Black Ladies Deserve Love Too: Lupita Nyong’o, Concern Trolling, and White Feminism

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Yesterday, internet gossip revealed that 12 Years A Slave actress (and all around adorable human being) Lupita Nyong’o was in talks to star opposite Chadwick Boseman in 2018’s Black Panther solo movie. One of the earliest (now seemingly refuted) tidbits of information about this potential role was that Lupita would be playing the female lead and specifically would fill the love interest role.

Almost immediately, the concern trolls came out of the woodwork.

“Why do you have to reduce Lupita to a love interest,” they cried. “She’s a strong Black woman who doesn’t need a man. She should play one of the Dora Milaje or T’challa’s sister Shuri or someone else who has no romantic life and exists to be strong and undesirable (because Blackwomen can’t be strong and desirable at the same time).”

Because that makes all the sense…

Needless to say, many of these people decrying Lupita’s potential love interest status in the hours after her casting weren’t Black women.

You might be wondering why that’s important, so let me lay down some facts for you:

In 2012, when Racebending.com wrote about the way that the Mandarin (a racist caricature of a character created to play on American fears of Communist China during the Sixties) would be whitewashed in Iron Man 3, they included a chart that looked at the studio’s lack of representation.

The results of the chart weren’t shocking. Annoying perhaps, but not shocking Men of color when they appeared were supporting “BFF” characters like Terrance Howard and Don Cheadle’s James Rhodes or villains such Tony Stark’s torturer (played by Sayed Badreya) or mysterious Black men like Samuel Jackson’s Nick Fury and Idris Elba’s Heimdall.

That year, if you ignored Agents of SHIELD the way many people did at the time, there were no women of color in the Marvel Cinematic universe as supporting characters or love interests.

Sadly, four years later, things haven’t gotten much better because women of color now, in the few occasions they show up in the MCU outside of Agents of SHIELD, are actually placed in supporting positions more often than not.  They are rarely love interests or even fleshed out beyond what they mean to/can provide a male character.

Here are some of the few instances of WOC playing WOC in recurring and/or significant roles:

Helen Cho shows up in Avengers: Age of Ultron as a brilliant scientist who has maybe a dozen lines in her scattered appearances (which include her saving Hawkeye after he’s shot, being brainwashed by Ultron, and that thing with creating a body for Ultron).

On Agents of SHIELD, you do have Ming Na Wen’s Melinda May and Chloe Bennet’s Daisy, two amazing Asian actresses playing Asian characters with main roles on their show.

As I mention before, Claire Temple and Elektra both show up on Daredevil but are framed in increasingly problematic ways that render them as “unacceptable” for Matt Murdock for many ways.

Elodie Yung’s biracial Elektra is framed as the “wrong choice” for Matt and her identity is tied into her being dehumanized and hypersexualized. She’s framed as the femme fatale and a Dragon Lady before literally dying in order to spur Matt onward into Karen’s arms at the end of the second season.

Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple is the “boring” choice, the one that understands what Matt is doing but isn’t sure where she stands on it. After her first handful of appearances, we rarely see her out of scrubs and the intimacy between her and Matt decreases immensely. Portrayed as not as caring or tender or typically feminine as Matt’s current (white) love interest Karen, Claire Temple leaves Matt “for his own good” (or some crap like that).

We’re supposed to believe that there’s no racial to component to how both of the WOC introduced as potential love interests for Matt wind up being wrong or bad choices when compared to the white lady?

(Spoiler alert: there is!)

Consider also that aside from Afro-Latina Rosario Dawson playing the clearly Afro-Latina Claire Temple, there are no other Latina OR Black women represented in the MCU and given significant screentime so far.

That’s not good.

What does all of this backstory have to do with Lupita and concern trolls?

Well, it proves that there’s an actual need for diverse representation that isn’t being met by Marvel despite Kevin Feige’s claims that Marvel “has a very strong record of diversity in its casting of films“.

More so, the franchise hasn’t even been trying until this point when it comes to casting women of color in strong roles where they actually play women of color.

And when it comes to dark skinned women?

Forget about it.

That’s why the rumors about Lupita potentially playing as T’challa’s love interest blew up so big and so quickly. We’re starving for representation and Lupita is a true treasure on top of that.

If this recent casting news turns out to be true and she stays with the film, Lupita Nyong’o will be the only dark skinned Black woman to star in an MCU project thus far.

If she’s cast as T’challa’s love interest, she might be the only Black woman to serve as a (potentially permanent[1]) love interest in the MCU since the news of Tessa Thompson coming into Thor: Ragnarok as Thor’s love interest appear to be simple rumors and not fact.

In a world where dark skinned Black women are told that they are ugly and unlovable by everyone from their family members to the media that they consume, the potential for Lupita being cast in a starring, central role as T’challa’s love interest is a huge deal and an important form of representation that Black women and girls need.

So why are people glossing over the importance of this potential role?

No seriously, this is something I’m curious about. Because almost every single person I’ve seen in the past twenty four hours who’ve expressed doubts about Lupita being cast as Black Panther’s female lead and love interest hasn’t given a reason beyond: “She can’t be Storm so I don’t care” and “Don’t reduce her to a love interest”.

The Storm thing is well… easily ignored because Fox has had the film rights to her character for over ten years now. Marvel isn’t going to get their hands on her any time soon. If you bring Storm up in this conversation, you literally have no idea what’s going on in terms of licensing and rights (or even the actual characters’ relationships in the comics).

The other reasoning though? That’s a bit more worrying.

Playing a love interest is only reductive from a White Feminist ™ point of view that doesn’t take into consideration how media handles (or rather, mishandles) Black women in and out of relationships. White women have only recently graduated to being seen as capable of helming their own franchises and being in comedy so they assume that everyone else has that access to the roles and positions that they do.

And that’s just not true.

Black women and actresses just don’t get to be the love interest, the princess, or hell – the queen. We don’t have a wider range of roles that we’re cast in wherein being asked to play a love interest is offensive because there are so many other rooms for us to play.

Look at Lupita Nyong’o and her career trajectory versus that of Jennifer Lawrence. Despite their respective Oscar wins, Lupita hasn’t had half the amount of opportunities that Jennifer Lawrence has and the roles she’s been offered most likely haven’t been as varied.

That’s the reality for Black women in and out of the film industry.

We get offered less even when we do better. Lupita has yet to star in a romcom or an action film or helm her own franchise and that is directly because of antiblackness and colorism in Hollywood.

That’s why the idea of her being the love interest to T’challa is so important and as far from reductive as you can get and why people (especially non-black people) pleading that Ryan Coogler not “relegate Lupita to being just a love interest” is both harmful and hurtful.

It frames Black women as only capable of being “strong and single” and keeps calling back to that insipid “[x character] is a strong black woman who don’t need no man” meme that centers on desexualizing Black women and implying that only “weak” Black women want relationships.

Showing dark skinned Black women and girls that they deserve to be loved and that they’re worthy of respect and love from someone as amazing as T’challa is important and to dismiss it as reducing Lupita’s self worth is beyond insensitive to her as an actress and to Black women as a whole.

Whether Lupita Nyong’o plays one of the Dora Milaje or T’challa’s sister Shuri or an entirely original character who exists because Black Panther has never had a significant romantic relationship with anyone that wasn’t a Black woman, she’s going to be amazing.

But if she plays a character who is a love interest for T’challa, she’s going to be playing a character who will give dark skinned Black women the chance to see themselves represented onscreen as beautiful and beloved and desirable to a king.

In this context, love interest roles don’t reduce the character of women of color, they add to them.

Additional reading: The tweets that I made that inspired this post.


[1] I specify this because while Claire Temple will show up on Marvel’s Luke Cage series on Netflix this year, the fact that Luke/Jessica is endgame means she’s most likely going to have a brief relationship with Luke before her role is wasted the way it was in Daredevil.

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About Zina

Zina writes about comics, nerd history, and ridiculous romance novels when not working frantically on her first collection of short stories and complaining about stuff. One day, she'll settle down and write that novel.
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14 Responses to Black Ladies Deserve Love Too: Lupita Nyong’o, Concern Trolling, and White Feminism

  1. lkeke35 says:

    I keep trying to tell people that the stereotypes for black women are the complete opposite of those for white women, although all the stereotypes are designed to keep specific groups of women in their place.

    The nasty stereotypes for black, Asian and Latinx women are all different too, and serve the same purpose. What is a priority for one group of women is not a priority for other groups of women and I wish white feminists would understand that they cannot speak for women of color about their priorities.

    Just because something is important to white women doesn’t mean its equally important to ALL other women. This is one of the primary beliefs of intersectional feminism.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Zina says:

      I agree and I wish more people would approach feminism from and intersectional standpoint because this White Feminism ™, “I did it so why can’t you” crap is so harmful to women who don’t line up with Whiteness’ goals. And to pretend otherwise, to pretend that feminism is a onesie we can all fit into, silences and hurts a lot of women.

      Intersectional feminism won’t solve everything because humans are incredibly flawed, but it’s definitely a stronger blow to the patriarchy than assuming that the system affects every woman the way it does straight, able-bodied, white women with some small amount of personal power and wealth.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Black Ladies Deserve Love Too: Lupita Nyong’o, Concern Trolling, and White Feminism — Stitch’s Media Mix – Geeking Out about It

  3. I love Claire, but she’s definitely being relegated to the role of Easter Egg: a connecting thread between the Netflix Marvel series.

    Fiege is promising a 90% black cast for Black Panther, so I’m sure there will be room for WOC who are not the love interest. I think white audiences are too used to token POC in movies that they often forget that just because Lupita might be the love interest doesn’t mean we can’t have OTHER black women as sisters and body guards, etc. And there’s definitely no reason why Lupita can’t be beautiful and desirable AND strong.

    I’m really excited for Black Panther. Definitely sharing this to Twitter.

    Like

    • Zina says:

      Thanks for your comment and for sharing my post!

      I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with Lupita: white audiences haven’t yet realized that this isn’t going to be a movie where the only leading woman in the film is a love interest or eye candy, but one where most of the women onscreen will be black and in positions of power. They’re going to be multi-faceted from the start!

      It’s going to be fantastic!

      Like

  4. nolads says:

    Ugh this reminds me the race fail & wank about Uhura in the new star trek reboot by Abrams: she’s paired with Spock and some people are outraged and say it is better in the original thing where racism prevented her from having a relationship.
    White feminists are a disgrace, they don’t get why they are problematic and never will. But they aren’t even feminists, they are just stupid.

    Like

    • Zina says:

      I was on the sidelines for racefail, but had firsthand experience with how fandom was determined to paint reboot!Uhura as less progressive because she was in a relationship with Spock. It was hell. Watching white people, women who called themselves feminists and swore they only wanted what was best for Uhura, twist their mouths to call black women everything they could aside from the n-word itself was so painful that I left the fandom before I ever really got started.

      I would, by the way, like to point out that feminism has actually always been focused on lifting certain kinds of white ladies up. This behavior where they act as if they’re doing black women a favor by championing for their desexualization and dehumanization, is not a new thing. It’s a very old and very feminist practice.

      Which is why I believe in intersectional feminism and nuance. My feminism isn’t “one size fits all” and no one’s should be!

      Like

  5. Reblogged this on worldsofwright and commented:
    Here, here. Well said.

    Like

  6. You’re absolutely right that she can be strong as well as a love interest. I don’t see why she can’t be an American military officer, or a member of law enforcement; allowing for a suspense building romantic conflict. Could they find themselves on opposite sides, or does she find a way to insure they remain on the same side? The two aspects of her character can certainly coexist.

    Like

  7. Pingback: It's Time for More Women of Color in Comic Book Movies

  8. Samantha says:

    Personally, I’m not as familiar with the Marvel cinematic universe as I am with DC. I can think of several WOC in important roles in that universe. The first two to pop into my mind include Halle Berry as Catwoman (whatever you think about the movie, she was the headliner) and the racebent Iris West (Candace Patton) on The Flash. Artemis and Jade Ngyen on Young Justice are both half-Vietnamese/half-French. Maybe these are just the few exceptions that prove the rule, or maybe DC has done more.

    Like

  9. Pingback: Nyota Uhura: One More Black Female Character Fandom Wants To Be Strong and Single Forever | Stitch's Media Mix

  10. Pingback: So Long and Good Riddance, Sleepy Hollow | Stitch's Media Mix

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