by Nicole Dillard
Full disclosure: I am not a comic book reader. My journey into Marvel only goes as far as the blockbuster movies, so when it came to the characters in their newest show, WandaVision, I only knew what I managed to piece together from the characters’ relatively small amount of airtime in the Avengers films (including Captain America: Civil War). Still, I decided to give it a chance.
WandaVision, it turns out, is a truly brilliant show. It took two characters that I didn’t know much about in Wanda Maximoff and Vision – characters I also hadn’t grown to care about because they’d been so marginalized – and, through their unique struggles, it humanized them in a way I’ve never seen before in a superhero movie or show. I am compelled to tune in each week out of genuine concern for the mental wellbeing of the spiraling Wanda and the safety of Vision and the townspeople of Westview. What the show has done to explore the depths and the full impact of grief is some of the best, most creative television that I’ve seen. Kevin Feige and Jac Schaeffer have built an entire world where characters who might be (and have been) peripheral in any other film – Jimmy Woo, Darcy Lewis, Agnes – are of vital importance here, and they must be paid attention. But I want to talk now about what they’ve done with Monica Rambeau.
I heard whispers about Monica Rambeau when Captain Marvel came out. She was just a little girl in the film, but she was foreshadowed to be more. Her mother, Maria Rambeau – played by the gorgeously deep brown-skinned Lashana Lynch – managed to transcend the Black best friend trope, being a super-bad pilot and savior to the Skrull. She was brave, accomplished, tough, and self-assured. She was her own person. Just as Maria was more than just “the Black friend,” it seemed destined that Monica would also be more than just the smart, curious girl who wanted to follow “Auntie Carol” around. But Monica had not been seen on screen again – until now. WandaVision has fulfilled her destiny.
On episode seven of this season, we saw Monica – now played by the amazing (and grossly underrated) Teyonah Parris literally step into her power as she pushed through the magical barrier that was re-writing her very essence for the third time. She came out the other side of that barrier as someone new, with glowing eyes and an ability to see energy fields and withstand a powerful attempted slam to the ground by Wanda. It is clear that Monica has emerged as a super-powered enhanced being – as evidenced by that hardcore superhero pose she landed in. When I saw that development come to fruition after being hinted at for several episodes, I jumped up. I cheered. I clapped wildly. And I teared up.
I severely underestimated how much it would impact me to see a superhero who looks like me – a Black woman of a chocolate hue and 4C hair texture. Maria, Okoye and Shuri are all dope and powerful in their own right, and I was so excited to have them, but they don’t have superpowers. They have supreme fighting skills, nerves of steel and supreme intelligence, but they aren’t enhanced beings, and super-powered beings are what drive the MCU. Monica is on a whole other level, and to see her join the MCU means more to me than I thought it would.
The superheroes that are the bread and butter of the MCU have largely been white and male. I watch the movies and I am highly entertained by them, but I don’t see myself in them. The closest I’ve come to being able to identify with an MCU superhero is Black Panther – a person of my skin color, but who is male – and Valkyrie and Domino, who are Black women, but neither their shade of brown nor their hair texture is anywhere close to mine. I’ve struggled with Valkyrie and Domino because I know the Hollywood scale of desirability demands Black women be in as close in proximity to whiteness as possible. Monica Rambeau’s existence feels like a super-slap (backhanded) to the trend of Hollywood colorism, which disproportionately affects Black women. I love Monica already. She is me, and I am her. I have never wanted to cosplay, but I might do it just for her. She feels like a superhero welcome to the club for women like me.
On a more personal level, as a person who also had their mother pass before they could get back to them and had medical staff be the ones to tell you that you didn’t make it in time – still trying to keep moving while dealing with that trauma – I feel her pain, and I identify with her in a much deeper way than I ever have with any other character. If WandaVision is ultimately a story about grief, then Monica represents the other side of the grieving process from Wanda. And with her singular focus of reaching and helping Wanda in an effort to bring some kind of meaning to her own loss, I understand Monica intimately. I never anticipated that, when I tuned into this quirky show, I would end up seeing my own reflection so clearly and in numerous ways. It is a very welcome surprise, and it’s long overdue.
Nicole Dillard is a aspiring writer best known for being an unabashed Blerd, having multiple opinions, and penning an open tribute to her best friend Tory Brown, which she shared publicly to help others understand and deal with loss. At present, she has no real social media or public persona and exists only in the shadows. She is currently writing a collection of sci-fi short stories centering Black female protagonists, and she will get a social media presence soon.