Marvel confirmed in June that Riri Williams, the next Iron Man and replacement for Tony Stark, is the smartest character in the Marvel universe. Riri, who will go by the name "Ironheart," is a young black girl who enrolls at MIT at the age of 15.
Comic artist J. Scott Campbell just released an exclusive cover for Midtown Comics of the new heroine that has fans both offended and concerned.
Is this how people see 15 year old black girls? I keep seeing these cover variants for Riri Williams and maybe 2 or 3 she has looked 15. pic.twitter.com/zlCGJ1maFt— MistyKnightsTwistOut (@Steph_I_Will) October 19, 2016
The artwork shows Riri with a bare stomach and large breasts, completely sexualizing the character who is supposed to be underage and celebrated as an icon of intelligence and heroism for little girls and readers everywhere.
Some are pointing out that the original artwork for Riri was actually based on real-life child actress, Skai Jackson, who is only 14, making the implications of sexualizing the character even more creepy and distasteful.
The sexualization of black girls has real-world consequences. In 2015, Little League star Mo'ne Davis was publicly called a "slut" by a university baseball player. Mo'ne was just 13 at the time. The year before, 12-year-old Danièle Watts was playing outside of her house when police arrested her thinking she was a prostitute. The same thing happened to 12-year-old Dymond Milburn in 2006 when she went outside to help her parents flip a breaker switch, with police taking her in even as her parents insisted she was their child.
A now famous study has shown that in our culture, people tend to perceive black children to be older than they are and less innocent than white children. The examples of Davis, Watts, and Milburn show just how dangerous and degrading those assumptions can be for black girls.
Campbell has responded to criticisms of his artwork, telling people to "move along" but fans are not impressed.
You do realize these are valid critiques from both fans and critics right? This deserves your attention. https://t.co/TzYZcfJZnx— Black Girl Nerds (@BlackGirlNerds) October 19, 2016
Twitter user @MizCaramelVixen created the hashtag "Teens That Look Like Teens" to encourage comic book art that does not sexualize girls. MizCaramelVixen explained the intention of her hashtag to The Root:
"#TeensThatLookLikeTeens was created to show that teenagers can be drawn without over sexualizing them not just in regards to attire, but as well as having a youth-like quality in their face. RiRi cover is an adult body painted light brown."
Others have picked up the hashtag in support of the movement for realistic teens and young adults in comics.
Worth checking out #TeensThatLookLikeTeens for non-sexualized, realistic comic book images of teens of various gender & ethnic identities.— MR Daniel ?? (@mrdaniel_then) October 19, 2016
Banner image credit: Twitter, @TheMarySue