Quick -– off the top of your head, no Googling allowed — how many black female characters in comics, sci-fi or video games are you able to think of?

For most people, the list starts off with the predictable: X-Men’s mistress of the elements Storm and the five-fingered feline Catwoman as told by Halle Berry (who for a while seemed to be building a career on destroying characters I love). Others might bring up Disney’s first black princess Tiana, the Walking Dead’s katana wielding Michonne, Avatar’s water bending Katara (though her actual race is ambiguous), or the sharp toothed black-best-friend-turned-baby-vamp Tara from True Blood. And that’s typically where the list starts to trail off.

If you’re nerdier than the average bear, you might have mentioned Justice League’s Vixen or Teen Titan’s Bumblebee. Dig a little deeper, and you’d uncover hidden gems such as Misty Knight, Nubia or Monica Rambeau. Maybe about a handful of characters later, unless you’ve made it your business to be well versed in the subject, you’d probably have to start Googling. And that, as far as I’m concerned, is a problem.

image

I LOVE cosplaying Storm…but I want more options! (Photo courtesy of Patrick Sun)

My pre-teen years bordered on Judy Blume levels of awkward. I was tall, skinny, selectively tomboy-ish and in no particular rush to grow up. I struggled to find pants that were both long enough to stretch down my gawky legs and small enough to hang onto my non-existent hips.

To distract from the fact that I was covered in acne, I took my fashion tips from comic strips and sprinkled my frizzy, dried-out jheri curl (yes, jheri curl) with butterfly hair clips and Air Force baseball caps I stole from my dad. I stubbornly clung to my American Girls books while my peers giggled over cheesy Cosmo Mag sex tips and dog-eared copies of grocery store checkout aisle erotica.

Obsessed with Sailor Moon, I penned long, collaborative fanfiction novels with my friends during the day, and rushed home from school to watch anime at night. And while my male counterparts were more than willing to trade Pokemon cards and hold heated debates about who would win in Dragonball Z battles with me at lunch, they were not exactly clamoring to get underneath the sweaty elastic band of my training bra.

Which was perfectly fine by me, because — much like my patron saint Cher Horowitz — I could not be bothered with middle school boys. My diary contained pink-ink documented plans to save my kissing virginity for two out of the five members of N’Sync and/or the kid who played Bobby on Cousin Skeeter -– whom I literally just Googled for the first time in years and can confirm is still gorgeous.

All this to say that I was a black girl nerd -– always have been, always will be -– but no matter how far I ventured into the world of geekdom, I had a hard time finding characters who looked like me to identify with.

Growing up, the lack of black characters in my cartoons, comics and video games was a revelation I routinely resigned to –- something I never understood, but on some level, came to accept. It was everywhere. The main characters in my favorite shows didn’t look like me. The heroines in my favorite books weren’t written for me. The makeup tips and samples in the perfumed pages of YM and Seventeen didn’t compliment my skin tone. You start to get used to it.

When you bring up your concerns, you’re told that the interest isn’t there, that a geeky franchise with black characters at the helm wouldn’t sell. But why wouldn’t it?

image

Yeah, nobody would ever buy a Wonder Woman and Storm crossover comic- OH WAIT. (Photo courtesy of Aperture Ashley)

The problem with having so little representation is that you end up feeling almost obligated to root for characters you don’t have much in common with, in hopes that supporting the few characters you’ve been given will help convince the powers that it would be profitable to create more.

I can’t even count how many times I’ve checked out a new series simply because I heard the cast was diverse. I mean, I’m not really into “Doctor Who,” but if I had a dime for every time someone suggested I cosplay Martha Jones, I could probably own the entire series on blu-ray. I’d choose Buffy over Firefly at gunpoint, but I could probably pick Zoe Washburne out of a lineup blindfolded. I don’t even watch “Scandal,” but I’m kind of in love with Kerry Washingt– uh, Olivia Pope.

Last time I was home visiting one of my baby nieces, we hung out on the couch watching Doc McStuffins. I make it my business to be aware of how black girl geeks are portrayed in popular culture, because I need to. I have to. Every Aisha Tyler and every Issa Rae feels like a small victory for me, and for girls who look like me.

We’re given so few characters that I’ve always felt that if I wanted more, I had to be grateful for what I’d been given and put my money where my mouth is. But I’m not going to lie –- that strategy doesn’t seem to be working. I’m getting really tired of just accepting whatever scraps are thrown our way. I’m completely over struggling to find the silver lining in an obvious token black character while on the other end of the spectrum, people who have never had to think about finding racial representation in popular culture feel justified in raising hell over color blind casting in a sea of predominately diversity starved movies -– yeah, I’m looking at you,people who acted like Rue’s casting in the Hunger Games was a personal slight but interestingly enough seemed completely OK with the damn near catastrophic white washing in “Avatar: The Last Airbender.”

I’m tired of not seeing faces like mine in my comics. I have had it withpeople telling me to “stick to my range” when I cosplay my favorite characters, knowing all the while that my “range” is maybe in the double digits on a good day while their “range” is almost endless. I’m sick of the notion that a black female character is a rare treat, a special occasion –- a sparingly awarded privilege, but not a right. Why shouldn’t it be a right?

We’re going to movies. We’re going to cons. We’re paying for comics. We’re playing the video games. We’re an active part of the geek community, and we deserve to be represented. So I’m speaking up. I’m not hoping, and I’m not asking. I’m demanding better representation for black female characters in popular media.

image

This is my demanding face. (Photo courtesy of Hell or High Water Photography)

I’m demanding it for the girl sitting alone on the school bus reading manga, escaping into a faraway land swelling with magic and mayhem since her classmates haven’t deemed her cool enough to contribute to the conversations about cute boys and clothes. I’m demanding it for the girl who spends hours engrossed in video games, who picks up a controller and finds strength in virtual reality that she can’t find in real life. I’m demanding it for the girl who writes fan fiction, inserting girls with her characteristics into her favorite stories, in an attempt to finally have someone to identify with.

I’m demanding it for the girls who latch onto each and every character of color that comes out, ecstatic that for once, for ONCE, they’re watching a character that they can physically relate to on the screen.

I’m imploring DC and Marvel comics to hire on more writers of color, so that we can finally have someone (or several someones) pick up the torch that the late Dwayne McDuffie left behind. I’m beseeching more creators to follow the example of writers like Gail Simone, whose latest book The Movement is a breath of fresh air with its diverse cast featuring at least three women of color. Creators, I’m telling you not to be afraid of us. I’m challenging you to give our stories a chance. I want you to take this personally. I’m daring you to be more inclusive.

When complimented, black women are often described as “strong” and “independent,” and sometimes I feel that puts people into a box when it comes time to bring a black female character to the page or the screen. We can be strong and independent for sure, but we have the ability to be so much more than that.

We can be spunky. We can be vivacious. We can be complicated and beautiful and emotional and flawed and we might be all of those things or none of those things at all, but we deserve to be written. We deserve to be drawn.

Writing this, I’m fully aware that people will try to prove me wrong, and will provide me with more examples of characters and stories that I haven’t listed here. I encourage that. I invite that. But I want more.

image

Go ahead, prove me wrong. (Photo courtesy of BentPics5)

At Dragon*Con this past summer, I cosplayed Huntress, one of my favorite characters from Birds of Prey. While wandering around the Marriott in search of a Black Canary or an Oracle to take pictures with, I was stopped by a fellow black girl nerd who couldn’t have possibly been more than 13 or 14 years old. She excitedly asked to take my picture, and I excitedly obliged.

When she was done, I thanked her, but as I turned to leave, she stopped me. Her eyes nervously darted between meeting my gaze and staring at the ground as she told me, in an almost hurried, whispered tone that she didn’t know black girls were “allowed” to cosplay, that she hardly knew any black female superheroes, and that she had no idea “people like us” could join in on things like comic books, cosplay and conventions.

Listening to her, my heart stopped –- for once, I was at a loss for words. Because 13 years ago, I probably would have said the same thing. I want better representation for women of color in comics, video games, movies and cartoons for many reasons -– but mostly, I want it for that girl.

I want her to know that she’s allowed to be here, and I want her to know that she is not alone.

XOJane

This post originally appeared on XOJane. Republished with permission. Click here for more
Chaka Cumberbatch on XOJane!

  • i mean

    So you’re waiting for White people to properly represent Blacks in their world? Enjoy the wait. FYI there are plenty of Black comic book publications that represent us pretty well.

  • aziza123

    I love how she’s demanding (*cough* begging *cough*) white people to include black characters si she and “other black girls” can feel better.

    She suffers from the same disease as naomi campbell.

  • https://www.facebook.com/kelley.johnson.75436 Kelley Johnson

    I swear to God, when are black people going to stop begging for white folks to include us and to help us represent?

    Girl, bye. You wanna see black comic book characters? Write your own, because those white boys who run the comic world are not thinking about black women, ok.

  • Pseudonym

    Ummmm…while the writer can prob pressure companies in the USA to add more black representation in their comics, I don’t see the logic in thinking you have a right to “demand” black faces in anime, manga, etc. which comes from Japan which is an extremely homogeneous country full of nothing but Japanese people (outside of a few imports there for work and military persons stationed there). Japan is so homogenous, even if you live there 70 years or are born in the country to non-Japanese parents, you can’t get a real Japanese citizenship. (The have a separate category.)

    If you want black anime, MAKE black anime or support artists that are trying to create them. (I’m hoping you’ve seen “Afro NInja!”) Don’t go into Japan demanding that they represent you: a black girl from the USA who has little investment in things Japanese except for the fact that you find their fictional cartoons and related costumes entertaining. Not cool.

  • B.

    For some reason I found this disturbing.

  • Phillygurl

    People don’t care about black girls, just tow the line. You are expected to be super girl in your community. You don’t have time for comic stories (sarcasm). You have natural teflon skin that everything and everybody’s problems have to bounce off, forget your own or how you are viewed or represented in any aspects, you aren’t your own.

  • http://DeAngelisFielder.wordpress.com Prettypoodle3

    It’s funny that you wrote this post because I just have had this conversation with my friend last week about this very thing: I’m black and who can I cosplay as? I haven’t been to any cons yet and hopefully I won’t have the same problems you had when you went because I’m probably going to play a character that is non-black. I’d love to play Ariel from The Little Mermaid or a Sailor Scout without being belittled or mocked. However, I figure you just shouldn’t care what other people say or think and do you. So black girls get your cosplay on.

  • http://DeAngelisFielder.wordpress.com Prettypoodle3

    And I don’t think the writer is trying to get approval from whites or the Japanese. I think she is just pointing out that black girls have a very limited variation of characters to cosplay as and wishes there were more options. That’s all.

  • Bered

    Actually many of the series she mentioned are American made ie the DC comics and Marvel productions. We could at the very least be represented in our own country. Even in Japan there are some black anime characters (some of them incredibly stereotypically drawn but I digress) and there are American anime-influenced animated shows. It still doesnt negate the point that black people should be able to participate and be represented in this medium also. We can make our own creations, and there are some that do, but no one has a right to make us feel as if we dont exist or cant be a part of an industry we support with our dollars.

  • http://elegantblackwoman.blogspot.com Elegance

    I think commenters above already said what I wanted to say. I’m basically tired of the begging to be included by people who don’t think or care much about Black people. If they wanted to see more of us they would have included us without being asked.

    I guess I’m thinking that Black folks need to focus much less on the entertainment industry and more on other things. Can you read a book or watch a show without needing to see yourself in it? Instead of worrying about representation maybe you could be brainstorming inventions, studying, networking, volunteering for experience, or doing something else to stand out besides wanting to hang out with people who don’t want you there.

    I’m all for fighting for rights, dignity, and things that we can use to better our lives, but I just don’t see the entertainment industry as one of those things. Will Black people’s lives be that much better if there were more of us in comic books, TV, and movies? It’s just not very important to me and TV distracts me from doing many things I need to do so probably a lot of us should be watching less and reading important books instead of comic books. Arguing for representation in comic books is like arguing for representation on YouTube–it’s not that important, the people with the most power won’t care about it unless they make money from it, and if you want more representation you can make the content yourself. Just watch as some White dude picks up on this idea and starts up a lucrative franchise with Black lead characters while the Black community gets nothing. The creator of Spawn was White. Where I live there is a franchise of Caribbean food owned by Asians and Black beauty supply shops owned by Asians…that’s really sad!

  • http://elegantblackwoman.blogspot.com Elegance

    Watch someone come up with a new comic book starring a Black woman, these are the complaints the creators will get:

    Why is she so light? Why is she so dark? Why doesn’t she have natural hair? Why is her hair so short? Why is she so thin? Why is she so fat? She looks like a White woman painted Black, her features are too Eurocentric! Why is she so masculine? She’s too feminine and girly! Why is she single? Why does she have to be poor from the hood, that’s a stereotype? Her family is too perfect, like the Cosby’s, that’s unrealistic? Why are there so many stereotypes? Why does race have to be such an issue in this comic? Why aren’t the rest of the characters Black? Why is she best friends with a White girl? Why is she flirting with that White guy? Why aren’t there more issues? Why does this cost so much, it should be a free public service for the community!Why aren’t there more plots about racism? Why are there so many plots about racism? Why do Black people have to be the villains? Why aren’t White people buying this comic? Why isn’t his a show or movie yet? I’m boycotting this because the writer isn’t Black! This isn’t very good, do better! I only buy Marvel comics so I’m not buying this. This looks cheap.

  • Nyala

    I too, wish for more black support in the anime/comic industry.

    I have been a witness to many conversations and debates about the certain race of characters on discussion boards. When the character is colored (and obviously intended to be) brown, many people argue whole-heartedly that it’s just a “tan Caucasian” or “a really dark Asian” so much so that it’s absolutely deplorable. (ex. One Piece, Naruto, Berserk)

    And the treatment that Donald Glover received for merely SIGNING UP to act as Peter Parker? Despicable.

    Despite the fact that a majority of fans of such commodities are non-white, or black, the smallest faction of whites produce the most racism. I don’t care how NICELY you try to put it.

    “Superman isn’t black. If he was, it wouldn’t look right.”

    “What? Heimdall wasn’t white in the comic, why is he played by a black guy in movie, it doesn’t look right…”

    “(Name), you look nice and all, but Sailor Moon doesn’t really fit you lol. I don’t think black people look right with blonde hair. No offense.”

    Sickening. But why? What’s wrong with us?! Why are we hated so much? Pushed away so far…Driven away from something that was intended for EVERYONE’S enjoyment? It’s stupid! I hate it! What’s wrong with people?!

  • Eyes Wide Shut

    First off:

    I love your costumes! Very beautiful!

    Second:

    I understand your sentiment. I was an X-Men, Batman, Sailor Moon, anime/manga ride or die chick. (I flove Harley Quinn and screw Halle Berry’s Catwoman! Eartha Kitt was my fave!)

    Totally loved the American goth/horror comic genre from the 90s. (As a black woman it would have been quite problematic to do a Lady Death cosplay – Oh yeah, I said it! It was probally more of a problem to do a Satanika cosplay – wink wink). I dunno, something about fighting the hordes of Hell made me excited………

    I understand where you are coming from, but sometimes you gotta do what you like! (Yes, it’s quite an issue to see blacks portrayed in anime/manga as it comes from Japan). But fret not, we have “The Boondocks” done in anime style (that show is FUNNY!). Hey, what about the black female bounty hunter from Cowboy Bebop? (She was fly!) There are a few animes/mangas where blacks are portaryed (in a good way!).

    By the way, I would love it if you did a Chun Li cosplay!

    Sometimes you have to do what you truly like and say screw the haters!

  • Phillygurl

    Have fun with cos-play, you should consider doing a costumes of Vixen.

  • Ads

    Im not a creative – but i am a
    Super nerd – not only do i live for sandals and swords genre – but my bff and i would speak to each other in latin in hs! While clearly there are few black leads in shows like spartacus or movies like gladiator (and its also super-male) appreciate their depictions of ancient rome as dynamic multi-cultural multi-racial societies, which they likely were in fact. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there is nonresson these audiences should be so beholden to such a dominant-group/conservative imagining of our heroines and heroes.

  • JS

    I agree, however there is actually a lot more opportunity for WOC to cosplay in anime and manga than in US comics. I could name plenty dark skin characters of the top of my head. say “dark skin” cause in anime and manga rarely is someone’s heritage pointed out unless its a region specific anime such as Kuroshitsuji, Hellsing, Hetalia, its just assumed everyone’s Japanese or at least half. In fact I’d say color lines are even more blurred because in the sci-fi or fantasy genres rarely is race even mentioned, even Japanese, there is just species that aren’t defined by a color (Also re:Kuroshitsuji no way in realistic Edwardian England would an Earl have a foreign dark skinned maid).

    Japan being an isolationist country was true some years ago but more and more are they adopting more worldly influences. Tradition is still very important in the family, social interaction and government structure (especially in the work life job hopping is unheard of) however when I lived in Tokyo it was a melting pot of Japanese adoption of different cultures. I was actually shocked about how alive and thriving there was of a Japanese adoption of Afro-Caribbean cultures enough to have stores owned by Japanese dedicated to its apparel. Don’t get me wrong, its still a country where if one wanted to be a hardcore traditionalist they could but its becoming increasingly hard in major metropolis areas.

    Bringing it back to the subject of Black representation in anime, I am not sure how it would necessarily articulate if they were to try to make one based on Black culture. Most anime is a reflection of Japanese culture. It’s not that I think its mainly due to a prejudice like it is here in the States. I just don’t think there is enough information out there to make it relative to the Japanese. The European representation in anime stems from popular worldly stories like Dracula, and historical figures or out of the Victorian/Edwardian style dress which supports the lolita culture. Even then there is usually a recognizable Japanese flair to it which ties it back to them. Not sure what in Black history in particular the Japanese would focus on. Personally I would never want to see a Slavery anime and I think making an anime on hiphop or dance culture could get really minstrel and stereotypical real fast.

    The biggest issue in my eyes with Black representation in anime is with US fans. How clearly certain characters will be very dark skinned yet there is still no way in their eyes they can be represented by a Black person. Also as mentioned by others the double standard of a white or lighter skinned person can cosplay a darker skinned person but not the other way around.

  • Furious Styles

    Agree with what everybody said about our conspicuous absence from comics/sci-fi etc only being so because we aren’t creating and supporting female characters in comics/sci fi aimed at us. Having said that, I agree that Storm and Catwoman can get old. I don’t know if you’ve cosplayed Vixen, Misty Knight, Photon, or Rocket. Not a lot of other options, but I would totally support that.

  • GiaB

    Yes. To all of this!

  • class of fitness

    Why not just buy some old school, MileStone Comics. you know the home of Static Shock?

  • Kristin

    I’m curious, where are these Black comic books? Are you talking about currently published comics because as a long standing nerd I would seek them out and buy them. While older stuff like BrotherMan and the Milestone books are great, hardcore black comic fans like myself, already own them, love them but are also looking for something new. If you are talking about currently published comics please name them and promote them.

  • Soulfulindustry

    I remember following and loving Milestone when I was younger. It was soo comforting….But it’s sad that there aren’t a great deal of options like Milestone now.

  • class of fitness

    I think some peoples, have mental problems when they think or say things like that? but I do agree with you.

Latest Stories

Watch Chanel Carroll Parody Beyonce’s ‘Partition’ in ‘Tuition’ Song

by

Hero Alert: Darnell Taylor Saves Family After Mother Purposely Drives Into River

by

Major Retailers Sell Out of ‘Mimi Shower Rods’

by

Black Journalist Wins 2014 Pulitzer Prize

by
More in geek culture, race
original-1
National Geographic Photoset Showcases America’s Melting Pot

barack obama
What Role Does The President’s Race Play In The Government Shutdown?

Close