This Editorial comes to us from Everett Christensen.
Monday, July 31st 2017, we got our first look at Zazie Beetz in the role of Domino, a.k.a Neena Thurman, in the upcoming film Deadpool 2. These images showed us Domino as a black woman with vitiligo, lightening Domino’s trademark spot and ‘inverting’ her color palate. What followed was completely unsurprising. Immediately huge swaths of black Twitter were delighted, claims of hot fire and dopeness abounded, there was much rejoicing. Similarly, a whole bunch of comics fans raised their voices. ‘It’s not accurate’, ‘why do they give white roles to black people’ and ‘I’m not going to see this now’ they cried. It must be asked, why? Why is this so hideously predictable? No part of any of this should surprise anyone. It has been seen countless times and will no doubt happen countless more. For this to cause any controversy, in the X-Men franchise no less, affirms the need to explain and critique both reactions.
First, an explanation of some context. Domino was introduced in New Mutants #98, designed by Rob Liefeld, and is a fairly consistent side character in the franchise with well over 450 appearances. She has a visible mutation of being 2% Milk white with a black spot on her face. A frequent companion and sometimes lover of Cable it makes sense that she would be appearing in Deadpool 2 as a supporting character. But let us be honest, the odds of this being a lead role are low. So why does it matter in the first place?
The black community gets excited about black heroes. That excitement brings viewership. It must be understood that if the producers felt they would lose money on this casting choice they wouldn’t have accepted it. The potential draw of black viewership for casting a black woman in the role of Domino when cast against the number of fans who will boycott the film based on it are not equal. It would be incredibly generous to assume there are a few hundred thousand fans of the franchise who might make a decision against seeing the film. There are millions of potential viewers in the black community that may not have otherwise chosen to go see an R rated comic book movie.
It is hard to comprehend why this needs reiterating. It has been shouted from rooftops for decades. Black women are a disproportionate minority of characters in film because of black roles in cinema are over-represented to men. That the production has chosen to attempt this stunt at all is daring because, as it has been pointed out countless times, they could have just used the makeup. This is an explicit decision to increase the franchise diversity. It’s not some kind of enlightened decision. The X-Men franchise since Claremont is built on diversity and this is just an extension of that legacy. That’s all it needed to be, but a certain kind of fan simply could not help themselves. People, claiming to be fans of the franchise, raised their voice in complaint. In a way they are because they could have been polite about it.
Internet attention is fickle, but nothing draws crowds like outrage. By speaking out in racially charged, vitrolic, and degrading fashion about the actress in question these fans demand to be called out in defense of black women. If her hair was not called a ‘rat’s nest’, it would not have to be explained that black hair in America has a history of being just as colonized as our bodies. It would not need to be said that representing a hero with natural hair is a powerful and positive message without their response. If certain individuals did not reduce the actress to an object it would not have to be reiterated for the umpteenth time that such behavior is unacceptable.
If this were the first time this conversation had been brought up in recent memory that would be one thing, however, this instance is far from alone. Mere months ago the exact same conversation occurred surrounding the casting of Tessa Thompson in Thor: Ragnarok as Valkyrie. That voices were raised in protest then was not isolated than either! There was Zendaya’s Spider-man Homecoming casting before that! It is a part of some sick certainty that with any casting of a black woman, a choice that they consistently choose to make in Marvel films both in and out of Disney, that a contingency of dunces shall crawl out of the woodwork to complain. This is rather worrisome due to the implication that they simply haven’t learned.
It should be noted that the general response of the black community is without nuance as well. For them to chose to represent the character as a black woman, decide to go with an inverted color scheme, and then settle on a light skinned actress could be misogynoir. There are darker skinned black actresses who could have been a better visual fit for what essentially is a stunt. Perhaps they could have chosen an actress who actually had vitiligo. The decisions they have chosen to make can easily be read as direct pandering to the audience while advancing harmful subtextual colorism. Yet the community continues to accept the meager scraps offered as if it were all inclusive and revolutionary instead of a ploy engineered to put black butts in movie seats. Instead of a congratulatory round of back patting for token representation more critical thought is required and more importantly, action demanded from creators who seek to profit from the community’s desire to support blackness in media.
For what has not been suggested often or called out frequently is the choice to not advance the current franchise characters that are already black women. The X-Men franchise already has a larger and more diverse black cast than the vast majority of comics in the Marvel universe. If there is a place to increase the representation of black women and advance their characters into the superhero modern day, it’s right here, ground zero. The legacy of the franchise is one of inclusivity, to begin with and highlighting that honors the concept of triumph over bigotry. But instead of Frenzy or else shining in the spotlight we instead have a race-bend with potentially disastrous long term effects.
A previous article in this series points out that culturally American black women are a rarity in the franchise. It would be extremely tone deaf for Domino in the comics to suddenly exhibit an ethnicity she has heretofore never been seen to represent. We have seen movie adaptations of characters impact their comic book representation before as with the Ultimates, Samuel L. Jackson, 616 Nick Fury ouroboros. Comic book movies are rarely, if ever, comic book accurate. It is past time to let that go. We’ve had decades of this, it is tired and stale to hold a purists gaze to an industry that will not listen to complaints. Similarly, it’s not enough to keep praising that exact same industry for what essentially amounts to tokenism, no matter how progressive it seems. It is tiring to encounter this over and over again when it comes to comic book derived media but it being the X-Men franchise makes it that much more frustrating.