Not Just an OTP: When a Fan “Loves” a (Black) Woman

When a Fan “Loves” a (Black) Woman

In this final article before we conclude, we’re going to take a look at what it’s like for fictional Black women in fandom. Since we’re talking about fictional characters, I thought it would be best to cover how these Black women are represented.

I mentioned that I don’t really pay attention to what male reviewers say about women and whether they’re well-written, and that this goes doubly if they’re women of colour. No, I’m not going to apologise for that. What I’m going to say is that we have two different perspectives and we’re looking for two different things. I started watching The Flash in 2015, binge-watching it over summer and then starting the second season with everyone else. I started after I stopped watching Scandal become a hot mess, after enjoying Empire but getting a little tired of the messy, dysfunctional Black family, and not really being interested in the superhero genre since until that point it had been as lily-white as…well the rest of television.

The fact that a Black woman is a romantic heroine – and despite the efforts of Snowbarry shippers, Spallen shippers, SuperFlash shippers, and all of the other “Anybody Not Named Iris For Some Reason” shippers, remains that way – is revolutionary. The vast difference between white women getting to be the romantic heroine and Black women doing it is why fans of Iris West are so adamant that she gets to remain the romantic heroine and the central person in Barry Allen’s narrative. The issue of diversity – which really should be called inclusion – is that people don’t understand it’s not just having minorities onscreen – it’s what they’re doing while they’re there.

It’s Black women getting to be soft and vulnerable and desired instead of hard and kickass all the time and constantly forgotten about. It’s Black boys who aren’t always dumb jocks or stereotypical nerds. It’s Latino men who aren’t idiots, it’s Latina women who aren’t “spicy,” it’s Asian women who aren’t “exotic,” and Asian men who aren’t desexualised. It’s homosexual people who aren’t stereotypes, it’s bisexual people who are actually allowed to be bisexual, and trans people played by people who are transgender. All of these people and more in leading roles as principal forces in the story, rather than as a prop for the protagonist to learn about how bad x minority has it.

And precisely why sites such as this one, and Geeks of Color, and Project Fandom, and Fangirlish, and many, many others are so important is because unlike the vast majority of major sites that review these properties, these are people of colour, women, people on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, and countless other minorities who are the ones just now being represented in major ways. They understand that what might be a reductive trope on a white person is completely heard of on a person of colour. That knowledge and understanding of what came before the diversity push is what will enhance the stories that spring from it, which is why, yes, it’s important that you read that Middle Eastern woman’s reviews and opinions on Aladdin, because she will tell you why it’s such a terrible idea to stick a white guy in the middle of a story about Arab people.

When I started watching The Flash, Iris West was a woman not constantly dumped on, called to make sacrifices, shoved aside for a white woman (…often), made to look plain so everyone else could shine, or any of the other countless things that I’ve come to expect when looking for representation. To love a Black woman on television is to constantly worry for her safety, that your representation will be wiped out with the keystroke of some script writer who visits too many male-dominated forums and doesn’t understand the coded sexism and racism that pervades those spaces. I loved her for precisely the reasons that butthurt fanboys and women who can’t self-insert with Iris for some reason hated her, but I’ve spent enough time in fandom to realise that they’ve had enough representation and so little practice relating to Black women that they don’t understand her position – and don’t want to.  And when a Black character is prominent within fandom, you can generally expect all kinds of misogynoir, ranging from the seemingly-harmless telling the actress that they don’t think she can do her job, to the more harmful begging for the writers to kill her and replace her with a white woman, to the outright vile…you know what? Let me save it for the end. Anyway, even though we’re talking about Iris, I’m sure you’ll find a lot of this happens to any Black woman in fandom. No matter how much they claim to “love” her.

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