Racism, colourism and sexism are staples of the comics universe, with fans becoming almost obsessively protective of the characters that are increasingly being brought to the big and silver screen. This incessant and often misguided want for characters to remain true to the original comics leaves little room for diversity, even though the characters themselves are rarely realistic to begin with.
Just last year we saw the stunning Gal Gadot critised for both her race and body when it was announced that she would play the role of Wonder Woman. First critics claimed that it was wrong for an Israeli woman to lead the film, which was the reason it was subsequently banned in several Arab countries. Then fans began criticising the fact that she wasn’t as ‘busty’ or ‘voluptuous’ as the character’s depiction in comic books.
Another actress, Kelly Marie Tran, who played Rose Tico in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, deleted her online presence after experiencing months of social media harassment. The actress, who was the first lead female character of colour in the iconic series, was thoroughly criticised by Star Wars fans for her performance, looks and Asian ethnicity.
It is no surprise therefore that Senegalese-American actress Anna Diop is at the receiving end of disturbing backlash from “fans” of DC Comics new series Teen Titans. Diop is set to play Starfire, aka Princess Koriand’r Starfire, a female alien with vibrant orange skin and a mane of scarlet hair.
With the release of the first trailer at Comic-Con last week, and with leaked pictures of Diop in cosplay doing the rounds on the Internet before that, fans got their first look at Diop’s Starfire. Unfortunately, a section of the show’s fandom went on to criticise the actress for her skin color.
In a compiled BuzzFeed list, one fan tweeted, “She is too fat and too dark for Starfire.” Another commented: “Starfire is not African.”
— Edwin (#JusticeForWrenchy) Acevedo ♠♥♦♣ (@EdwinTheAce) July 19, 2018
Diop’s Instagram page became so flooded by hate that she had to disable her comments. She addressed the racism at the time in a now-deleted post, saying: “Too often social media is abused by some who find refuge in the anonymity and detachment it provides; misused as a tool to harass, abuse and spew hatred at others,” Diop wrote. “This is weak, sad, and a direct reflection of the abuser. Racist, derogatory and/or cruel comments have nothing to do with the person on the receiving end of that abuse.”
Experience has shown that the people who attack these women are predominantly men who are not only super fans but ardent propagators of misogyny, homophobia and racism. Aptly put by Vox.com, this pattern of attack based on gender, race and sexual orientation is upsetting not only to those directly affected by the attacks but for the potential it has to stifle pop culture’s slow evolution towards greater representation for people who are not white men.
To counter this, many have come to Diop’s defence, upholding the obvious fact that no actor would have “naturally” fit the role of an orange-skinned alien and that the attacks were blatantly racist and not attempts to maintain the integrity of the characters depiction.
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I would like to take a moment to acknowledge how proud and excited I am to be working alongside @The_AnnaDiop. In my humble opinion, @DCUTitans, @theDCuniverse and all of their fans are lucky to have her talent, her grace and her beauty on board. While the abhorrent racism in this country seems to be going nowhere anytime soon (#NiaWilson), the dignity, strength and couth my friend continues to exemplify in the face of it humbles and inspires me. That so many racist cowards would take the time to attack her instagram so that she has to shut off comments after having already shut down her entire account once before over this bullshit makes me feel rage. Though I also feel a small relief knowing how strong and thick-skinned Anna is. I know she is and will be ok. It takes zero courage to sit in your dark lonely room spewing your venom online while protected by your anonymous faceless accounts. I cannot begin to fathom the courage it requires everyday just to exist as a black woman in this country (#ChikesiaClemons) let alone to also have the audacity to fight for and follow your dreams. I bow to you, Anna. I can’t wait for everyone to see the brilliant work you’ve done. Shine on, my love. You are a queen and all the people who matter know it. #IStandWithAnnaDiop 👑✨
We need to adress the underlying racism present in “nerd culture.” I have been highly critical of Titans and I think Anna Diop and the rest of the cast may have been set up to fail. But there’s no excuse for the abuse women of color routinely face from fans in the industry https://t.co/rb4luQBFt2
— Elijah Stewart (@EJ_Stewart) July 25, 2018
Comic book fan community: You have to loudly denounce these racist trolls who make these attacks. They do not represent the fan community and the fan community cannot allow itself to get painted with this brush when it’s such a small number of hateful people doing this. Stand up. https://t.co/ZlRmgpZq8O
— Paul Feig (@paulfeig) July 25, 2018