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The Future of Diversity in Marvel

Antman and the Wasp: Quantumania | Image Courtesy of Disney

Antman and the Wasp: Quantumania is set to kick off Phase Five of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And diversity is continuing to play a leading role in the lineup of movies and tv shows that will premiere during this phase.

It all gained ground in Phase Four when Marvel introduced the world to the Eternals, where the concept of beings from myths worldwide serves as the basis for the movie. Directed by the award-winning Chloé Zhao, The Eternals is Marvel's first movie with a range of diverse cast members - many of which are people of color. It was the first time that not one but two women of color (Gemma Chan as Sersi and Salma Hayek as Ajak) were the leaders of a superhero team in a Marvel movie.

As they are known today, superheroes were created by legends such as Jack Kirby and Jerry Siegel during World War 2. This was when the need for courageous heroes who fought evil and prevailed was at an all-time high. However, the portrayal of women, the disabled, and people of color were often unrealistic exaggerations. As a result, mainstream comics made straight white men the norm for superheroes.

However, superheroes from various cultures have been around for thousands of years. While their names are recognizable, the term superhero is not one most would associate with them. But that is precisely who they are. These superheroes range from the Mesopotamian Gilgamesh to the Greek Heracles to African Mami Wata and Indian Draupadi. Some may argue that these are just mythological heroes. But they all protected people, whether it was with super strength or their wits. Heracles slayed the Nemean Lion that prowled the hills of Nemea. Draupadi, is considered the first feminist in Indian mythology. Is this different from the superheroes we have today?

Lauren Ridloff, who portrays the speedster Makkari, the equivalent of the Roman god of travel, Mercury, is a woman of color and deaf. This marked the first time a deaf superhero appeared in a Marvel movie. But it was not the last. And while causation is not correlation, a few weeks later, the Hawkeye television show introduced Echo, a deaf Native American martial artist.

There have been Marvel movies that broke the trope of only white male superheroes mainlining their films in the previous phases. For example, Black Panther and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings are both critical successes and two of Marvel's highly-rated movies. On Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator website, Black Panther is the number one critically rated Marvel movie at 96% with 530 reviews. On the television side of things, Ms. Marvel starring Iman Vellani has a 98% rating. Most movies and tv shows in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a 90% and above rating on Rotten Tomatoes are the ones with diversity.

Marvel movies usually follow a formula of action sequences, comedy, and heartfelt moments. And it is an ongoing argument about whether or not Marvel movies are peak cinema. Further, there is a long list of critically acclaimed directors who swear that superhero movies are the worst thing to happen to modern cinemas. GQ compiled a list of some of these big-name directors, including Dennis Villeneuve (Dune) and Ridley Scott (Alien). Nonetheless, one thing that can be agreed on is that the movies are fun, audiences love them, and audiences can see themselves as superheroes represented on the big screen.

Representation naturally resonates with many and reaches a broader range which accounts for these shows having high ratings from critics and audiences. While the actors and actresses bring in the audience, the costume department, writers, and directors of these films and tv shows all contribute to diverse representation. They get their years of experience in that world. And it is the same with the audience, because not everyone sees a Marvel movie with the same eyes. These movies have evolved from their standard fare of being simple comedies and action. Look a bit deeper, and see how far they've come.

For example, The Eternals can be about religious trauma seen in the case of Sersi learning the truth about the Eternals and deviants. It can also be about the abortion-rights movement. Choosing to stop the birth of a new celestial while others fight for it to be born is simply the superhero version of the pro-choice/pro-life movement.

In Black Panther, the Wakandans speak Xhosa, a natural language in South Africa. In Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan clashes with her parents because she wants to attend a convention in a costume, but they do not want her to. It is a scene that most children of immigrants can relate to.

With movies like Marvel (2023) and Blade (2024) and tv shows like Secret Invasion (2023) and Daredevil: Born Again (2024) on the horizon, audiences will probably have no lack of diverse representation in Phase Five.

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