Superheroes: Male, white, straight and privileged - but not this one

Story highlights

  • Digital illustrator Milumbe Haimbe challenges stereotypes and tackles the diversity gap through her work
  • Last May, she was one of the winners at the Dakar Biennale

Milumbe Haimbe is a digital illustrator with a background in fine art and architecture. She explores genres such as comics, animation and graphic novels. Milumbe has exhibited her work in shows including the Biennale for Contemporary African Art in Dakar, 2014.

(CNN)Superheroes have always had a special place in my heart.

I grew up in Zambia in the 1980s, an era that marked the beginning of the country's worst economic crisis. My childhood memories are of a prolonged state of emergency that was characterized by acute food shortages and an economic decline where the basic needs of the average Zambian family were barely met.
My siblings and I -- and our gang of friends from around the farmlands -- spent countless hours sitting on a deserted piggery wall, perfecting our extra-terrestrial code language.
    Our goal was to send an SOS out to the superheroes in the galaxies, and had our code language been refined enough to reach across the chasm of space, perhaps a spaceship would come down to Earth to save us from our dreary lives and carry us away into outer space.
    Searching for superheroes
    Rewind to just a few years earlier -- in the mid to late 1970s and before the economic decline -- when superheroes like Superman, Spiderman, Batman and the Incredible Hulk were huge deals for anyone growing up.
    Milumbe Haimbe
    In our childhood eyes, these were powerful, all-embodying beings, and their brands were merchandised on T-shirts, caps, lunchboxes, toys, and just about everything. They influenced many aspects of the childhood experience to such an extent that I spent a lot of my formative years aspiring to become a superhero when I grew up.
    But then disillusionment set in. It dawned on me that I would never be a superhero seeing as most of them were male -- and all of them white. The frantic search for an alternative and relatable superhero that followed only resulted in more disillusionment.
    So many years later, in the year 2015, it is somewhat bewildering to experience today the same disillusionment when I see so little representation of cultural minorities in popular media.
    This is a big deal to me.
    I am of that school of thought that believes that radio, television, film and other media of popular culture provide the symbols, myths and resources through which we constitute a common culture.
    Meet Ananiya
    The danger of excluding cultural minorities from popular media is that this limited view starts to paint a constrained picture of what a person should look like, how they should behave and live to the negation of alternative experiences of being human. These deliberations are the basis for my graphic novel, "The Revolutionist."
    A work in progress, "The Revolutionist" is set in the near future, on a satellite colony that is located a little off the orbit of mainland Earth, and administrated by a corporation.
    Social conformity in the interest of the collective is subliminally reinforced through symbolism and iconology, while the economy is purely corporate-driven. Exploitation of human by human, and robot by human gives rise to the resistance.
    Ananiya was only 13 years old when she joined the resistance. Now at 17, she has recently been appointed as an agent in the Covert Operations Division. In the ensuing standoff where the Corporation increasingly maintains control with an ironclad fist it is not long before the resistance galvanizes into a full-blown revolution.
    As the masses are thrust into a state of emergency, Ananiya's world is characterized by curfews, police raids, censorship and propaganda. Will the revolution overcome?
    With this literary and visual offering, I describe a world that is both like -- and at the same time very much unlike -- our own. As a young, black female, my protagonist, Ananiya, is the most unlikely hero for the revolution.
    It would, indeed, be accurate to read her as the antithesis of the typical hero who more often than not is male, white, straight and privileged.
    Hey, maybe someday the nine-year old version of me can grow up to become a superhero after all.