The villain is one of the most fascinating parts of a story. They do not have to be bound by the moral or emotional expectations of the audience. The very existence of the villain is a rebellious embrace of what the audience is expected to dislike or hate. Although I am happy to live in an era when black creators are giving us richer, more interesting black characters, there is a specific type of character that I hope to see more of on screen: the black villainess.
As a fan of fiction, I would be so excited to see a black woman on screen who plays the role of an evil genius that plots world domination. Sometimes, I imagine what it would be like to go to the theater and see the antagonist be a badass black woman that uses her drawstring ponytail as a weapon. Instead of a luxurious weave, she would have a long chain with a knife’s edge attached to her bun that she would use to ruthlessly attack her opponents. I would also like to see a black woman as a sneaky trickster that uses her cunning to get the best of the protagonist. This is not about black women being portrayed as “bad people”, but more about seeing black women on screen that are truly unafraid to offend, disrupt and be inappropriate. It subverts the idea that a powerful black character needs to be ‘honorable’ in some way in order to exist in a world of fiction.
I should point out that there are characters like Annalise Keating and Olivia Pope that possess villainous qualities and have committed acts of villainy. Ultimately though, these characters are honorable because they play the role of a sort of matriarch that would do anything for the family of characters around them. The power they possess is justified because it is used to help and protect others. Of course there is nothing wrong with this but when I speak of craving a black villainess in this article, I am referring more to an unapologetically self-serving character that is complex and rich but is ultimately comfortable being unredeemable.
Aside from the cool aesthetic possibilities, there are certain stereotypes that being an unapologetic villain would subvert in cool and strange ways. I want to see a black woman on screen that puts her interests before anyone else’s— a selfishness that black women are not necessarily afforded in real life. I want to see quirky, fun qualities that being a villain would usually allow, like a silly prankster that takes things a little too far, or a vain seductress who uses people to get what she wants. In The Purge: Election Year, as much as I loved the black woman as a gun-wielding hero, I was more fascinated by the insane psychopath who gladly terrorized her victims in a bloodied wedding dress and afro puffs. I loved even more that her only justification for her crimes was a candy bar. These qualities would make black characters more dynamic and interesting on screen.
Here is a toast, to seeing more Wilhelmina Slaters and Dominique Deverauxs on screen. I hope that we get to see more black women in fiction who are troublemakers, pranksters and mad scientists. Salute, to the black creators that are bound to make these characters rich, bold, interesting and incredibly fun. Cheers, to the Black Villainess and the many possibilities.
Written by Yemidale Ajayi