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Marvel takes necessary step toward racial, gender equality

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Marvel has made a bold statement by announcing a teenage black woman as Tony Stark’s successor in the Iron Man comic books, continuing a trend in diversifying their comic book universe.

Riri Williams is a rebellious but highly intelligent prodigy who enrolls in MIT at 15. She catches Stark’s attention when it is revealed that she is building an Iron Man suit in her dormitory.

In the middle of the protests throughout the U.S. following the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and a time when basic human rights are questioned and the country is divided, the comics publisher’s announcement is refreshing.

Although it doesn’t seem like a life-changing revelation to most, it is the first steps toward an integrated future where white isn’t always the color of heroism.

Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis began to develop the character after working on a project in Chicago that didn’t go on air. During this time, Bendis was inspired by the story of a brilliant young woman with a tragic life who still pushed toward college.

This is important because people have forgotten that privilege and white skin don’t equal to being powerful.

Not to say that those things go hand-in-hand, but minorities face poverty, inequality and racism. The stories of Williams and the young girl that inspired Bendis are ones that young African-Americans can look up to. Adversity should not be the be-all and end-all of minority lives.

In recent years, Marvel has increasingly striven for a wider variety of ethnicities.  The addition of characters like Kamala Khan, Miles Morales and Isaiah Bradley are reimaginings of traditionally white male heroes.

Compared to the number of ethnic characters that have been whitewashed in TV shows and films, this is just a small sample size taken from a predominately white universe.

The change can be attributed to readers’ gradual shift from middle-aged white men to a younger, more diverse crowd. As readership changes, so does the need to cater to a different crowd that is less homogeneous and hungry for equality.

Needless to say, the introduction of Williams into the Marvel-verse is not without its criticism.

“Some of the comments online, I don’t think people even realize how racist they sound,” Bendis said, regarding the backlash Marvel has received from comic book purists. “All I can do is state my case for the character, and maybe they’ll realize over time that that’s not the most progressive thinking.”

The response from critics was disappointing, but unsurprising. No one assumes that change is going to be easy, and those who fear it most will fight the hardest.

Some would rather make excuses for why the U.S. social system should stay the same and ignore the good that could come from a united society. To the dismay of the traditionalist, the voices of those who speak for improvement are loud and unrestrained.

Marvel’s diversification of classic icons is paying off despite the flurry of mixed reactions. Fans old and new are embracing the differences, provided that the character is well-developed and stays true to the comics.

Timing is everything. Marvel’s aim for inclusion gives hope to those who seek a multifaceted society.

With Marvel productions dominating cinemas around the globe, the introduction of diversity into its comics could create a more colorful Hollywood. With statements like “#OscarsSoWhite” calling for more minority nominees to be recognized, the pressure is on for equality and acceptance to appear in mainstream media and society.

In the grand scheme of things, this announcement seems like a blip on the radar, but it can be held as a symbol of progression. A new generation is emerging, one that reaches towards peace and equality.

The transition from a masculine white hero to a powerful black heroine is a poignant message: U.S. is changing, and change is not always bad.

Columnist Caprice Carter is a communication junior and can be reached at [email protected]


  • I cannot express more how harmful doing this is to minority/female identity.
    Taking iconic white and/or male characters and “recasting” them as non-white non-male only serves to forever label said character as nothing more than a replacement which is very unfortunate but nevertheless true.

    I wish Marvel would focus more heavily on creating new characters and giving them their own identity instead of having all of these new replacements.

    Black Panther (comic shown in the picture above, but mentioned nowhere in the article) is an example of the gold standard of doing this. Because T’Challa will always be THE Black Panther… not the new Black Panther.

    • This is a new character; Tony Stark still exists, alive and in focus of an independent series. Heroes take up mantles for other heroes in the comics all the time.

      • Sure they do, but do you know who Jean-Paul Valley is? Ben Reilly? John Walker?

        I’d wager probably not without a quick Googling, but back in the 90’s they tried doing a very similar identity reassignment to treasured heroes because they felt their moral standards and the like were trapped too far back in a time long past. Those characters met with similar criticism, when a race/gender wasn’t even a factor mind you, because they took characters with established identities and morals and tried to force new identities upon them and it just did not work.
        That’s why people will always remember Bruce Wayne as Batman, Peter Parker as Spiderman, and Steve Rodgers as Captain America, and why yet another round of Marvel identity reassignment is bound to fall flat on its face.

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