It would be an understatement to say 2016 has been a rough year; we lost Prince, Muhammad Ali, and Alan Rickman, to name a few and were stuck with (regardless of politics) one of the most embarrassing election cycles in living memory. There have been natural disasters and man-made catastrophes left and right. The only saving grace has been #BlackGirlMagic. From Beyonce to Simone Biles (and Manuel), Black women have been dominating on every stage and every facet of life.
Rather than embrace this salvation, far too many people have chosen to block their blessings and treat Black women as literal witches. Contrary to popular belief, despite their ethereal grace, they do not yet have the institutional power to topple the entire Hollywood power structure on a whim from the inside. I won’t waste my breath on the Roland Martins or Charlamagnes of the world and other ashy-adjacents, but I would like the loud and wrong brigade to fall back and do your Googles. Now the way my petty is set up, I’d normally tell you to lotion up, stuff that ascot in your mouth and rally your like-minded male base to support projects you claim to care about, since you’re the ones that didn’t come out in the first place, but I’m trying to be a better person. While you fraudulently lament the lack of platforms they’ve built (which were the only reason you got on in the first place), I’ll be celebrating a simple truth; in 2016 any broad-market that product doesn’t court Black women as part of its audience is doomed to fail.
Rather than be upset by this (and make no mistake folks are BIG mad), it’s the year of Black women and I am here for it. You can’t turn on your television this fall and not be warmed by an almost unprecedented lineup of new shows centering Black women. The diversity of excellence serves not as a buzzword, but a full-throated embrace of the complexities and multi-dimensionality of fully fleshed out characters. Whether you want an epic drama like Queen Sugar, a sports show in Pitch, or outstanding comedy there’s an Insecure or Atlanta for you. Netflix’s Luke Cage was as much of an origin story for Misty Knight as its titular star, and women of every shade were given depth and autonomy within the story.
You would expect nothing less from Marvel comics, who gave us Lunella Lafayette, RiRi Williams, Monica Rambeau, and half the cast of Black Panther. The company is reinventing themselves around women and heroes of color including a Korean-American Hulk, Pakistani-American Ms. Marvel, Afro-Latino Spider-Man, female Thor, and Queer Latina Miss America. And yet…
That diversity on the publishing end is exactly why the lack of it in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is so frustrating. While there has been adequate Black male representation, a female Black character didn’t get their first speaking role until Civil War (and Latinx characters don’t seem to exist on the big screen). Even with greater representation on the page, there remains a festering outcry over the inability to find additional merchandise for their characters. When people are upset they CAN’T give you more money, you’re doing something wrong. Reading the tea leaves it seems like most of these problems have to do with antiquated former toy executive (and Trump supporter) CEO Ike Perlmutter. And in truth, the films that have gone into production (Spider-Man: Homecoming, Black Panther & Thor 3) since MCU head Kevin Feige was freed from Perlmutter’s supervision all have tremendously inclusive casts both behind and in front of the camera and all three feature Black Women in lead roles. But you don’t get the credit for being the architect of the MCU, without shouldering the blame for its failures. And the way they’ve treated Black Women, as well as Asian and Asian-American fans is a stain he himself has acknowledged.
We’ve seen Marvel can do it on the TV side with Agents of Shield and now Luke Cage so now there’s no going back. Marvel and Disney have proven themselves to be a company that not only acknowledges their missteps but is receptive to critique and actually fixes their missteps. Look no further than the newest Star Wars: Rogue One trailer lo and behold, Black women can show up in this universe! It still means the world even to have a seat at the table. My timeline was full of sci-fi fans getting to celebrate the same way Potterheads got to rejoice in Seraphina Picquery. Imagine that, Black, Asian, and Latinx people in outer space! We do exist.
There’s a reason television is thriving these days: Black women see themselves represented in three dimensions and inhabit interesting characters with depth and substance. You go where the work is, and stars like Viola Davis and Taraji P. Henson have admitted there just weren’t roles like these for women like them in Hollywood. Where that used to be the be-all and end-all, television is now a viable alternative because talent and opportunity have made it so. Black women are still an underserved audience, but they’re done begging for scraps off the table. Come correct, or they will cancel your shit and go someplace that wants them. Ain’t nothing petty about that.