Research Advancements #1

I stumbled across an interesting blog recently on Academic Hoodoo , entitled She-roes and She-gods?Africana Religions and the Comics (Part 1).  This post shed light on a topic I have not previously thought about while researching the topic of feminism and comics, which is black women in comics and the African religions that are represented.  The author, Dr. Yvonne Chireau, is a professor of American and Africa American religion at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania.

Chireau looks closely at black female comic book characters (especially superheroes) who posses seemingly god-like powers, supernatural abilities, and fantastic technologies.  They are considered as “modern-day deities”.

Chireau first points out the well-known fact about the portrayal of women in comics.  She begins by stating that “women tend to be created as decorative add-ons and uninspiring sidekicks”.  She goes onto say that “black female characters fare slightly better than their white female counterparts”.  She thinks this may be possible because they “occupy discursive space as women and they play supporting roles to black males who also navigate the perilous mazes of gender and race in the comics universe”.  She goes onto say it is too easy to find black female characters who lack depth, agency, and nuance.  Even African Goddesses can be conventional in that they are simply beautiful, black, and female.  They have superpowers, but their unique characteristics are scripted according to phenotype, which is close to a stereotype.  But even with all this, there are still some exceptions.  

She briefly writes about Martha Washington, Storm, and Monica Rambeau as examples of these exceptions.  Martha Washington is a “brilliant one-woman freedom-fighting machine”.  Monica Rambeau is a “rare black superheroine who crosses universes, picks up the mantle of Captain Marvel, becomes a leader of the Avengers, and cycles through multiple identities”.  Also, Rambeau survives multiple transmutations of her character yet remains remains as multilayered and complex a figure as any, which is not common for a female character.  Storm, possibly the best known black female action figure, has mutant powers and  is a deity of winds and tornadoes from the Yoruba religious traditions.  There may not be many black leading females in comics, but there are still a few and they are strong and push the boundaries for women.

Superheroes resembling or being like gods is a very common theme and topic of discussion today, especially academically.  This remains true in Chireau’s post as well.  She has some interesting things to say on the topic and also refers to myth and mythology.  One interesting thing that she says is “It makes sense that comics become the guidebooks for dreamers and adventurers who long to tap into those vivid, otherworldly realms where the action is.  Where one can meet superheroes and gods. How else do you start a religion?”.

Chireau goes on to finish the post by explaining how religion and black women fit into all the previous discussion.  She says that “religion usually shows up in the comics as flair, as an identity marker, as a way of adding cultural or ethnic flavor to a character- or better yet as a story device that registers anxieties around difference and power”.  She briefly discusses her view on religion and it’s portrayal in comics and then says that religion provides an essential framework for understanding a superhero’s source of empowerment.

Chireau brought up some topics that I had not previously considered and she has some interesting thoughts on this overall topic, which can be useful information for my research and gives me ideas while continuing my research.

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