The labor of black women is still being usurped without proper credit, and certainly without any reward.
The “Black Panther” movie is slated to be the biggest thing in Black America since Barack Obama’s first inauguration. Never before have there been so much blackness in a blockbuster film, a major comic universe film no less. The preview this week is getting rave reviews. Ryan Coogler and Marvel have a hit on their hands. Which makes it baffling as to why a black woman who was pivotal to introducing the world to the story world beyond the main character was not invited to the preview of the movie. Actually, it’s not baffling. The act is disappointing. It is just more proof of how the labor of black women is valued much more than the woman herself.
Roxane Gay wrote "World of Wakanda" which sold over 50,000 copies upon its release. This is connected to MoNique, this is connected to what black women have been saying all along. https://t.co/PNiHUKZeOV
— Nipsey's beard (@BonjourEve) January 30, 2018
Roxane Gay wrote the “Black Panther” spin-off, “World of Wakanda”, a series about the army which backs Black Panther and secures the nation he governs. Gay turned the series into the first black female LGBT comic, complete with a romance amongst the characters. She did so without compromising the group’s bad-ass quotient, making the action-packed comic a huge breakthrough for intersectionality in the MCU.
Marvel cut the comic mid-2017, citing low sales. This is despite the growing interest in the Black Panther film that will release in less than a year and a lackadaisical advertising budget for the comic from its onset. The comic debuted with more than 57,000 copies sold but was down to around 14,000 six months later in April of 2017. Instead of letting the franchise ride on the growing interest in the upcoming film, Marvel pulled the book.
Gay’s skilled writing had made its mark, however. Her books took readers into the world of the all-women army, Dora Milaje, and their skilled security of the nation that the Black Panther originated from. Her comics opened the franchise to BIPOC in ways that the Black Panther comics never could — centering black women in the protector roles we often end up shouldering in the real world. It was also a story that showcased a same-sex romance in a militaristic setting without being too “preachy” about the social implications — something Marvel comics is still notorious for. Their superheroes are well-known for tackling social problems but in the manner of the after school specials that the networks peddled in the 80s.
Related: BLACK WOMEN AREN’T BOYCOTTING “BLACK PANTHER” BECAUSE OF MICHAEL B. JORDAN’S ALLEGED GIRLFRIEND
Gay’s work made its mark and did the work to help push the Black Panther film further into the spotlight. So why was her work forgotten when it came time to celebrate the premiere of the film. Marvel has yet to post an excuse (by the time this was posted). No matter what Marvel comes up with, black women won’t be surprised. It happens to us all the time.
Since slavery (yes, I’m going there), black women have put in the labor behind some of the largest milestones, accomplishments, and projects in this country, only to receive recognition long after the labor pays off (watch Hidden Figures lately), or not at all. Other women of color experience this too. Remember the Manhattan Project? There was a woman on the team, Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu. Never heard of her, right? That’s not her only snub. She later joined a team of scientists at Columbia whose work won a Nobel Prize in 1957. Despite all her labor on the project, Dr. Wu was not named for the Nobel and thus never received the prize. There are hundreds of stories out there of women whose labor went unrewarded or was credited to men. Gay is not the first, but should this even be happening in 2018?
I don’t have to answer that. We saw in 2017 how the labor of black women was praised in one breath and indicted in another. In fact, a rumor that black women would boycott the Black Panther movie was quickly sent around the internet not even a month after black women were praised for defeating child predator Roy Moore’s bid for the U.S. Senate. The labor, the invisible work is the only thing that the world seems to want from us.
Although the Twitterverse and the MCU may view this snub as a minor oversight — “nothing to get upset over” — black women like me feel the sting of the act. People are quick to wipe our names off the nameplates when a milestone we toiled to fruition makes a mark in history. It seems that centuries after our bodies and brains were bought, sold, and abused to benefit our white masters, the labor of black women is still being usurped without proper credit, and certainly without any reward. But those of us who are here and aware, we stand with Roxane, we know what she did and what it’s worth, even if the rest of our society isn’t ready to admit it.