Comment Film & TV

Yes, Iron Man can be a teenage black girl

As identity becomes a greater question for many, Ross Brannigan uses philosophy to examine Marvel's latest character change.

Invincible_Iron_Man_1_by_Jeff_Dekal.0.0
Photo: Marvel

There are so many questions regarding identity in the modern world: What does it mean to be me? What does it mean to be a man, woman? How can I become a better person?

The self-help book industry is worth over $10bn in the USA alone, and it is growing all the time, as people seek to improve themselves and the world around them.

But it is not just identity of the self, but where do we all sit in the society we live in? Feminism is becoming increasingly powerful in giving young girls the tools to pursue equality, and questions of race and religion are in the news all the time.

The latest issue to arise in this thread of conversation is that of the identity of superheroes.

Since the 40s, superheroes have been associated with hulk-sized men with barrel-sized chests, cannon-sized arms, and the ability to pick up trees as easy as you pick up a cup of tea.

Now the industry is getting a new look, with a number of well-known heroes getting a serious makeover. The latest of which is Iron Man, who is to be depicted as a 15 year-old black teenage girl.

kierkegaard
Kierkegaard was one of the first Existential philosophers.

The reaction has been mixed, and raises some interesting philosophical discussion about identity, and what makes characters who they are in popular culture.

It raises questions about Essentialism, which – as ever – was theorised in Ancient Greece, but which prevailed until the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries. What makes Iron Man truly Iron Man?

If you were to speak in essence, Iron Man is a character inside a metal suit who is a conflicted superhero. You do not even need to know who Tony Stark is in order to know who Iron Man is.

The same is true of Batman. In the latest run of Batman comics, Commissioner Gordon dons the cowl after Bruce Wayne is pronounced dead. Is he still Batman? Yes, is the answer. Was Bruce Wayne ever the same person as Batman? No, in essence.

Another example is that of Hermione Granger, and the playing of the character by Noma Dumezweni in ‘Harry Potter and The Cursed Child.’

The Internet exploded after it was learned the character would be played by a black woman. I mean, Hermione is white, right? Well, why?

What is Hermione Granger’s essence; what makes her different from everyone else, and makes Hermione Hermione? I can tell you for a fact: It definitely is not her skin colour.

Characters, and even we, can be moulded and changed as time moves on. Existentialism allows for us all to think “Who am I really? What does it mean to be me?”, and answer that question for ourselves.

We are not defined before we are born, but the process of living is a process of becoming. We are finite, fickle, and always moving forward. We do not live in the past, and so our self-discovery is affected by our progress through life.

Yes, Iron Man can be a teenage black girl; yes, Hermione Granger can be black; yes, Hikaru Sulu can be homosexual; yes, Thor can be a girl. You could create a brand new character for these names, but that would erase the point of trying to challenge preconceived beliefs.

It is my hope we are coming into a new age of philosophical discussion: Questions of political philosophy and representation are prevalent; identity philosophy is definitely on the table; language, particularly gendered language, is hotly debated today.

Go out there, ask questions, and debate those things which might challenge you.

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