The Power of Black Women in Fandom

When black women in fandom speak, directors and networks listen

The rare characters that become love interests for a white male protagonist are often sidelined for a white woman. It’s inexplicably rare for the black women character to be the one to whom the white protagonist declares his devotion to and stays with in the end. Black women characters are often forced into the “Mammy” caricature: a workhorse forced to care for white characters, carry their burdens, and assist in cleaning up their messes. Characters who fall into the “Mammy” trope often martyr themselves for the sake of white characters.

Fans want a character that is just as three dimensional as the others on her show. We want characters who won’t be neglected and sidelined. We do not want characters who will be abused for the sake of furthering a white character’s story. Any adversity or pain she experiences should further her own character growth foremost.

Any black female fan of a show that isn’t considered “a black show” by the industry, learns quickly that when a character exists that’s intended to represent “our demographic”, the fandom will find any reason they can to hate her. They’ll write long screeds about how her mere presence ruins the show, and they’ll call for her to be killed off. If this character is a lead, the abuse intensifies. White, usually female fans, will send online abuse to the actress and harass her fans, often using racial slurs.

As a black women who are fans of black female characters, we are constantly reminded how much hate there is for black women and how voraciously people in fandoms dig for reasons to justify it. Oftentimes white female characters are lauded for doing the same things that white fan bases hate black female characters for.

But the hate that black women characters receives isn’t only blatant, with death threats and tirades of racial slurs there are often fans of the show who loathe her, but swear up and down they don’t know why. Here’s some anonymous quotes from white fans of The Flash regarding the show’s black leading lady, Iris West and her relationship with the white male protagonist, Barry Allen:

“She just rubs me the wrong way.”

“She hasn’t done anything. I just don’t like her.”

“There’s nothing wrong with her, I just don’t want her marrying Barry.”

“They just don’t look right together”

If you’re black, it’s easy to see the truth in their coded statements: “I don’t like her because she is black. I don’t want Iris to be with Barry because she is black.”

Their statements and feelings actually say nothing about Iris as a character. What they do reveal is a window on how a society that stereotypes, mistreats, and often dehumanizes black women is so deeply ingrained into their subconscious that it even clouds their opinions of fictional characters.

Despite the treatment from racist fans of their favorite shows, black female fans fight hard for their favorite shows. We continue to promote, publicize, campaign, and interact more than any other demographic, and are still overlooked. If executives and writers could embrace their black female fan bases, listen to us, write black female characters well and take pride in them, they’d discover a loyal and passionate group who will fight for their show through thick and thin, and more than that, they’ll see their ratings skyrocket. Why? Because there are plenty of black women who have given up on fandom after seeing their favorite character sidelined or done wrong. But fandom is a network. When black female fans laud a show for the treatment of its black leading lady, word gets around. And there are plenty of black women who have left other fandoms, looking for the right show. The one that will take it’s black leading lady seriously. The one that will treat her character with respect. The character that’s truly human, not a stereotype or caricature. The writers who understand that not only is representation important, but that what you do with that representation that matters.

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  • Megan

    I can relate to this on a spiritual level. But we aren’t going to remain silent anymore. Thanks for shedding some light on this very real topic.

    • Cristie Leondis

      Thank you Megan! We are the change we want to see.

  • Thank you so much for sharing this. It’s true that black women especially have a hard time, because they are sidelined both by teams of writers withou black representation and then by fandom who aren’t used to seeing black women uplifted. Those of us fighting for more representation have to do our part to protect and defend the precious few characters we are given in order to ensure that they get better treatment and that future generations get more characters like them.

    • Cristie Leondis

      Thank you Myrcellasear: We appreciate your feedback.

  • Darla

    thank you for writing this. this sums up my feeling perfectly.

    • Cristie Leondis

      Thank you Darla! We feel the same way.

  • What Other Girls?

    Thank you for writing this beautiful piece

    • Cristie Leondis

      Thank you What Other Girls?: glad you enjoyed it.

  • Nola

    This article is PERFECTION. Thank you so much for your thoughts! Hopefully, studios will begin to see the value in engaging with their black viewers. It’s no coincidence that some of the most popular shows on television are shows with a diverse cast (Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder, Blackish, Jane the Virgin, Fresh Off the Boat, Sleepy Hollow season 1)

    • Cristie Leondis

      Thank you Nola! Your support is appreciated.

  • MPaule77

    Thank you sooooo much for writing this article. Hope that TPTB of the TV shows will pay attention to it and correct their wrongdoings. They still have time to fix their mistakes.

    • Cristie Leondis

      Thanks MPaule77! Your opinion matters, we appreciate your feedback.

  • impossiblesouffle

    This is really good. So many people don’t realize (or don’t want to realize) that representation is important, but bad representation is worse than no representation at all.

  • Perfect! It’s about time that someone enlightens the world of a true fandom. Thank you who ever wrote this and keep writing more.

    • Cristie Leondis

      Thanks Dacer Skavaneers! You can reach the writers on Twitter: @technicolorgal and @kerritweets. Send them a hello!

  • Kaz P

    This article is amazing. It sheds light on the the struggle for black women in fandom, and the tirelessly effort they pour into black female characters on TV who are constantly mistreated. Also the curious double standard, as the support of black female characters in seen as “aggressive” and “bullying” whereas the support of a white female characters such as Nina Dobrev and Emily Bett Rickards is seen as being devoted and passionate.

    • Cristie Leondis

      Thanks Kaz! Your support is appreciated, let the networks know.

  • Madison

    This was a great article! One of the problems that many of these shows have is that there’s not enough representation on the writing, directional, producers, etc staff. When you have WOC in your cast there’s usually no one who knows how to write for them and it shows. Even the best show runners can have the best intentions but it doesn’t translate well on screen. All shows need to reevaluate how they do business and incorporate people who actually know how to portray WOC.

    • Cristie Leondis

      Thanks Madison! As a viewer, you have power.

  • Karin

    “The writers who understand that not only is representation important, but that what you do with that representation that matters.” THIS!! You can have all the representation you want but if you’re not using it in the correct way then it doesn’t do anyone any good.

    • Cristie Leondis

      Thanks Karin! Glad you enjoyed the article.

  • Kennedy

    And…it is so important that POC with a broad base of followers who tweet, blog or publish reviews, use their platform to champion and support these actresses. Mainstream media proudly publish weekly articles and podcasts calling for WOC to be written off, replaced or sidelined. It saddened me to see the lack of support and sometimes even joining in from POC who could otherwise use their platforms to demand better and show support. It is awful that these talented women have to fight and defend the very existence of their roles. But it is even sadder when they can’t even feel the encouraging embrace from the people who SHOULD understand their struggle.

  • pammy

    Absolute perfection! Thank you for voicing what we have known in our hearts for decades. This “only 1 dimension of a black woman can be shown” has infiltrated every genre of television/entertainment. Good on us black women for taking our image back
    and demanding a fair and well-rounded characters.

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  • Barbara White

    Thank you so much for this article. It rings true for far too many shows. Hopefully, in the years ahead, we can look forward to shows that represent human black and female characters! Thank you again!

  • Nikki M

    Great article! It’s so important to see women who look like me being uplifted on screen. TV, film, books and news media shape so much of the societal beliefs and negative stereotypes that persist in our culture. I hope that Hollywood will start to include more women of color behind the camera as well, to insure that more well rounded stories are told.

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