Book Recommendations, Pop Culture

Iron Man is a black girl, so why isn’t a black woman writing her story?

I worry about Riri and wonder what her story will look like told by a white man.

Iron Man is a black girl. Or at least Iron Man will be a black girl. 

When Civil War II wraps up, Tony Stark is going to be taking a hiatus from the Iron Man lifestyle. Where he’s going, what he’s doing is a mystery, but what we know is that 15 year old science genius Riri Williams is going to be taking over the superheroics.

Riri (I’m convinced she was named for Rihanna – please no one tell me any different) is another instance of Marvel’s push to diversify its comics. Unlike its silver screen counterpart, Marvel comics has been slowly but surely making its reality look a lot more like ours. With the Muslim Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel, Miles Morales as Spiderman and Jane Foster becoming the new Thor. All of these were met with their own levels of derision from diehard fans unwilling to see beyond their notions of superheroes, and Riri will likely be no different. Those annoying people aside, Riri’s a huge win for representation, but things are still white and male behind the scenes.

[bctt tweet=”Riri’s a huge win for representation, but things are still white and male behind the scenes.” username=”wearethetempest”]

A white man, Brian Michael Bendis (who’s also worked on the same Spiderman titles with Miles Morales) is writing Riri’s story, but why isn’t there a black woman writer in the mix? Why has Marvel’s notable effort to make its universe more diverse not extended to its writers? Yes, Ta-Nehisi Coates is authoring the current run of Black Panther, but black women have been consistently, and conspicuously, absent from Marvel’s writing roster.

This lack of black women writers isn’t exclusive to Marvel. It’s not even exclusive to comic books. Most recently Orange is the New Black despite having one of the most diverse shows at the moment, came under fire for its overwhelmingly white writer’s room. With so many characters of color in its cast, it’s fair to ask why that same level of diversity isn’t reflected in the writer’s room. You’d think that people who are clearly invested enough in diversity on the page, or on the screen, would be equally invested in it behind the scenes. But this clearly isn’t the case. While black women writers don’t have to write black woman characters (anymore than white male writers have to write white male characters), it’s strange to see black women excluded from storytelling about a black woman. In Orange‘s case this was the recent season’s attempt to take on Black Lives Matter (which may have been less upsetting for viewers if they’d employed a couple black women), but for Marvel it’s Riri.

[bctt tweet=”This lack of black women writers isn’t exclusive to Marvel. It’s not even exclusive to comic books. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

How many of us have been excited to see a character of color in a prominent role only to find that role totally unsatisfying because the writers didn’t get the nuances of that character’s identity? To continue our discussion of superheroes, I was thrilled to find that Candice Patton had been cast in The Flash as Iris West, but the show’s treatment of her is often dismissive. My adoration and my interest in her isn’t matched by the mostly white, mostly male writing team. That kind of discrepancy, which continues to this day, may not be as prevalent if there was black woman writing for The Flash, too

Whether a black woman writer’s presence would really make a difference remains a mystery because we’ve yet to see it happen. Less mysterious is the fact that people of color experience things differently than a white person. A woman experiences things differently from a man. A black woman experiences things differently than Brian Michael Bendis or any other white male writer. I can’t speak for what will happen when Riri takes center stage, but if Riri Williams were real she’d be experiencing things much differently than Tony Stark.

[bctt tweet=”If Riri Williams were real she’d be experiencing things much differently than Tony Stark.” username=”wearethetempest”]

So I worry about Riri and wonder what her story will look like told by a white man.

This apprehension doesn’t make Riri Williams any less important or exciting. She is both, and there’s a victory to be claimed in knowing that her character exists. Riri’s going to mean a lot to comic book fans – especially those who are black and female – who are going to see someone who looks like them as Invincible Iron Man. That’s always going to mean something, and this request for more diversity in the areas of comic book writing that aren’t so visible shouldn’t change that. Riri is fictional, but there are a lot of real black women out there who are going to love her.

And many of those women are going to wish they could have had the chance to write her.

I hope that, in the future, Marvel gives them the chance.