Guest Article- De’Areyes Bryant
2018 was a phenomenal year for black nerds (blerds) and African-Americans alike: we witnessed Black Panther gain more success than most solo superhero films ever dream of, and with it came especially the emphasis of Black Women’s roles in comics and the African dysphoria. We also witnessed the story of Miles Morales, an Afro-Latino Spider-Man, come to life on the big screen in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Things are looking up for blerds when it comes to black representation in the live-action spectrum of comics.
We were also excited when DC Comics announced that Anna Diop was cast as Koriand’r (Starfire) in DC’s live action Titans, based on DC’s 1980’s The New Teen Titans comics. However, as Diop is a dark-skinned Senegalese-American actress, within hours of DC’s announcement, the trolls showed up in droves to attack DC’s decision of casting a black woman as Starfire. Starfire is canonically drawn as an orange alien with green eyes, so the faux outrage was to be expected, given that a black woman was cast as her when most were expecting her to be white. Before set photos were even released, the trolls where doing what they do best and began harassing Diop on Instagram, forcing her to turn off comments on her posts. This outrage was unwarranted, as not only is it racist and colorist, but also because this isn’t the first time a black actress has played an alien in comic book movies—Zoe Saldana plays Gamora in the MCU, an alien who is green, but the outrage caused by Saldana’s casting was minimal compared to what we seen in Diop’s case.
In the set photos we see Diop dressed in a purple tight-fitted dress, magenta kinky hair, a fur coat, and without any orange skin. With this reveal, the internet went mad. Our first look at Kory Anders garnered a lot of criticism and even spawned the hashtag #Notmystarfire, and the criticism of Diop’s costume led to even more trolls and racists to become emboldened and come at her even more harshly, eventually leading her to take a social media break to get away from the online bullying she endured.
As consumers we often judge almost everything at first glance without knowing the context or background information, and base our opinion on that first encounter. However, this was not the case with Diop and Kory. Because the online abuse at the hands of trolls and so-called “comic book purists” came before set photos were even released, it was obvious that there would already be racial undertones involved in the criticisms of Diop’s portrayal of Starfire. I, for one, am not necessarily a fan of how Kory is dressed, but my doubts were eased when it was announced that Kory attended a 70’s themed disco party the night before the crash. Although Kory is not always orange, when she uses her powers her skin turns orange and her eyes turn green, just like in the comics.
Most of the critics named Kory as a “prostitute” before given context of her role in Titans, all because of a fur coat. This narrative is a tired and outdated one that objectifies and oversexualizes women, especially black women, based on their attire and nothing more. Also, for the “comic book purists” out there that reinforce this argument know nothing about Starfire’s backstory—the Tamaraneans convert UV energy from the sun to fly, so in the comics they are often seen wearing revealing clothes, so it wouldn’t be far-fetched to assume that they dress this way to harness more of the sun’s energy.
Also, on October 16th, only after the first episode of the Titans show, a BTS featurette was released showing Diop in a comic accurate costume. So before getting truly invested into the show, most of the criticisms that plagued Diop’s portrayal of Starfire were either explained, or were shown to be fixed later on in the show. But that did not alleviate any of the trolls who attacked the character or Diop.
Flash forward to the present, Titans is a success and Diop’s performance of Kory Anders has been regarded as one of the best portrayals of the comic character, and also one of the best performances in Titans in general, but the criticisms that were present before we seen an episode of Titans are present after the season finale. People still regard Kory as a prostitute, although she has never exhibited any behavior that would regard her as such in the show. People still attack how she’s dressed as “slutty”, even though no one in the Titans universe has commented on how she’s dressed, which either shows that their universe is more progressive than ours or that they are purposefully ignoring how she’s dressed. Either way, the Titans universe hasn’t given us an indication that Kory has sex for money, so why keep this narrative alive?
The reason lies in the initial criticism of Diop playing Starfire—she’s a black actress playing a character that nerds wanted to see as white. Without delving too deep into the characterization of Kory in Titans, we’ve seen her be the strong warrior princess that protects Rachel with everything she can, not the overtly flirty and airheaded Nightwing admirer we’ve seen in other iterations. Kory Anders is the glue that holds Titans together and without her, the show would not have gotten the praise that it has been given since the first episode and Diop deserves all the recognition for that. Yes, 2018 has been a great year for black male comic book characters but there is still work to be done for the black female characters that appear on our screens as well. What Kory Anders taught us about black representation in comics is that you can be the most badass and comic-true adaption of any comic book character but, all of that goes out of the window when you are a dark-skinned woman of color.
A part of me wonders if we would still be having this discussion if a light-skinned black actress was cast as Kory instead of Diop. I believe that we would be, but the backlash would not have been as severe as it was. What was even more surprising is the number of so-called male blerds who also publicly demeaned and attacked Diop with the trolls and racists. Other black female comic book characters exist, such as China Anne McClain and Nafessa Williams as Lightning and Thunder, respectively, in Black Lightning, Megalyn Echikunwoke as Vixen in the Arrowverse, and Saldana in the MCU. However, the main difference between these women and Diop is skin color, as Diop is considerably darker than these actresses, which led to the increased criticism of Diop. I do not mean to ignore the obvious tacky coat or wig that Kory is sporting—I know that this attire is somewhat cringeworthy—but discussing them at this point is futile given that she will get a makeover soon in the series. If anything, Joyce Schure and Laura Jean Shannon (costume designers for Titans) should be the ones in the hot box.
Given all the facts, the constant attacking of Kory/Diop can be nothing short of racial/colorist prejudices, and the sooner we realize that, the sooner the nerd community can truly become more accepting and celebrating of diversity.