Marvel has minimal diversity, and they must lead the way for change, not profit

As a popular movie studio, Marvel Studios has a responsibility to feature diversity, a responsibility that many fans think they’ve fallen short on

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Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore & Creative Commons

Diversified Warriors: Marvel movie “Black Panther’s” cast stands before a crowd at a Comic-Con convention in San Diego. Their movie left an unprecedented footprint on the issue of diversity in not only Marvel but the movie industry as a whole. “Greater diversity in Marvel would make me more intrigued and interested in watching the movies. Since I am mixed with different races, it would be nice to see it in some of my favorite superhero movies,” senior Akilah Degrant said.

Superheroes are a special part of most kids’ childhoods. Spider-Man, Captain America, and Iron Man are big names that largely decorate the backpacks and lunchboxes of any given elementary school cafeteria. Once a year, these characters come to life on Halloween as little pipsqueaks declare themselves to be heroes. However, a lot of kids can’t see themselves as heroes, because these heroes aren’t people like them.

Marvel Studios, the creators of these Avengers heroes, historically has been lacking diversity in their title characters. They weren’t alone in that aspect, with a good majority of mainstream movies featuring a cast of mostly white, male actors. While there isn’t anything inherently wrong with that, it can be disheartening for minority groups when they are constantly being pushed to the side in these productions. However, mainstream media has been moving in the right direction, with more and more people of color, women, and LGBT+ folks being seen on the screen. However, Marvel Studios hadn’t really gotten with the program until they realized it would make them look good. Even then, they blame low sales of their comics on increasing diversity (icv2).

Marvel does the bare minimum to fit what seems to be a quota for diversity. Until Black Panther, released in 2018, the only Black characters in the Marvel movies were supporting characters–there to give emotional support to the straight white male lead. The first Black female character didn’t make an appearance until Spider-man: Homecoming (and no, Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana doesn’t count. She’s green), but although she’s a lovable character, Zendaya’s MJ was reduced to a potential love interest at best.

In 2018, Black Lives Matter was gaining traction, and the superhero movie company was riding on its coattails, using the African-American cast to attract some good PR. I’m not surprised that in 2021 we’re seeing the same pattern. Black Panther II is in production at the moment, but Chadwich Boseman, who played the title character, has died. Maybe they’ll take the approach of Marvel Entertainment’s chairman, who easily replaced the actor of a Black character with no concern, allegedly saying that all Black people “look the same” (Fast Company).

It’s been said once, it’ll be said a hundred times- diversity matters. Young children of color should be able to see themselves in the superheroes they see on screen. Everyone deserves to think that they can be a hero, too.

Diversity makes way for inclusion, smashing the bigotry that society has normalized for hundreds of years. Seeing portrayals of minority groups that are more than just token characters can be a champion of fighting bigotry.

Diversity doesn’t stop at shoving as many black people into the production of a film as you can and slapping the “inclusive’” label on your brand. Black Panther was a great first step, and an excellent movie. But Marvel needs to do more. The characters in Black Panther account for nearly half of the ‘diverse’ cast of characters in all of Marvel’s productions. POC (people of color) should be involved in all facets of film production. This should include films that aren’t focused on only Black actors as well, because inclusion of these talented people in production shouldn’t have conditions. The production team of Black Panther was almost entirely POC, but the other, white-centric movie teams? Not so much. Marvel Studio’s very own Anthony Mackie said that this is something that needs to change as well.

But the future looks brighter for Marvel Studios. Phase 4 of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe was announced recently, and the focus is definitely on increasing diversity within the films. With characters like Black Widow, Shang-Chi, America Chavez, and Valkyrie getting special attention, longtime Marvel fans have a lot to say about the changes coming to Marvel.

“[Until now], Marvel has kinda just pushed women to the side, until Captain Marvel which is irritating” sophomore Rachel Howard said.

Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings aims to do something similar [to Black Panther]… pertaining to Asians and Asian-Americans again, from what I’ve seen both written by and starring mostly Asian people. Plus, even outside movies that explicitly address race and/or gender, a lot of Marvel’s upcoming films are helmed by women and people of color, two groups who historically don’t get to sit in the directors chair,” Howard said.

“Admittedly, Marvel hasn’t been super good about LGBTQ+ representation, which they will hopefully improve at over the next few years and more comic characters jump to the big screen and new characters are introduced,” Howard continued. Although Marvel seems to be doing the bare minimum with representation, Howard said, “They’re doing better than a lot of other [production studios].”

Not everyone agrees that diversity is always a good thing. “When Marvel does dip [their] toes into social justice, it has been a disaster, ” sophomore Carter Zamora said. “such as Captain Marvel being annoying and way too overpowered… though I think they handled Black Panther correctly and didn’t lean into the idiots trying to make it a BLM thing and just made it a good movie,” Zamora said.

Others are worried that trying to push diversity will sacrifice good storylines. Fans of Marvel’s “iconic” characters don’t want them to be pushed to the side to make way for representation. Just because a story focuses on a minority character doesn’t mean that it’s a bad character, though. Writers, directors, and producers should be able to tell good stories, regardless of who the main character is. Most of the “iconic” characters of Marvel are white men, making it so the many minority fans of Marvel can’t see themselves in the characters. They can’t see themselves as a hero. All children should be able to feel that they can be a hero and see their stories being told in movies.