Two things led me to this topic: my last post on Quvenzhane Wallis as Annie and reading this article on the new Muslim Ms. Marvel. In my last article, I wondered when the last time I read/saw a black character (especially black female) get to play with the “rags to riches” scenario. A lot of what Annie does is childhood wish fulfillment, she gets to be rich and live in a whole new world and have adventures that she couldn’t have before. It reminds me of the movie Blank Check (yes, the 1994 Disney movie), where the boy fills out a check for 1 million dollars and gets a mansion and toys and gadgets. He gets to live in a mansion and order a butler around. When was the last time a black character experienced this kind of wealth fantasy? (Please list examples in the comments!)
The article on the new Ms. Marvel comics discusses the “empowerment fantasy.” Kamala, the main character, is just like any of us. She liked comic books, is trying to fit in at school, and just wants to figure out her place in the world. Then she receives superpowers and her life begins to change. She can save lives and hangs out with superheroes. “She’s the unpopular kid, and then she gets superpowers so she can be admired by all those who rejected her. Thus, it’s an empowerment fantasy.” It is so rare to get a comic character of color as the lead in a series, even though we experience an increased amount of societal rejection. The article talks about early comic book writers, many of them being of Jewish descent, using their characters to “assimilate” into a world where you have power (Spider-man and Superman being the prime examples of the nerdy, “weak” guys turning into powerful heroes). “Being a superhero is a way to fit in.”
The article makes note that this decision for her transformation (her superhero persona is the traditional white Ms. Marvel) is to comment on how changing how you look doesn’t always change how you feel inside. However, it made me think about the idea of the empowerment fantasy and how few black people get to see characters experience it. Many critics of this Oscar award season have commented that the films nominated focus on black people as slaves or servants or in a position of weakness. Films where black people come out on top or win without the help of white people are rarely given any light by the Academy or mainstream Hollywood. We are relegated to the role of the sidekick in most mainstream shows and movies—we don’t get the empowerment journey. We don’t get to be the hero.
I don’t have completely formulated thoughts on this issue—It’s just kind of a new term to discuss what we already know—PoCs aren’t the main characters, aren’t the heroes. But I was struck by the term in the article on Ms. Marvel and look to you guys in the BGN community to help me continue the conversation. It’s not just about being the main character, it’s about getting to experience the hero’s journey, to grow from a low place to a place of power and strength. Those stories don’t get told or a pushed to niche audiences and ignored by the mainstream. It’s another part of making sure that not only are we represented, but are represented properly, with problems and insecurities and the ability to overcome them.