When it comes to seeking representation, the fact that for most of the time POC representation is either minimal or stereotypical or both says a lot about why some people racebend existing white characters. Personally I see Valentina Vostok as Yakut, if because it’s the Yakut themselves are interesting as they’re an ethnic minority in Russia. Similar to her usual presentation, she works as a pilot but is now a member of a longstanding ethnic minority.
Likewise I see Felicity Smoak as an Anglo-Indian seamstress, admittedly that’s because I listen to Indian music myself and I sew. This would anger some of her fans, especially if they’re into the Arrow version of her, where I could imagine them saying that Jews in the garment industry also exist and that Judaism is essential to her nature. But then again I think an Indian who works in the fashion industry might be less stereotypical than a Jew working in STEM.
Perhaps other than Bollywood and the general Indian media industries, we don’t see these kinds of characters that often. It could be argued that Jews who don’t fit stereotypes are also underrepresented, but I feel an Anglo-Indian seamstress Felicity Smoak would break stereotypes better than a Jewish hacker Felicity Smoak has ever done. Not to mention, it’s even said that the Felicity Smoak who appears in Arrow is a retread of Smallville’s Chloe Sullivan.
An Anglo-Indian Felicity Smoak would be less derivative of that, especially when you realise how unprecedented this portrayal is within the wider DC media. There’s no shortage of blonde white hackers, scientists and martial artists but honestly I can’t name any prominent Indian DC character other than Solstice, Jinx and Celsius. Even then, these two haven’t appeared outside of comics well to my knowledge and that’s still pretty telling when it comes to representation.
Jinx might be the most prominent Indian DC character, but due to her appearance in the Teen Titans animation she’s been whitewashed. Making Felicity Smoak Anglo-Indian might actually make her DC’s most prominent Indian character to date, since she was already well-known in Arrow and yes this would be controversial as she’s portrayed as Jewish in the Arrow programme. But even then, there are people who do see her as anything other than white.
Hence some even racebend her as black, so making her Anglo-Indian wouldn’t be much of a stretch in this regard. I even know one Native American woman who racebends Poison Ivy to be indigenous, especially when it comes to some indigenous communities having a strong closeness to nature that Poison Ivy weaponising this association wouldn’t be much of a stretch either.
Since Poison Ivy herself is a scientist, there are indigenous scientists and especially indigenous conservationists who feel similarly about the environment despite not indulging in the same ruthless tactics as she does. I also think indigenous people involved in STEM as well as geeky indigenous people are pretty underrepresented in the media, in fact they’re more underrepresented in the media than blacks are.
We have Urkel, Baxter Stockman from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Shuri, Riri Willliams and Lunella LaFayette and most of them are involved in STEM in one way or another. There’s only one indigenous character involved in STEM and that’s Marvel’s Forge, so making Poison Ivy indigenous might alleviate this problem. Likewise, I could say similar things about South Asian representation in the media.
When they do show up at all, they often fall into stereotypes. This may not always be the case for all portrayals, but it does get telling when there’s a repetitive portrayal of them that change must occur to minimise this. I also think some people racebend isn’t just that the idea of making a white character nonwhite interesting but also because they can’t see themselves at times.
Actually they’re unable to find anything that can break the stereotype so they racebend existing characters instead, perhaps outside of Russian media there’s really not a single portrayal of Evenki and Yakut people in fiction. They get a mention in Farley Mowat’s book and some nonfiction, but your best chance of finding more of that’s in Russian language media and I know this from experience. I still think making Valentina Vostok Yakut would inject actual diversity in non-Russian portrayals of Russia.
Okay Russian media might not be any better, whether if it’s the underrepresentation of Yakut and Evenki people or stereotypes of them. But Valentina Vostok being Yakut would actually be the best thing to ever happen to her, in that we get to see more nonwhite Russians. Bonus points if she’s also not a stereotype. When it comes to making Felicity Smoak either Indian or black, it serves a similar purpose in that it creates representation when there’s none.
It’s also no different from making Poison Ivy indigenous because it also addresses the historic lack of representation by racebending or reimagining an existing character, maybe DC and Marvel are already doing this to some characters. I still think a Yakut Negative Woman or a Desi Felicity Smoak would open doors for something, especially if these are characters you often don’t see in the media. Let alone outside of Russian and Indian media, where in Felicity’s case she’s a seamstress or in Valentina’s case she’s a pilot.
I think racebending existing white characters has an advantage here in the sense that while this isn’t always the case, it can help break stereotypes about ethnic minorities. In Felicity’s and Valentina’s cases, this can open up to unheard of communities, well unheard of outside of Russia and India. (Actually even then, they might be either underrepresented or stereotyped in those countries.)
If some people racebend Poison Ivy as Native American (well one does), I am justified in racebending Valentina Vostok as Yakut and Felicity Smoak as Indian. Racebending can help undo racist stereotypes, especially if used properly and to the fullest. Surely, people will get mad if Felicity’s portrayed as Anglo-Indian or Valentina Vostok as Yakut. But I also think it creates representation for certain demographics, in fact some will defend these.
As for a Native American Poison Ivy, they are very underrepresented in television. As I said before, Native Americans in STEM (in the media) are even more underrepresented so while an indigenous Poison Ivy would be controversial it would also provide representation in a way a white Poison Ivy wouldn’t. According to the same study, white characters get 88% screen time even though white people currently appear at 60% of the American population.
A cursory glance at the Arrow cast shows that perhaps other than cameos, there’s not a single Asian character and Asian actor among them. A Desi seamstress Felicity Smoak would be rather interesting to portray and explore, even if it’s going to be a controversial decision. A Yakut Valentina Vostok would be just as controversial, though her existence is proof that nonwhite people exist in Russia.
There’s a reason why people racebend, I racebend Valentina Vostok because I find Yakut people interesting and that Yakut people are practically unheard of in non-Western, fictional portrayals. They racebend to create the representation they don’t get while consuming such media, so it’s only fair that they get the representation they needed and wanted.
You may not like it, but people will racebend characters to create the representation they wanted.