So a couple a weeks ago I had the opportunity to offer a few of my thoughts about Asian representation in comic books and its relationship with the latest Marvel film, Shang-Chi andThe Legend of the Ten Rings for CNN Entertainment!! To view the complete article see here.
Check out some of the snippets below:
Shang-Chi’s early issues relied on some problematic stereotypes
Every iteration of Shang-Chi has a similar throughline: He’s always a spectacular martial artist, always playing tug-of-war with his former life as a fighter and always, always tormented by daddy issues. That blueprint was created by Englehart and Jim Starlin, the two-man team who brought the character to life (Englehart, perhaps best known for his dark, noir take on Batman, has also created characters like Star-Lord of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and Starlin is responsible for MCU icons like its biggest villain, Thanos.)
In the early 1970s, Englehart and Starlin approached Detective Comics (DC) with an idea: a comic book take on the David Carradine series “Kung Fu.” (The series has been criticized for its use of “yellowface,” or casting White actors as Asian characters. Carradine is White but starred as a part-Chinese martial artist.)Starlin, an artist, loved the martial arts element of the story, while writer Englehart said he was interested in delving into Taoism and other philosophies to flesh out his protagonist. The two thought they’d found a match with “Kung Fu” — but DC thought the “kung fu craze was going to disappear,” Starlin said, and passed on the idea.
So the pair took it next to Marvel, whose executives agreed only after insisting that the pair inject some pre-existing intellectual property into their comic, both men told CNN.
In this case, the company had the rights to the character Fu Manchu, a racist caricature of a Chinese man created by British author Sax Rohmer in the early 20th century. The villain was then “grafted onto the series” as Shang-Chi’s father, Starlin told CNN in an August interview. (Racist depictions of Asian characters had appeared in comics before this, like the egg-shaped villain “Egg Fu” in a 1965 Wonder Woman issue and the 1940 character “Ebony White” in the early comic, “The Spirit,” said Grace Gipson, an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who studies race and gender within comics.)
Gipson, a pop culture scholar who studies race and gender within comics, said hiring writers of color like Yang to helm series about characters of color is an improvement, but it “is really not a hard task.” She said while comics creators have made great strides in deconstructing norms of who a comic book reader is and what storylines they want to see, the hiring of creators of color needs to happen consistently.”It’s about making sure the voices of those being represented always have a seat at the table as well as a microphone to speak,” she told CNN.
Still, she said, as a fan of comics herself, she’s enjoyed seeing more representative stories being told in mainstream comics.
In continuing with our Summertime Conversationson ‘Feeling Good’, Kaniqua and I dive into the culinary world to talk about the importance of Black culinary traditions and their relationship to happiness and and joy!! Now I will forewarn you, you will probably want to have a snack on hand, or immediately afterwards, when catching this episode!!
Inspired by Nina Simone’s 1965 classic song “Feelin’ Good”, Summertime Conversations on “Feelin’ Good”: Exploring the Lived Experience of Black Joy, is a freeform dialogue that foregrounds how people of African descent create communal agency and collective resilience via the cultivation of joy.
During this episode, Kaniqua and I will discuss and explore traditional Black foodways and how they contribute to the communal expression of collective Black joy and happiness.
Check out the video below:
For more Summertime Conversations, you can go here !!
After the program, we spoke to Dr. Gipson about some of her favorite comic book series, characters, and authors.
CHF: In your CHF program, you mentioned comic books and characters (like Dark Horse’s Martha Washington, who grew up in Chicago). Can you talk a little bit more about the history and significance of some of your favorite series, characters, and authors?
1) Storm (X-Men, Marvel Comics)
Gipson: When it comes to selecting my favorite comic book characters, I have a pretty solid line-up. While my introduction into comics was through the funny papers, there would be one character that truly drew me into the genre: Marvel Comics’s Storm from the X-Men.
As a Black woman who not only served as a leader of the X-Men, but also a goddess that controlled the weather elements, Storm as a fictional character provided an example of progressive representation and a fantastical escape.
Her presence in the comic book world made a significant impression on me as a young, Black girl from the Midwest. I was able to see myself, at the center and not on the fringes, within this popular medium that had been dominated primarily by white and male characters. Storm also opened the door for me to discover more Black female characters, as well as Black female comic book writers and artists.
2) Martha Washington (Dark Horse Comics)
Gipson: Another character who would have a significant impact on me personally and professionally is that of Dark Horse Comics’s Martha Washington. Created in the early 1990s, Martha Washington resonated with me in a very close way, considering her character was based in Chicago, IL. As a Champaign, IL native her story literally and figuratively felt close to home.
Martha Washington’s narrative as explored through The Life and Times of Martha Washington in the Twenty-First Century comic book series sought to showcase a “regular” relatable character that, despite her circumstances, becomes a heroine for her local community and ultimately the world.
Set in the urban space of the Cabrini-Green projects, Martha Washington’s beginnings (which are told in the first issue Give Me Liberty) explore, from a dystopian perspective, a current and relevant story of public housing, crime, poverty, Black youth, adulthood, womanhood, and even patriotism. Uniquely, her story offers a rare opportunity to explore American patriotism from a Black woman’s point of view. This is especially noteworthy considering the lack of Black female leads in comics, during the 1990s.
When it comes to comics, one can never underestimate the power of a diverse story and the impact it can have on all types of readers. These next two characters not only contribute diverse storylines but also have the impact of reaching a young audience. When looking at the landscape of comic book characters, most of them are adults, so it is refreshing to see a Black female youth presence.
3) Raquel “Rocket” Ervin (Milestone Comics)
Gipson: Raquel “Rocket” Ervin from Milestone Comics (a Black publishing company) is one of the earliest examples of a Black teen character that I have encountered. Also, Rocket’s storyline is one of the first comics to deal with complex and practical issues such as teen pregnancy, balancing motherhood, Black mentorship, and community access. And it was done in a way that avoided stereotypes, while providing hope.
As a character influenced by notable figures like Toni Morrison and W.E.B. Du Bois, Rocket provides an existing reality and a story of dedication and perseverance. Although she is deemed as a superhero, for Rocket her true superpower and strength is her ability to inspire.
4) RiRi “Ironheart” Williams (Marvel Comics)
Gipson: Another character that humanizes the Black girl experience is that of Marvel Comics RiRi “Ironheart” Williams. Through RiRi/Ironheart, as a fictional character, she personifies what it means to be a young, gifted, Black teen in today’s society. Her character also shares another look into the STEM world by encouraging Black girls to embrace one’s giftedness and intelligence.
This is a comic that I wish existed when I was a teenager, but nonetheless grateful that young Black girls and the world are able to appreciate it now. What is also significant about the Ironheart story is that it is written by a Black woman and Chicago-native, Eve L. Ewing, this is key as most stories in past comic book history have been written and drawn by white men (thankfully there is a growing landscape of representation).
To know that I am represented on the page and behind the panel inspires and further confirms that Black women and girls deserve to take up space in this popular medium. Ultimately, both Rocket and Ironheart are perfect examples of how comics can rewrite the script regarding Black girlhood and the importance of why “Representation Matters!!”
5) Torchy Brown (created by Jackie Ormes)
Gipson: Lastly, I felt it was important to not just recognize the importance of some of my favorite characters, but also one of my favorite writers/artists. Before there was even a Storm, Martha Washington, Rocket, or Ironheart there was a Black female lead named Torchy Brown created by cartoonist and writer Jackie Ormes. Similar to the Martha Washington character, Jackie Ormes legacy and work would find a home in Chicago.
As the first Black female cartoonist, Ormes was instrumental in resetting the standard in cartooning and comic strips. She did this by creating her own lane of telling stories that primarily featured Black voices, while also challenging the stereotypes and caricatures often presented in mainstream press. With readers from coast-to-coast, Ormes used her comic strip series and panels to discuss unapologetic commentary on such issues as racism, labor and taxes, U.S. Foreign policy, violence against women, unfair housing, segregated schools, and environmental injustice. She was able to use her talents to not only inform but also showcase (while entertain), in full color, the existence of intelligent, stylish and fashionable Black characters (particularly Black women). With Chicago as an honorary character, much of Ormes cartoon and comic strip work mirrored her real life as she was a community advocate and mentor, fundraiser, and trendsetter.
Invincible is the new Amazon Prime video animated television series based on the comics written by Robert Kirkman and illustrated by Tyan Ottely. This first season took the internet by storm and with season two and three being shortly announced after the release of the first season. The bigger question I want to tackle is, why is it so good? What drew people to this seemingly regular animated show about superheroes?
The latter question is definitely answered in the first episode. After seeing “Omni Man” who we think is the regular good guy type, we see him brutally kill the “Guardians of the Globe,” or this universe’s version of the “Avengers/Justice League.”
With that huge scene being in the first episode it draws the viewer into the show even more. This is not your typical superhero animated show. The hero being the villain all along and revealed in the first episode gives the viewer a sense of something new that has not been done before. I know for me I always find the “superhero being the villain” trope very interesting. Something about things being not as they seem are very unpredictable and that’s what makes this show so unique and interesting.
Along with an intriguing plot, the series also includes a star studded cast with Steven Yeun voicing “Mark”, Sandra Oh voicing “Debbie”, and J.K. Simmons voicing “Omni Man.” When it is all said and done, it’s really hard not to enjoy the show! If the first season taught us anything it is that anything can happen and I’m excited to see where they take Mark’s character in the future. I’m also excited to see what happens when Omni Man comes back.
Closing out this month on Jaya’s Pop Culture Minute, BFF intern Jaya dives back into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with an analysis and some commentary on the Disney+ series The Falcon and The Winter Soldier!!
With the ending of Wandavision, Marvel was set to release its latest series The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, a show following two characters that when all is said and done we do not really know. But as the episodes started coming out there became a clear divide between the praise Bucky Barnes was sent and the lack of praise and comments for Sam Wilson. Essentially Sam Wilson is being treated as an accessory within his own show.
As the show ratings progressed, it became known that Sam Wilson was not the reason why the Marvel fandom liked the show. This is nothing new, Black superheroes are constantly pushed behind their white counterparts, and are treated less than by a majority of the marvel fandom, (mostly from dudebros and uneducated fans). What most of the fandom lacks in seeing is what they deem Sam Wilson is worth. Within a week of the first two episodes Sam Wilson was at the bottom of polls conducted by various fan run sites and pop culture news outlets. For example, one had Sam polling at 11% while Zemo was at 20% (according to Fandom Wikipedia). This is a noticeable difference. It was not until the fourth episode that Sam Wilson started to gain traction as a result of John Walker, the government appointed Captain America bludgeoning an innocent person to death (episode 3). It’s almost as if Sam had to prove his worth in the eyes of the Marvel fandom in order for him to gain credibility.
As a Bucky and Sam fan myself, I noticed how Bucky polled very high early on in the show, while Sam stayed low. Interestingly enough, in the first few episodes Bucky had more lines than he did in the MCU movies, but this does not mean he was better in any way than Sam. Time and time again this pattern repeats itself, Black superheroes whether they have their own movie, or show, constantly have to prove their worth or earn their credibility in the eyes of a majority of the Marvel fandom. An early example of this is James Rhodes and Tony Stark. Through the Iron Man franchise Rhodey is treated as a sidekick or an accessory to the playboy philanthropist. We get very little backstory about Rhodey and he’s treated almost like a filler character. This continues even in the Avengers movies where Rhodey is seen as the sidekick. Even now, decades later after the last Iron Man movie, the Marvel fandom still treats him as a sidekick and not his own character due to Marvel’s lack of character development.
After watching the finale it seems even more obvious that Sam had to prove himself as a character for people to like him more, whereas Bucky was already well liked. Additionally, the finale received the lowest ratings, which is interesting because this episode is the first time we see Sam really step into his role as Captain America. On Instagram only a DAY after Sam took up the mantle people were making their own edits of Sam in the suit, along with tweets of who should be the next Captain America after as if Sam did not just become Captain America. This further proves how much Sam Wilson is treated as a side character/ accessory in his own show. As stated earlier, the Marvel fandom has shown this pattern time and time again. This is an issue that Marvel writers must deal with moving forward. A step in the right direction would be to hire more diverse writers so we can stop this pattern, because as a Black Marvel fan this constant pattern is tiring and irritating.
Here are a couple of events happening tomorrow and Friday:
*April 22nd, 2021 (8pm/ET)– “Art, Politics, and Social Justice in Times of Crisis.”-Art History Graduate Studies Symposium (Virtual Keynote Speaker)…Art History program (Department of Art)[University of Memphis] (Memphis, TN)
*April 23rd, 2021 (3-3:20 pm/EST)– “Inclusive and Accessible Teaching Practices using Media and Popular Culture”-2021 Virtual Symposia-Inclusive Teaching Practices (Symposium Speaker)…VCU-Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence [Virginia Commonwealth University] (Richmond, VA)
Inclusive and Accessible Teaching Practices using Media and Popular Culture
In 2021, pop culture is not just for entertainment purposes. Classrooms are now prime spaces to facilitate and leverage ‘pop culture’ into open dialogues and discussions for students to engage with various classroom topics.
Cue the music and push play on Tony! Toni! Toné! “Anniversary” and “Feels Good”… !!
On this day 18 years ago on the great campus of Clark Atlanta University, myself and 23 other amazing Black women became a part of the illustrious sisterhood that is Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Sigma Chapter!! What a glorious day!!
April 17th, 2003 was the day that the “24 Vibrant Visionaries of Virtue” made their debut into a lifelong sisterhood!!
And I could not ask for a better group of women to cross the burning sands with and enter into Delta land! Oh to be a Delta Girl!!
We getting up there Ladies!! 🙂 Cheers to many more Deltaversaries!!
Before March ends I had to make sure you got your monthly feature from Black Future Feminist Intern Jaya!! Not only do we have a new feature, but it will be housed under a new name, Jaya’s Pop Culture Minute!!
This month Jaya is offering a commentary on the Amazon Studios film, One Night in Miami (2020). Check it out below:
Although One Night in Miami is based on various moments (with fictional dialogue) between singer Sam Cooke, civil rights activist Malcolm X, boxer Cassius Clay, and football star Jim Brown, during an actual event the film somehow balanced out these large historical figures so that audiences can visualize them as real people. Most times when discussing Malcom X we only see him as a huge pivotal figure, but rarely as confidant, friend, or father. In this movie, each figure is presented in a more digestible manner. Additionally, this movie has an inviting feel that draws you into this filmic story. Simply put, this movie gives new meaning to the bonds of friendship, and how one night together can open new wounds, while mending old ones. Through the many conversations, we see how each of these men bring us into their deep dialogue, while also exposing audiences to the struggles of that time. While each of the men saw themselves as brothers and friends, like family and friends they had their disagreements, mainly around civil rights, but managed to understand and ultimately respect their differences. Even though the film delivers a lighthearted feel, it also shows moments when you are snapped back into reality. In particular, we see this in Malcolm’s uneasiness and concern with being followed and the constant feeling that a wave of death is in the air.
Overall, this movie shined a fresh new light and a more human side to these important, complex historical figures. Even the performances from the actors were spot on from their dialect to small details, which only enhanced the movie. The conflicts between characters are perfectly done. Additionally, the cinematography adds another layer of greatness from the bird’s eye view of the boxing match, to seeing Sam pull you in with his melodic voice, and Jim Brown in the viewfinder.
For a directorial debut, from Regina King, this is an amazing movie! Moreover, the idea of seeing these figures act normal and interact with each other during their last days is something that will leave your heart hurting. In the end, each actor’s performance will leave you breathless and wanting more!!
You will be able to find Jaya’s monthly features as well as other engaging and fun content in the “Resources” section of the site!!
Nothing like spotlighting the great work of one’s alma mater!! And on yesterday (March 7th, 2021) at the 2021 NBA All-Star Basketball Game in Atlanta, GA, my alma mater, the Clark Atlanta University Philharmonic Society(arranged by Dr. Roland Carter and directed by Dr. Curtis Powell) had the honor of singing James Weldon Johnson’s (Atlanta University C/O 1894) “Lift Every Voice and Sing”!!
This video is set at Harkness Hall on Clark Atlanta University’s historic campus. Commonly known as the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was originally penned by Atlanta University alumnus James Weldon Johnson AU’1894 and set to music by his brother J. Rosamond Johnson. It was first performed as a song in 1900 for President’s Day, and later the NAACP adopted it as the Black National Anthem in 1930.
See the amazing performance below:
Oooo sweet Jesus, I still got chills, even watching it a second time!!
Go Panthers!! Proud CAU Alum (C/O 2003)!! Nothing like the HBCU experience!!
So I have some exciting news to share…Black Future Feminist now has a logo!! Thanks to ATL’s own “West End Print Shop” and logo designer Kweku Vassall I have a vibrant and “eye-catching” (lol) logo!!
In addition to the amazing work, the customer service was also top notch!! When I tell you Kweku captured everything I was thinking in this logo, he truly made this Black Future Feminist vision a reality!! read my mind!!