It’s always amazing the double standards and pushback one gets when demanding better from comics and the media in general.
When cis straight white fans demand certain storylines or better characters or what have you, they’re lauded and praised as being outspoken, passionate and devoted fans. Yet when LGBTQs and fans of color simply ask for better representation (or any representation for that matter) and to have our stories explored, suddenly we’re being entitled, uppity, unreasonable, too sensitive.
Because heaven forbid as a customer and a fan I dare ask for better quality for my dollar or think I deserve to be heard as straight white fans are. Heaven forbid I ask to be treated as something other than 3/5 of a person in society.
Here’s the score. I spend just as much money on comics as straight white fans. I support movies, television shows, novels, etc. just like straight white fans. And I find it quite sickening, not to mention disturbing that in the 21st century, I’m STILL having to explain to people why diversity is not a sin and why marginalized people such as women, POCs, LGBTQs, disabled, etc. deserve to be represented in the media and not be denigrated by bigoted hacks. And if you can’t understand why equality is NOT about political correctness but about doing the right thing then fuck you too.
And for those who have a problem with seeing someone different from you in the media, then the only thing I want to know is why are you really tripping?
“But it’s about sales.”
No it’s not. It’s about a bunch of self-entitled white fanboys with an agenda. Otherwise the braintrust behind Spider-Man would’ve ceased and desisted with BND, OMIT, Big Time and every other foolish acronym, plot title, blatant racism and character assassination of a beloved iconic superhero. Sales have consistently tanked to record lows for the past few years, and the powers that be still refuse to acknowledge their failure.
If this was about sales then the Cassandra Cain run of Batgirl wouldn’t have been axed. Nevermind the fact that her sales averaged 25K which in comic book terms are solid numbers. While Aquaman and Green Arrow have been given reboot after reboot after reboot even though their series have flopped time and time again. If this were really about sales, then the Asian superheroine would’ve been given the same number of reboots that the comics featuring blond white male superheroes have been afforded. Instead she gets written off and gets replaced by an inferior and inept ditz who has proven herself to be the Bella Swan of the DC universe.
Furthermore diversity has proven that it works time and time and time again.
X-Men is hands down one of the most successful titles of all time. One of the reasons it was successful and made such a profound impact with audiences is because it’s an allegory to the Civil Rights struggle. In its prime, the success stemmed from the fact that it had such a diverse cast of superheroes. Black, white, Asian, Latino, Indian, Native American, men, women, young, old. A powerful regal black woman could lead the team of a company’s flagship title. Unlike other superhero teams, there wasn’t a hierarchy and each team member could take center stage at any time. It wasn’t the Wolverine show with his 150 sidekicks. Emma Frost wasn’t the only X-Woman by virtue of the fact that she was blonde and sleeping with Cyclops and as much as Cyke is my favorite character (along with Storm), the writers actually focused on other characters and gave them front burner storylines. In short X-Men wasn’t limited to Cyclops, Wolverine and Emma Frost the way it is now.
And the title that actually beat X-Men during the 90s? Spawn. Yes the dark tale about the anti-hero from the hot place. Granted many of postulated that Spawn’s success may be in lieu of the fact that his face was burned and he wore a mask making it comfortable for white fans to forget that he’s black, but the point still stands in any event.
Still not convinced? Look at Static Shock and its success. Or let’s look at the Batwoman run on Detective Comics which was a smash hit. Or Kevin Keller’s debut in the Archieverse set new records. Both in dire economic times when the comic book industry is suffering.
Furthermore people conveniently forget that the success comic book films, most notably Marvel are thanks to a little film called Blade. Yes the movie starring the dark skinned African American vampire hunting superhero broke box office records and paved the way for other comic book films. When Blade hit theaters, comic book movies were a joke: Tank Girl flopped, Batman & Robin killed the franchise, Barbwire, Judge Dredd, do I even need to go there? If it hadn’t been for Blade, there wouldn’t have been X-Men, Spider-Man, the Dark Knight, Captain America or the Avengers. Because you know that if the first Blade had flopped then it wouldn’t have been because of a bad script or poor marketing, it would be because of a black superhero.
Let’s look at the success of other franchises that feature POCs in leading or at the very least prominent roles: Romeo Must Die, Crouching Tiger, the Matrix series (look at the number of prominent POCs in that franchise), Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Hidden Dragon, the Spy Kids franchise, Cradle 2 The Grave, and just this summer the new Karate Kid. And yet people are still advocating the whitewashing of Avatar, 21, etc.
We’ve proven that the money is there time and time again.
But the only time American media seems to want to embrace marginalized dollars is when it’s desperate to boost revenue until it can gain a white audience.
When Fox first launched in the late 80s, it was all about diversity and appealing to the POC market. 21 Jump Street, In Living Color and in later years Martin, Living Single and New York Undercover as well as Bernie Mac which among its many accomplishments was winning a Peabody Award. And how many POC series is on Fox now? That isn’t a minstrel show?
The WB network. When it first launched it too was all about appealing to the POC market but when it found its niche with the pretty white kids with problems motif, POCs got erased away and whitewashed. UPN almost went that route one season but black folks weren’t going for it. We lost the WB, we weren’t losing both….at least not until they merged and became the CW network.
This tactic of using POCs to garner enough revenue until you’re able to appeal to a middleclass white audience is nothing new. But folks tend to forget that the Cosby Show and A Different World was must-see TV Thursday long before Friends or Seinfeld. And you know what it took to beat the Cosby Show in the ratings, the Simpsons, arguably the most successful scripted television series of all time.
On cable the Wire, Soul Food and Lincoln Heights has proven that an audience is there. Same goes for Queer As Folk. An audience that’s black and white, gay and queer alike. If you treat marginalized stories with the same respect and care that you do stories that featured straight white males, the audience will embrace it.
And yet the Brits seem to get this, at least better than Americans. And no Britain isn’t perfect and she’s got her problems but compared to the U.S., said problems don’t even rank.
I love the BBC and watch much of its programming and when I watch these shows I alternate between cheering and scratching my head. The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency is getting a second season, the Luther miniseries is well underway. POCs in other shows are actually given prominent and primary roles. Merlin isn’t afraid to re-imagine Guinevere as a black woman. In Being Human, Anne is actually a fleshed out character who is portrayed with RESPECT. She’s loving, vulnerable, nurturing, beautiful and fierce and powerful. It’s a role that’s usually reserved for white actresses. While the series Trinity only lasted for a season, the main affable protagonist was a good looking black man that wasn’t a token. Granted, they missed the mark with the other POC but still much better than the states. Doctor Who had Dr. Martha Jones, and yeah while there were areas of opportunity there, it’s still light years more than what we’re doing here in the states. Speaking of Doctor Who, look at its spinoffs. Torchwood is a hit series that features an LGBTQ action hero as the main lead. What do we get across the pond? Will & Grace. Don’t even get me started. The Sarah Jane Adventures is a YA series featuring a woman as the lead but the POCs actually outnumber the white cast 4-2. And the POCs have prominent stations and the show is a hit! With British media, interracial relationships are handled in a matter-of-fact manner and not treated as a sweeps stunt. LGBTQs actually exist in their stories. So then I’m left looking at American media with my arms crossed, shaking my head.
This brings us back to comics. In a time when the big two companies are losing dollars (they’re slashing comic book prices and everyone who reads comics know THAT NEVER HAPPENS), one would think that they would be embracing the opportunity to garner new fans and to generate revenue. But when it comes to bigotry and privilege, one would easily rather cut their nose (or their wallet) just to spite their face.
Fine by me. I’ll continue to support indie titles that accepts my kind. I’ll continue to seek out and support minority storytellers. Web comics are becoming more and more of the norm, so is the grassroots push for new and progressive content.
Say what you will about the internet, it’s been a great equalizer for marginalized voices. If Perry Moore’s essay Who Cares About the Death of a Gay Superhero or Gail Simone’s Women in the Refrigerators are any indication, these issues aren’t going away and many of us will continue to campaign and speak out on them.
I love comics. It’s my favorite media and my favorite genre. To me it’s modern day mythology and I’ve been in love with it my entire life. When it’s done right like say Young Avengers or Cassandra Cain, I sing its praises from the rooftops. When they fail, I call them on it and expect better.
To the powers that be in the comic book industry, you’ve failed something fierce but you got an opportunity here. You can either do something great and bring about change. Or don’t. But we see how well the current business practice has worked out for you.
In any event, don’t say you weren’t warned.