deeper: yep, there’s another layer to this cover, though it involves things that happened after the issue hit the stands. Those two black female superheroes would later go on to be leaders of their respective teams.
This is all excellent, right? You’d be forgiven if you found yourself thinking that over the course of 30 damn years, we’d have seen a nice upward trajectory for the representation of black women in comics and speculative fiction (sci-fi/fantasy books, TV shows, movies and video games).
But I wouldn’t be writing this guest blog entry if we had.
I wish I knew what happened. I suspect that much of what Sojourner Truth and bell hooks have said about how women of color, black women in particular, are forgotten when progress is made for women has played a role. I know that if the comic book industry let me write The Fantastic Four, given the metaphors and social commentary inherent in the nature of the characters (e.g., the brash young man is fiery, the loyal friend is rock solid), I’d make the Invisible Woman be an African-American woman.
After all, where are the prominent black women in some of the larger speculative fiction properties of the last few years? I’ll wait while you count them in Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Disney’s Princess line, and Star Trek.
Okay, I gave you time to think about all of those properties, each with many dozens of characters, many with very strong female characters, and I bet you still came up with only a few more than that funny book featured on its cover in 1984 – and you likely accomplished that by getting fuzzy with definition of “prominent”. Some of the only speculative fiction properties that do feature a black woman in a major supporting role – for example, The Walking Dead and Sleepy Hollow – are way too intense to share with my daughter.
Confession time: I don’t know what happened…and I don’t know what to do about it. I’m a writer, but I’m also the Man in Black to the publishing world: I am no one of consequence. (I’m also smiling because I am not left-handed.)
I know that many authors and directors simply don’t listen when one raises this issue. By contrast, when Lena Dunham got called out for the lack of black women in Girls, she didn’t immediately go on the defensive/offensive or offer lame excuses about marketing and “numbers,” she acknowledged the problem and indicated that she’d give some thought to how to make it better. The only speculative fiction creator I could see responding in that manner to a similar call out is, in the immortal words of David Tenant as the 10th Doctor, “good ol’ JK.”
Ultimately, I guess I have to content myself with this knowledge: for all their imagination and the awards the Powers That Be behind so many of these properties give themselves for their epic imaginations, the fact that my daughter can see herself as a prominent superhero while they cannot means that if a dying alien with an artifact of incredibly advanced science ever crashes on Earth and seeks a worthy human being to wield the power of that artifact, my daughter is far more likely to be chosen than any of them.
 The three are Iron Man (Jim Rhodes, played first by Terence Howard then by Don Cheadle in the movies), Storm (of the X-Men), and Captain Marvel (the backstory to that name and the character who claimed it at that time would take up more space than I have for this blog entry; long story short, in 1984, Marvel Comics’ Captain Marvel was a black woman from Louisiana).
Mark Power-Freeman is the author of The Face Value Blues, a sci-fi/fantasy novel set in the Jazz Age. In his day job, he’s a creative director at a design consultancy company located in Austin, and he’s dabbled in everything from acting and modeling to screenwriting to tech support to teaching.
This guest post is part of a series for Black History Month where writers/bloggers talk about their feelings and thoughts about race and how it affects their every day lives. For more info on this see this post or see my Submit Guest Posts page.