Look alive, True Believers, if the rumors are to be believed, then Zendaya is playing the role of Mary Jane Watson in the upcoming Spider-Man movie. This is the latest in a series of black women being cast in traditionally white comic book roles. First it was Candice Patton being cast as Iris West in CW’s The Flash, then Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie in Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok, followed by Kiersey Clemons being cast in Warner Brother’s The Flash, and now Zendaya. While they’re all great actresses and I can’t wait to see them in action, it’s hard not to notice that only a certain type of black girl is being cast.
We all want to celebrate the fact that black women are getting more roles, but we need to address the colorism in these casting. Zendaya, Kiersey, Tessa, and Candice are all lightskin black women. These aren’t coincidences; these are products of our society’s devaluing of darkskin black women, especially those that don’t meet Eurocentric beauty standards. These actresses received/continue to receive a lot of hate, doused in racism no doubt, but nothing in comparison to what Leslie Jones went through just last month.
Leslie is a darkskin black women with Afrocentric features, and the internet sure as hell wanted her to know it. Through comparison to gorillas, various racial slurs, and general bigotry, she was forced to retreat from Twitter and thus interacting with her fans. Women like her are rarely given the chance to shine and when they are, they’re met with harassment and abuse.
Hollywood hates darkskin women so much that instead of actually hiring a darkskin woman to play Nina Simone, they had Zoe Saldana do blackface. When darkskin women are actually cast they’re never in the roles of love interests. Viola Davis is a fantastic actress, but she’s constantly being put into the role of being an inhuman hard-ass, never a sexy powerful woman like some of her lighter-skin colleagues.
I’m really happy about Zendaya playing MJ in Spider-Man: Homecoming, because she’s an amazing actress and an important role model for black girls. That doesn’t mean I have to ignore the incredible hypocrisy and double standards between lightskin and darkskin people. There is no uniform representation of brown and black people; we can’t keep celebrating these thin lightskin girls while ignoring and devaluing everyone else. When these black women come on screen, I know they will inspire black girls, and that is incredibly important. However, it’s just as important to represent different kinds of black girls on screen. Diversity is more than just throwing some people of color on screen, we need to delve into that and diversify further.