💯 > It would be unfair to present nothing but positives about the new comic book character Riri Williams, a.k.a. Ironheart; so, I will deliver this article the way one delivers mixed news, the low points first, then the highs. Riri Williams is a 15-year-old African-American female who actually has the appearance of the grown woman and wears revealing clothing (as if we cannot tell “superheroines” are female unless they have on something tight and/or short). Riri also comes as a “replacement” for Ironman and even takes on part of his name, which can seem like a blow to the face to some fans since she did not “develop on her own.” The main controversy about the character is that she was created mainly by older Caucasian males, therefore the character’s attributes and storyline are more science fiction than you think, possibly even stereotypical and illogical, but that’s where creative genius comes in at right? Not every African-American female grows up the same exact way. Anyhow, those are the three main things that could not be ignored in this piece, BUT there are equally as many things that we LOVE about Riri Williams.
- She is a young African-American female in STEM. An underrepresented minority in the field has made it to “the big time.” She is not only a genius, but she is even brighter than Tony Stark at such a young age. Imagine the number of young ladies excited to finally see their reflection in the comic book world. Imagine the number of young minds inspired to be in STEM thanks to Riri, or even just reminded that they can be whatever they want to be. Imagine the world being saved from impending doom by future “STEM-heads.”
- She is “black girl magic,” not voodoo! Riri Williams is black girl magic to the max! She is not a villain, but a positive figure who has amazing thinking abilities and a desire to help others. She is fierce. She is heroic. She is young, black and educated. She is darn-near magical! And hopefully, she will help people gain a more positive perspective towards young African-American women.
- AND she’s real! Like actor and humanitarian Jesse Williams said, “Just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.” Riri is visually based on Skai Jackson, a young black actress popular for her role with Disney Channel. According to her creator, Brian Michael Bendis, Riri’s role/backstory was also inspired by the violence in Chicago. Bendis’ belief that an African-American girl can rise out of such an environment and become someone who can stop such terror, encourages readers to believe that there may be other Riri Williams’ out there. She may even be sitting right next to you.
- From her curly hair to her dark skin, Riri represents “black power.” Visually, she is the epitome of “fight the power,” “we shall overcome,” “Say it loud! I’m black and I’m proud!” and every other chant used in the fight for civil rights. Her very presence relays the message, “This is who I am. Take it or leave it.”
- Riri Williams represents inclusion, not only in the comic book reality, but in the real world and in the world of comic book reading. That is to say, her character opens up a new activity for African-American females to delve into and a community to be welcomed into. She may even encourage folks to read more in general.
A comic character interested in STEM has helped make the case for STEAM, the incorporation of art into STEM. “Black Lives Matter” has now crossed over into science fiction. The combination of representation is exciting. Despite the negative criticisms of Riri’s development, the positives make it worth the read. Riri, we wish you the best. ✊🏾
Written by: Cynthia M. Sharpe, a May 2015 graduate of NC State University. Cynthia graduated with a B.A. in English with a concentration in creative writing and currently aspires to pursue an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. “As I let my own light shine, I unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” -Cynthia M. Sharpe, inspired by Marianne Williamson