Marvel Comics recently revealed rap crossover covers that are meant to serve as a homage to famous rap albums. This is not the first time something like this has been done. In 2014, the television show Game of Thrones came out with a mixtape featuring hip-hop artists to promote a new season of the show. Even though Game of Thrones and Marvel probably had good intentions, promotions like these are more offensive than appealing.
One reason that this is offensive is due to cultural appropriation. By borrowing the album designs of Black hip-hop artists and using them on mostly white superheroes, Marvel has turned the artistry of the albums into a costume Marvel can take off whenever it wants. As something that was meant to give marginalized experiences a voice, hip-hop does not deserve to be reduced by a temporary crossover between fictional characters.
The other reason that this is offensive is that it is based on the assumption that Black people will like anything with hip-hop in it. While Marvel included two superheroes of color, these and all the other covers feel like a condescending attempt to get people of color interested in geek culture and show how diverse Marvel comics is.
Even though hip-hop is enjoyed by many people in the Black community, this doesn’t mean that they will automatically read a comic book because Spider-Man is on a look-alike album cover inspired by A Tribe Called Quest. The same thing applies to the Game of Thrones mixtape.
Instead of appealing to people of color through a stereotype or through cultural appropriation, geek culture should appeal to the fact that there are people of color who are geeks, nerds and artists. It would have been nice to see Marvel’s artists of color put their own spin on the characters depicted in the crossover covers and be spotlighted.
Another way to get people of color into geek culture is to actually put people of color into panels and press rooms in conventions like Comic Con. At this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, there was a panel called We Are All Heroes. Put together by the multicultural Cashmere Agency, the panel featured men and women of color discussing where people of color, women and gay fans fit into geek culture.
There is more to Black people than just hip-hop. There are Black comic book nerds and fantasy nerds who argue, rage and have fun with fictional characters. If Marvel and Game of Thrones could realize this, then Black people could be represented even more.