I’m getting tired of all the discussion of Captain America and Thor with overearnest white guys explaining how they are not racist or sexist…in fact they are MORE liberal than everyone else as they are smart enough to see that “singling out” a character to be a woman or a POC is actually racist or sexist… That, otherwise, why would anyone mention their gender or race? And really, it’s sexist and racist to take an existing character and change him, the white man, to somethign else rather than make a new character which, according to our overearnest white guy will mean that the character is valued.
Yep, it’s THAT discussion again. I’m reblogging myself from an FB rant I posted a couple days ago…
It is not “racist” to promote a change of character from white man to black man…it might be cynical (in terms of marketing, publicity, hope for a sales surge), but it ain’t “racist”. It’s called Representation..
We don’t need to create new characters and books in this uneasy market in order to give representation to white men and women, and if we do, the failure of those books is seen as a failure of the market not the colour, gender identification (we-ell…), religion of the characters. We all know how difficult it is to establish new books. Publishers will continue to try new books with white men and white women.
But if a new book with characters other than a white hero fails, everyone announces, “The market is not ready for fill-in-the-blank-of-the-“difference”.” The attitude behind these books (and many imprints) is that the readership will reflect that of the lead characters…ie, that comics about females will be read only by females, that comics about POCs will be read only by POCS. The expectation is that those groups must not currently be reading comics (or why would they ask for representation of themselves, and not simply be happy with what they get). When these books (and imprints) fail the publishers announce, “Those groups aren’t interested in supporting comics that represent them.” The expectations for these books are set higher than those for books of white characters.
Every day, as I read comics, as I watch movies and tv shows, I am struck by the lack of representation of those who are not white. I notice when characters are “other”—and if their roles are as real people or mere plot points and tropes. It bothers me deeply to not see a world that reflects the one I live in. I am bothered by the argument that we’re talking about superheroes and aliens and mythical characters—that creators’ imaginations are so limited that they imagine fantastical people only as versions of “white”.
There’s a reality to the fact that established characters are established characters and have a built-in readership and acceptance. So, it is somewhat easier for a publisher to take a chance…to say “let’s see how this sells,” knowing that they can change back to the original character if the sales falter. It is cynical, yes. It’s also a smart business move in the real world of comic book economics. However much some might howl and roar, many who like the established character will announce that they will grudgingly read the new character arc…and many will come to like that character. If that happens, publishers think, “So…people WILL accept characters who aren’t white, aren’t just male?” And slowly, comics might edge to a little more representation of the world in which the readers live…a world with People of Colour, queer and trans people, and—dare we say it?!—women.
And in a world of cynical marketing ploys, PR departments do their jobs and get news of these character changes out into the “real” world, the one where people still think of comics as “Zap Pow BANG!”, as “only for children”. As I take note of ALL the articles talking about a black Captain America, the incredible number talking about a woman as Thor, I am aware that people who might not normally walk into a comic book shop are starting to wonder if there might be more to comics than they previously thought…and that they’re wondering if they, or their kids might see themselves represented in those books.