Recent adaptations of popular comic book series have taken the step of diversifying their original storylines by racebending (Gaston and Reid 2012) key characters – for example Iris West (played by Candice Patton) on DC Comics and The CW’s The Flash television series and Mary Jane Watson (rumored to be played by Zendaya) in Marvel Studios’ Spider-Man: Homecoming who were re-imagined as Black women. Using papers, such as “Misogynoir and Antiblack Racism: What The Walking Dead teaches us about the Limits of Speculative Fiction Fandom” (Johnson 2015), this study will look at how the seemingly progressive spaces of comic book fandom become hostile territory when Black women are introduced as main characters and love interests. Both Iris West and Mary Jane Watson are iconic figures in comics, though perhaps more for their personalities and roles as superhero love interests, than for their red hair.
However, once these characters were rumored or confirmed to be racebent, many fans of color observed that fandom discussions around them began to follow certain predictable patterns. Namely, a majority of comic book fans responded to these casting decisions/rumors with outright racist rhetoric.These included attempts at decentering their importance to the narrative,desexualizing the characters (to remove them as romantic interests), and declaring the characters’ appearances (their red hair) their most iconic aspect. This paper will focus on the misogynoir directed at both the characters and actresses in these re-defined roles. Additionally, I will demonstrate that these aggressions are not limited only to male-dominated white “geek”spaces, but also cross over into parts of fandom that are traditionally held to espouse a more progressive politics.
PCA 2017 was my first big academic conference. The year before, I’d done a presentation at a smaller,local conference up at FAU and that got me interested in participating in these conferences. While I’d been in graduate school working on an MA in literature/English, I wanted to focus more on the fan studies track because of how I spent much of my downtime working on and thinking about fandom. And when the news about Zendaya maybe playing Mary-Jane Watson originally dropped and I saw the sheer rage coming from dudes who’ve been fantasizing about wanting to fuck MJ and folks in transformative fandoms paces who’ve been hoping they could use MJ as an audience proxy to fuck Peter Parker… It all clicked together. I talk a ton about misogynoir in fandom spaces and even then, I was like “how can I maket his academic and interesting?” And I do believe that I did!
(Bonus fun fact, this topic was actually one of my original potential thesis topics!)
(The actual paper in progress has more references than the video did/does so I’m linking to some of those too!)
“Black Men and Patriarchy, Intraracial Sexism, and Misogynoir” Trudy @ GradientLair
“The Power of Black Women in Fandom” Kerri Evans and Britta Darling
“Misogynoirand antiblack racism: What The Walking Dead teaches us about the limits of Speculative Fiction fandom” Dominique Diedre Johnson
“Race and Ethnicity in Fandom” Robin Anne Reid and Sarah N. Gatson
Moya Bailey’s post where she coins “misogynoir”
“New Audiences, New Textualities: Anti-fans and Non-fans” Johnathan Gray
“Not So Star-Spangled: Examining Race, Privilege, and Problems in MCU’s Captain America Fandom” by Rukmini Pande and Cait Coker in The Darker Side of Slash Fan Fiction: Essays on Power, Consent, and the Body
9 thoughts on “[Video] My Comic Book Girlfriend Has To Be a Redhead: Misogynoiristic Reactions to Racebending Iris West and Mary-Jane Watson”
You ever notice how all this whining of “redhead erasure” only ever comes up when it’s white characters being played by black actors and actresses? None of the actors who played Jimmy Olsen have been red heads, yet it was only Mechad Brooks who got flack for this. I’d bet that if Iris were played by a white brunnette none of these complaints would exist.
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I was just about to point this out. I’m definitely calling bullshit on their concern about “redhead erasure” too. Not a single one of the actresses in the Spiderman franchises were actual redheads. In fact in both iterations of the modern films, they were played by a blonde and a brunette, I think. Nobody cared.
What’s especially galling is what’s happening in so called progressive circles. They’re full of shit, too. You have so called white intersectional feminists writing five page essays on why Iris West is a strong black woman who don’t need no love.I’m completely done with these fandoms at this point. I need to keep my blood pressure down.
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So hilariously, last month I actually got a message from a redheaded troll “named” Wendy who basically tried to pull that and claim that they would care if a white brunette had been cast in the role because redheads are a totally oppressed minority on the same level as Black people.
Meanwhile, I don’t think any of the white women who’ve played comics historical redheads or that fandom wants in some of these roles are natural redheads and there’s never ever any backlash against them. Same goes for the dudes playing redheads like Charlie Cox on Daredevil and basically, like you’ve said, all of the blonds and brunets that have played Jimmy Olsen up until now.
For me, Kirsten Dunst never really captured the vibrant, outgoing personality of a Mary Jane Watson and I was sorely disappointed that she was cast in that role. She always appeared too vulnerable in that dimpled, thin-lipped, white girl aesthetic that Hollywood seems to employ time and again as its default.
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I agree! Kirsten isn’t a terrible actress, but she didn’t quite mesh with all that we were TOLD Mary Jane was supposed to be. Part of that of course is because a lot of the “early” superhero films really didn’t know how to write love interests as anything other than damsels, so MJ’s characterizations in those movies suffered.
I’m hoping that Zendaya as “MJ” isn’t going to be turned into a copout where they cast a white redhead as “the real” Mary Jane because Zendaya is a really charismatic actress and in her real life, she does embody a ton of what MJ has been known for for years in her talent and grace. Fingers cross that the MCU doesn’t let us down!
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You’re absolutely right! My fingers are crossed.
In fairness, Raimi Mary Jane is rather different from comic Mary Jane.
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Absolutely! I wanted to see the comic book MJ on the big screen. But sometimes I don’t mind if the screen adaptaion of the character isn’t the same as the one in the comics. It just didn’t work with Dunst.
[…] talked a ton about what fandom spaces look like when Black woman steps into a racebent role, but not about what happens to Black men who play racebent roles in the same […]
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