Representation Shouldn’t Have A Limit

We rely on donations to pay our authors and keep the lights on. Help us bring you more great posts like this.For the past couple of years, the demand for better representation has been pretty heated between those who have it and those who don’t. If you are white, male, straight, and cisgender, then you’re in the first group. If you’re not, then you’re tired of not seeing yourself and seeing bad representations of yourself in the media you enjoy. Yet, there are also some who have so little decent representation that they feel threatened by other groups who want the same.

Recently, I came across a tweet from a black freelance writer named Rebecca Theodore. The tweet was reacting to the claim that Asian American kids don’t need superheroes because they have Jackie Chan and anime. The surprising thing was that the claim was made by a random black guy who was responding to Theodore’s support of an Asian American Iron Fist. Not only is this idea ridiculous, but it also promotes the idea that marginalized identities are only allowed a certain amount of representation. This way of thinking makes it seem like if one marginalized identity starts getting representation, other marginalized identities won’t have any.

In fact, this idea is especially harmful for any marginalized identity that needs representation. Black guys who feel threatened by an Asian American Iron Fist are no different from white guys who feel threatened by a black Mary Jane or Iris West. When actress Zendaya Coleman was originally announced as Mary Jane, people got upset that a black woman that would be playing a character that was originally a white redhead. In a similar reaction, some of fandom for the television series The Flash has been making racist comments about actress Candice Patton. Yet, no one said outright that black women didn’t need to be in superhero projects until a black woman started to demand them.

Back in August, another black Twitter user @MistyKnightsTwistOut called for a superhero film starring a black woman and received so much backlash that she coined the term “Catwoman Defense”. People kept asking her, “What about Storm?” and “What about Catwoman?” while not considering the fact that these characters had lackluster portrayals on-screen. In fact, lackluster representations are often all marginalized people get.

I didn’t get into superhero fandom until recently because superhero films made me feel out of place as a queer woman of color. I would watch Storm shoot a few lightning bolts to help out the other X-Men and Catwoman fight another woman and feel nothing at all. The more films I saw, the more I became convinced that all women of color could do was look pretty, help the men, and fall in love with men. Everything changed once I discovered Ms. Marvel’s Kamala Khan.

Earlier this year, I bought Volumes 1-4 of the Ms. Marvel Kamala Khan comics and finally found a superhero like me. She was brown like me and nerdy like me and I really loved it. I especially related to the comic’s first arc, where Kamala learns that she doesn’t have to sacrifice her personal and cultural identities to be a superhero. Kamala Khan gave me the representation I’d never thought I’d get and I started to explore more superhero comics as a result.

A similar event occurred after I watched Marvel’s Luke Cage a few weeks ago. Even though its main protagonist is a black male, I could see some of myself in him as well as female characters like Misty Knight and Claire Temple. As someone with an Asian mom, I was also happy to see an Asian couple that reflected some of my experiences with her. Seeing myself reflected in this show made me want to start watching other superhero shows. As of today, I am more than halfway through season 1 of The Flash and enjoy it just as much as Luke Cage. One character in particular, Iris West, has made me want to become a superhero journalist.

Just because Asian people have Jackie Chan and anime doesn’t mean that they should be satisfied. Just because black people have Luke Cage and Black Panther doesn’t mean black women should be satisfied. It is bad enough that white guys tell marginalized identities to settle.  Marginalized identities shouldn’t tell each other the same. Both black and Asian people supported Luke Cage because they saw themselves. If we can do that, then marginalized identities can learn to keep supporting each other while demanding better representation.

Latonya Pennington is a freelance writer who specializes in entertainment and pop culture. She has written for The Mary Sue, Black Sci-fi, The Establishment, and more. She is on Twitter @TonyaWithAPen.