- U simple bitch. This is why comic book fans hate Hollywood. The criticism is not b/c U R an African actress but that ur 3 personas look too human wearing cheaply made costumes . U didn’t even care enough to Youtube the animated series and actually research the characters. (a comment sent to Anna Diop on twitter by user @Walter_Stylez on 4/13/2018)
- I’m grateful you made starfire hideous and ugly, you are her first adaptation that looks less exciting. I’m sure this will make people choose batgirl over starfire now cuz she’s more prettier of a love interest. Dickbabs all the way!!! Thank you Anna for propping up my ship!!! – From twitter user @dickbabs3 on Twitter directly in response to Anna Diop posting an image of herself in a suit on 12/11/2018
Name a Black actress in a popular nerdy franchise and I’m pretty sure I can find you proof of people claiming that they:
- Are too ugly
- Aren’t talented enough
- Are too “ghetto”
- Don’t have enough chemistry (with the nearest white person)
To play the role they’ve been cast in.
Angel Coulby didn’t just have to deal with people claiming historical anachronism for her casting because Guinevere stems from a Welsh name that means “fair/white and smooth” in a show full of historical inaccuracy and sorcery.
She had to deal with a ton of “I’m not racist, but”s claiming that she was a terrible actress, that she wasn’t attractive enough to play Gwen, that she wasn’t young or refined enough… you know the drill.
(It’s been a decade since Merlin first aired and almost 7 years since it ended and still the “I’m not racist, but –“ contingent still crawls from hell every once in a while to remind us all that they think she’s untalented and ugly and that it’s not even remotely racist for them to hate on her a decade later and insult her appearance…)
Black actresses already get the shorter end of the stick when it comes to racism.
They don’t get even a third of the roles that their white peers do – compare the career trajectory for Lupita Nyong’o and Jennifer Lawrence side-by-side following the former’s Oscar win in 2013. (And check out this article about what Lupita’s career could’ve looked like if she’d been giving similar opportunities.)
Black actresses are subject to harsher criticism from critics, relegated primarily to bit roles or “Black movies”, and they’re forced to deal with explicit racism from behind and in front of the camera.
In the case of Black actresses that are in shows or films that get massive fanbases, they’re also subject to racism from members of those shows’ fans.
On April 11th, 2018, leaked set images for the upcoming Titans series showed a rather unimpressive first look at Anna Diop’s Starfire, Ryan Potter’s Beast Boy, and Teagan Croft’s Raven.
Predictably, online comic nerds went wild at what they saw as an affront to their childhood, mocking all of the set images before zeroing in on Diop’s Starfire. (If you read my 2017 post on the state of racebending in nerd media, you’d see that she was already the subject of several racist comments from fanboy droves.)
On top of the explicit racism of racial slurs and insults about Black people, Titans “fans” were using anti-sex worker slurs, saying that she was too ugly to be Starfire, that it was her fault that the leaked set photos didn’t show Starfire in all her orange glory.
The antiblackness – which took the form of misogynoir – showed up in full force, causing the actress to post about the hateful comments on her social media the next day. In her comment on the now-deleted post, which doesn’t explicitly mention racism, the actress writes in part:
“To the ‘Titans’ fans:
Yesterday a photo of me on set leaked online. And it was unfortunate because fans have been waiting MONTHS for a photo of ‘Starfire’ and a sloppy (😐) photo of me on a curb in 15 degree weather is what they got instead 😂 For the sake of our incredible fans – I hated that this is the first picture people are seeing. It’s out of context and it’s a misrepresentation of the incredible character I get to play. And also a misrepresentation of the phenomenal production behind it all.”
Anna Diop doesn’t have to say that most of the hate she’s received is racist and misogynistic in origin. We’re not new here, folks.
Fandom has always been very hard on Black women and Black actresses aren’t free from the shit.
From the moment that Candice Patton was first cast as love interest and female lead Iris West on The CW’s The Flash series, fandom made it a point to let them know how little they cared for this change to a character who they suddenly deemed iconic.
That tends to be how it works, right? Fandom doesn’t really care about character changes unless they’re racebent and then… it’s fighting time.
In this age of twitter, people have almost direct access to celebrities. Fans can reach out to the people behind the work they love. However, this also means that haters can do the same with their objects of hate.
In Candice’s case, she got (and still gets) a ton of racist hate.
She’s been called racial slurs, constantly compared to a monkey/gorilla, accused of sleeping around to get the role, accused of triggering fans’ PTSD, and called a freak for her character’s relationship in the series. People have tweeted her to tell her that they wish they lived in a time where they could sell her her character.
Many of these same people who directly tweet Candice asking when “she” will die (as Iris, presumably, but they don’t bother to make the distinction clear) also claim that they’re not racist. They pawn off all of their bad behavior on trolls, but still @ Candice in tweets about how untalented she is and how overrated they think she and Iris are.
The majority of the negative treatment and hatred that she receives is because she’s a Black woman playing a racebent Black character on a show that has the (white) main character wildly and deeply in love with her from day one. While folks in fandom can’t be bothered to make the necessary distinction between Candice and the character she’s playing, this sort of line-blurring bigotry is only possible because of her Blackness.
Candice is playing an iconic love interest in an iconic way. Her role as Iris literally threatens the established hegemony of superhero fandoms because she’s a Black woman that is portrayed not just as a beloved love interest, but as a viable main character in her own right. Unlike many Black female actresses on other, older shows with ensemble casts, Candice Patton is a clear lead.
And that just gets in the way of Whiteness.
One thing I’d like to bring up about the way that misogynoir works against Black actresses is the double standard when it comes to what nerds across fandom see as “forced diversity”.
When a white performer is cast in pretty much any role, it’s because they’re the best person for the role. Even if that role is a whitewashed one or a role invented to center a white character in a time-period and setting that they wouldn’t have been present in.
Being seen as someone that is hired for “diversity points” or as a sign of “forced diversity” opens these women up to incredible harassment that the fans think they deserve for somehow… stealing a role from an actor that deserves it.
When Black women are cast in any role, even as Black women who weren’t racebent for an updated role, they’re suddenly subject to some of the worst treatment that the internet can offer. They are, in essence, punished for taking a job.
When we talk about misogynoir in fandom spaces and how Black actresses are impacted, we tend to look at what happened to Ghostbusters (2016)’s Leslie Jones as a worrying outlier that only could’ve happened because of curatorial/collector fandom or because of MEN. But that’s not entirely true.
Transformative fandom isn’t a safe space.
I know we’ve all heard that line before. Usually, it’s delivered in a condescending manner by a bunch of folks who don’t want change in fandom, but that doesn’t mean it’s not accurate to a fault. Transformative fandom spaces, especially when shipping is concerned, are beyond hostile to Black women in general and the harassment tends to come from non-Black women.
When it comes to Black actresses?
The dehumanization takes on another level.
I mean, have y’all seen the way that the “royal watchers” fandom has spent years ramping up their attacks on Meghan Markle? While Kate Middleton got her fair share of misogynistic attacks in the media and from the fandom as she prepared to marry Prince William, they weren’t anywhere near as vile and violent as the attacks on Meghan.
And the thing is that these attacks look awfully familiar if you’re a Black woman in fandom that’s been keeping up with how famous Black women are treated.
(Rumors, body-shaming, insisting that she’s using her body/feminine wiles to get ahead, racial slurs directed at her on social media are all things that happen to Black actresses. The one new thing is that they’re also basically blaming Meghan for the downfall of Western civilization and you can’t exactly do that with an actress on the CW…)
Black actresses aren’t safe from misogynoir in fandom/from fans.
But if you think what they get is bad, imagine what fandom’s like for Black women that don’t have celebrity status…
It’s not pretty.
Next month, we’ll be talking in detail about… Black Fans on the Defensive