Photo of Marshall Lee

Many Fans Knew Marceline Was Black, But It’s Important ‘Fionna & Cake’ Confirmed It

It’s difficult to be Black and goth. Many alternative subcultures, like goth, punk, emo, hipster, scene, and so on are coded white by default. I’ve seen white people with very marginal signifiers of underworldliness get called goth automatically, whether they subscribe to it or not, while Black people have to work ten times harder to earn the label in the eyes of others.

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This, unfortunately, also extends to fictional characters. Very rarely are goth characters portrayed as anything other than white, with Black goths in media being an endangered species. This is why Marceline from Adventure Time being Black is kind of a really big deal. I and many other POC knew Marceline was Black, well before Fionna & Cake confirmed it, but proving Blackness without explicit author intent, especially for a character as beloved as her, is nigh impossible.

If you’re familiar at all with Fionna & Cake lore, you’ll know that all of the characters are essentially alternate-reality gender-swapped versions of the originals. And in Fionna & Cake, the human version of Marshall Lee has dark brown skin instead of his and his counterpart’s Adventure Time vampire-pale whiteness.

Two animated characters in side by side images: Marshall Lee, a young Black character, and Marceline, a grayish vampire girl, both playing guitar.
(Max/Cartoon Network)

Marceline is voiced by Olivia Olson, who is of Afro-Jamaican descent. Marshall Lee is voiced by none other than Donald Glover. But despite both characters having Black voice actors, most white people never realized that they were Black the whole time, seeing Marceline’s grayish skin and assuming the default of whiteness.

Vampires in popular media have signifiers of whiteness that make it hard for Black people to ebb into these spaces. Pale skin, preternatural beauty, and inescapable charisma are the popular hallmarks of a vampire, but this Eurocentric idea of vampirism does real damage. It’s not uncommon to see goth-related subreddits have “no melanin” rules or emphasize pale beauty while reluctantly allowing POC to post there.

This isn’t just conscious racism. The myth of the white vampire is something many progressive white people subconsciously subscribe to. We haven’t had many non-white portrayals to counter and trouble this narrative. As we’ve talked about before, Black vampires in TV shows like Castlevania: Nocturne get automatic backlash.

So while I am glad that we finally have official confirmation of Black Marceline, it’s been a long and tiring road for us all. Adventure Time should have never been ambiguous about it. POC have had to endure the endless denial and rampant whitewashing from white people. I also have to wonder: Would Marceline have been such a popular character if she was overtly Black from the beginning? That’s a hard question to consider, but I think we all know the answer to it by now.

(Featured image: HBO Max)

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Michael Dawson
Michael Dawson (he/they) writes about media criticism, race studies, intersectional feminism, and left-wing politics. He has been working with digital media and writing about pop culture since 2014. He enjoys video games, movies, and TV, and often gets into playful arguments with friends over Shonen anime and RPGs. He has experience writing for The Mary Sue,, Bunny Ears, Static Media, and The Crimson White. His Twitter can be found here: