Marvel Comics recently announced its new Iron Man as Riri Williams, a 15-year-old black MIT prodigy who catches Tony Stark’s attention after reverse engineering his trademark Iron Man suits. The art Marvel released for Riri’s character shows a dark-skinned girl with smoldering eyes and a big curly fro.
The thought of a brilliant, beautiful dark-skinned black girl taking on one of America’s most iconic superheroes is awe-inducing. But it wasn’t long until Hollywood was on some BS.
On Wednesday, Entertainment Weekly published an article entitled ‘7 Actresses Who Should Play Marvel’s Black Female Iron Man’, and the list is shockingly tone deaf. We can’t tell whether the colorism is deliberate, or just a result of laziness, but the list does not at ALL represent Hollywood’s young, darker-skinned talent.
The original list included Zendaya Coleman (19), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (33), Nathalie Emmanuel (27), Sonequa Martin-Green (31), Kiersey Clemons (22), Denée Benton (24) and Amandla Stenberg (17).
Broadway actress Denee Benton is the only woman similar in both skin tone and hair texture to Riri’s comic art.
After being called out, Entertainment Weekly updated the list with Teyonah Parris and Tika Sumpter but, at age 36, it might be impractical to cast Sumpter as a 15-year-old girl.
What Riri Williams looks like MATTERS. It MATTERS that she is a dark-skinned black girl. It matters because most black girls in America ARE darker-skinned but continue to be erased in entertainment — even from their OWN stories. That Hollywood would even consider a light-skinned 33-year-old actress for the role of a dark-skinned 15-year-old-girl shows how far it will go to avoid dark skin.
To make the argument that Riri needs to be played by a more ‘known’ or ‘crossover’ star is also disingenuous. Marvel has a history of casting lesser-known stars in lead parts, particularly for its younger super heroes.
Tom Holland, best-known to this point for playing Billy Elliott on Broadway, will star in the upcoming Spiderman films. And Chadwick Boseman wasn’t particularly well known to mainstream audiences when he was cast for the lead in Black Panther.
The role of Riri Williams belongs to a young, up-and-coming black actress who can physically reflect Marvel’s comic art. The character they have drawn is gorgeous — why change her? Here are some of our suggestions for who can play this role:
1. Skai Jackson, 14
I mean, DUH, why was she not on the top of the list? She stars in the Disney show Bunk’d and we could TOTALLY see her flexing her acting chops for this role.
2. Aja Naomi King, 31
Though a bit older, Aja could definitely play a convincing teenage girl. Aside from playing the tenacious Michaela in How To Get Away With Murder she is getting a lot of positive buzz for her role as Cherry in The Birth of a Nation.
3. Normani Kordei, 20
The gorgeous breakout star of girl group Fifth Harmony has the looks and, as a lifelong dancer, the athleticism to pull off this role. She could follow in Naturi Naughton’s footsteps and leave singing behind to have an acting career.
4. Sierra McClain, 22
She first appeared in Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls with her two sisters, and they now have a singing group. We would love to see Sierra put down the mic and brush off her acting chops to take on a role like this.
5. Marsai Martin, 11
Although still very young, if a new Iron Man film is not slated for filming for a few years, Marsai might have time to age up. Marsai is incredible as the sassy Diane on Black-ish, she would totally own this role. Could this picture she snapped with current Iron Man actor Robert Downey Jr be prophetic?
6. Keke Palmer, 22
Already a seasoned actress, Keke would bring a ton of sass and spunk to the role. How FUN would it be to see her play a superhero?! We would be soooooo here for it!
7. Camille Winbush, 26
She won our hearts as the invincible Vanessa on The Bernie Mac Show, and we’ve been dying to see more of her ever since. She has experience playing a teenager, most recently playing Lauren in The Secret Life of the American Teenager, and she has the baby face to pull this off.
8. Imani Hakim, 22
The actress has blossomed since playing the perpetually screw-faced Tonya in Everybody Hates Chris. It would be great to see her play a different kind of character.
9. Jessica Williams, 26
She’s already a superhero to us for her witty and relevant social commentary on The Daily Show, which she recently left to take on acting full-time. This would be a wonderful early role and, at a towering 6 feet tall, she would cut a powerful Iron Man figure.
10. Shanice Williams, 20
She killed it as Dorothy on The Wiz Live! on NBC. We could totally see the adorable actress pulling out her fierceness to take on the role of Iron Man.
11. Anna Diop, 28
The Senegalese-born actress is making strides in Hollywood, currently starring in OWN’s Greenleaf and Fox’s 24: Legacy, due to debut in February 2017. Clearly the girl can act!
12. Teyonah Parris, 30
Because this is a picture of Teyonah side-by-side with the Riri comic art. I mean…
13. Lovie Simone, 17
The young actress is getting rave reviews playing the secretly drug-abusing pastor’s daughter Zora on OWN’s Greenleaf. She has shown that she has the acting chops (and the hair!) to take on a role like this.
14. Condola Rashad, 29
Condola, who is currently starring in the Showtime drama Billions could carry on the legacy of her legendary mother Phylicia Rashad with an iconic role like this.
15. A totally unknown actress
We rep hard for our girls in Hollywood — whether they are dark or light — because being a black woman in the industry is just HARD, period. But, we also can’t deny that darker-skinned black actresses have a much, MUCH harder time breaking into the industry, much less breaking out as stars. Much like Lupita Nyong’o shot to superstardom after her first major film role, this could be an incredible opportunity to give an unknown talent a place in Hollywood.
Who would you add to our list?