The Black Female Iron Man Has Been Around For 5 Seconds And She’s Already Being Whitewashed
We told you late last week that Marvel is changing the game by introducing Riri Williams as the new Iron Man (i.e., the protégée of Tony Stark). The addition of Williams is one of the many changes Marvel Comics has made to diversify their superheroes, including having an Afro-Latino Spider-Man, a woman as Thor, and an Asian-American Hulk. Even if you’re not a comic book fan, the news of a Black and beautiful woman playing the popular Iron Man character, one with darker skin and the fiercest ‘fro this side of the Mississippi, should excite you. So why are the people being thrown out there as prospects to play Riri — if she were to ever receive cinematic treatment — look nothing like the character? I mean, c’mon. It’s literally been five seconds since she was introduced and she’s already being whitewashed.
I’m talking about the list Entertainment Weekly put together of “several rising stars” they thought would be great candidates to replace Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man on the big screen. If such a thing came to fruition. And while their hearts were in the right place, their eyes? Not so much.
Granted, I love Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Zendaya Coleman, Amandla Stenberg and Kiersey Clemons, but no. Just no. As was pointed out by Black Girl Long Hair, when the publication received a bit of criticism from commenters who inquired as to why every woman on the list was fair-skinned, they updated it by adding Tika Sumpter and Teyonah Parris. Broadway actress Denee Benton was the darkest woman on the list before the change-up. You can check out the full roundup here.
Did we not learn anything from the criticism Zoe Saldana took from the public for playing Nina Simone? You can’t just get anybody to play a Black woman of a darker complexion with certain facial characteristics for the big screen. When you do so, it’s pretty much saying that those who are lighter with a certain “look” are both more bankable as the face of a film, as well as more appealing. In the case of Saldana playing Simone, it was a big mistake considering the fact that Simone’s looks are a major part of her story, and the fact that those behind the movie had to get prosthesis and makeup to darken her skin to even convince themselves that she was the right fit. As writer Ta-Nehisi Coates put it, “there is something deeply shameful—and hurtful—in the fact that even today a young Nina Simone would have a hard time being cast in her own biopic.”
It’s also part of the reason Aurora Perrineau, daughter of actor Harold Perrineau, received such sharp blowback for taking the role of Shana in the Jem and the Holograms film. It wasn’t that she wasn’t “Black enough” as her father would assume people meant. But rather, the issue was the fact that those who cast Aurora completely ignored the reality that the character from the animated TV series was a dark-skinned woman. Aurora, is nowhere near that, so, in the film, Shana blended in quite easily with her cast mates, which she didn’t do in the cartoon.
No shade to these women, or the women listed on EW’s roster, but I just don’t understand the constant fascination with trying to make Black female characters look the same. And that goes for not just films, but also commercials, stock images and more. We are a diverse group. Let’s get with the times.
It would be nice if Hollywood folks would follow the mold of the illustrators and creatives who produce these characters, who decided that they wanted them to look a certain way. Because if they wanted them to look any ol’ type of way, then they would have made Riri look like Nathalie Emmanuel from Game of Thrones or the other actresses EW reached for. But instead, they wanted her to be as unique as she is, and they wanted her to stand out in the comic universe. Had an effort been made to actually look, one could see that there are many talented actresses of a darker complexion available to spotlight. Just check out BGLH’s list for some awesome examples.
At this point, feigning ignorance just doesn’t work. It shouldn’t be that foreign of a concept, the idea of getting a dark-skinned woman to play a dark-skinned character. And the fact that after so many years of whitewashing in Hollywood, folks don’t get that in 2016, and that people still only want to see a certain Black man and woman on-screen, is yet another reminder of the bullsh-t Black folks have to deal with — inside Hollywood and reaching far outside of it.