Marvel has a new Black female character (!!!!). But, there's good news and bad news.
The good news: In the Iron Man comic-book series, Tony Stark will be handing off his baton to Riri Williams, a badass, 'fro-and-hoops-donning 15-year-old genius who will take the story to new heights — quite literally. In the story, the super-smart teen heads to MIT early, where she creates a gravity-defying suit from her dorm room that's so powerful, it catches Stark's attention in a big way.
But when I read today's Time interview with Riri's creator, Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis, I immediately wanted to know more about the man behind the character. I quickly Googled him and, here comes the bad news: Predictably, not only is he a man — he's white. A white man is telling the story of a young, Black female character.
Don't get me wrong: I give major props to Bendis for introducing Riri — whom he says was inspired by a real-life Chicago teen — to the Iron Man world. This is a huge step forward for both Marvel and the comic-book industry as a whole. But the reality is, no matter how talented, creative, or imaginative Bendis is, he won't be able to accurately tell the story of a young, gifted, and Black character without the help of Black writers.
Sure, Bendis is an award-winning writer who is incredibly adept at making out-of-this-world fantasies feel real. But will he be able to envision Riri's reaction when a white classmate at MIT asks to touch her natural hair? Can he portray the awkwardness Riri feels when the Old Boys Club of white male superheroes evilly laughs at the idea that she thinks she can take over the world? Can he dream up a realistic Kendrick Lamar-fueled playlist that she'll blast inside her new-and-improved Iron Man suit? (I personally need to hear "Alright" just to begin a normal day, so if I were a 15-year-old superhero, I'd need the turn-up tunes on deck.) Yes, this is an imaginary world, and yes, these are all small details — but authenticity is what makes a story not just entertaining, but relatable.
And before the industry cries that there are no qualified Black comic-book writers, there are plenty. Just a few that I'm familiar with as someone on the periphery of the comic-book world: Erika Alexander (you might recognize her as an actress from Living Single and The Cosby Show), who created the series Concrete Park; Juliana "Jewels" Smith, the writer behind (H)Afrocentric; and Miz Caramel Vixen, who launched Black Comic Month in January of last year. And actress Amandla Stenberg (a superhero in her own right, in my opinion) even released a coming-of-age series called Niobe: She Is Life last year.
While my mental list of Black comic book writers ends, admittedly and sadly, not long after that, Jordan Broadnax, founder of Black Girl Nerds (one of my favorite sites, a "nerdy online community" for women of color) offered up her services to Marvel this morning.
So Marvel and Bendis, I salute you. You've peaked the interest of long ago comic-book readers like me who will now be reading the Civil War II series just to meet Riri. But in 2016, it's unacceptable that there aren't more brown writers lending their voices to your stories, especially when you have resources like Comic Con and Twitter at your fingertips. Characters that accurately reflect all of us will make for an audience that's made up of all sorts of readers. With Riri Williams, you have the power to give Black girls of all ages the belief that they can can change the world — whether as a college student, superhero, comic-book writer, or in any other station.