Stan Lee and His Impact On Intersectionality
“Thank you, Stan Lee, for making people who feel different realize they are special” — Seth Rogen
It seems like the world of nerd boys and nerd girls stopped for a moment with a long sigh of despair on that Monday when we found out Stan Lee passed away. The 95-year-old was and will always be a legend. He is the godfather to Marvel, and if there were a “comic book hall of fame,” he would be akin to Elvis and The Beatles. Moreover, Lee is the co-creator behind the comic book heroes that we grew up reading or watching in the movies.
For each hero, Lee created crossed generations. When I text my grandfather that Stan Lee passed away, the first thing that he did was send me a sad face. He then went on to share that his favorite Marvel hero was Iron Man. I sent over a sad face sharing that mine was Thor and the whole X-Men clan.
Whether you are on the Marvel or DC side of the argument of who has the best comic books, franchise, or canon, you recognize Lee for his work—and more often than not, one of his heroes is your fave.
However, what about what Lee has done for the advancement of marginalized groups? From female superheroes to the controversial character Black Panther, he used his talent to shed light on intersectionality in a subtle, but effective way. In case you’ve been living under a rock, intersectionality explains overlapping oppression that occurs for people identifying in more than one social identity (race, gender, class, disabilities).
While Stan was influential in creating a strong list of Marvel heroes, here are a few heroes that he gave powers to that are not often seen as powerful figures in today’s world:
Natalia Romanova, also known as Natasha Romanoff, is the Russian born, bad a** Avengers superhero. She’s not only a woman, but she’s also not American. Romanoff breaks gender norms as she fights side-by-side with the likes of Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, and Captain America effortlessly. Her agility, intellect, and tactical skills prove she’s not just “one of the girls” tagging along with the guys.
Her intersectionality: As a woman born in another country and being a fighter, Black Window would probably face tons of sexism, and in this “Trump era” world…xenophobia.
The disabled mutant is a prime example of intersectionality. Although a White male, Professor Charles Xavier is also a mutant, and for those who didn’t know, Lee fashioned mutants off of Black people during the Civil Rights moment. He’s the savior who provides a safe space for those who are “different” as he embraces those differences. His character also shows the day-to-day realities of someone suffering from paraplegia and how he has to manage his physical disability with his powers.
His intersectionality: In the real world, Professor X would face discrimination for being disabled and being of mutant race.
Ah, Storm. Although she’s not yet apart of the MCU, she will forever and always be my favorite Marvel superhero. Ororo Munroe is a Black African woman who is also a mutant with the power to manipulate weather. Storm is an X-Men, as well as the wife of King T’Challa (Black Panther), and in the comic book series, she plays a significant role in helping the king defeat his adversaries. Storm is a queen who was one of the first Black women I got to see as a superhero—representation does matter.
Her intersectionality: Storm is a Black woman, so she has levels of this from racial discrimination to sexism, but let us not forget that she’s also a mutant.
King T’Challa! A mighty king, who is also a Black man. Depicting a Black man like a king and modern day ruler of one of the wealthiest countries in the world, Wakanda is in itself a powerful statement. Lee co-created Black Panther to pay homage to the Civil Rights movement, making the character itself controversial for his time. Today, the importance of the character of Black Panther represents a different narrative for Black men and Black culture, which is highly relevant.
His intersectionality: T’Challa is depicted as a king who has a lot of influence in America, which is a completely different narrative from what we’ve seen Black men face in the past 50 years alone…So, not much more needs to be said here about that.
While I don’t want to make the argument that Lee is the sole reason we see so much diversity among comic book characters, I do want to own that he, along with illustrator Jack Kirby, paved the way for comic book storylines to break gender and race barriers. The seeds that were planted back in the `70s are now necessary in today’s world as we see a cultural need for more conversations around intersectionality.
Part of the X-Men family, Northstar is a Canadian mutant that could travel at supersonic speeds. However, more importantly, Northstar was one of the first openly Gay comic book characters. While not created by Lee personally, the character is still part of the legacy.
Here’s hoping that we get more LGBTQ characters in the future
— Charmaine Griffin