As the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to broaden its roster and make its mark on network television, we ask if the MCU is appreciating its female characters of color. Whilst recently-released Captain Marvel continues to be a financial triumph at the box office, could this make way for a woman of color to take the lead? Last year’s Black Panther, Marvel studios’ first movie with a non-white lead, was also a success, indicating very much that cinema audiences enjoy diverse storytelling. So is Marvel ready to take the risk of green lighting a film led by a woman of color?
Marvel head Kevin Feige recently discussed his desire to eventually introduce Muslim Pakistani-American teen Kamala Khan (the current Miss Marvel) into the MCU, however nothing has yet been confirmed. And even then it is still unknown as to whether she’d ever be the lead in her own solo movie. Although we cannot give up hope given that the titles of future phases of the MCU are still mostly being kept in the dark. Lack of women of color characters in leading roles in a franchise still dominated by white male superheroes aside, is the MCU currently treating these existing characters as well as they should?
A recent online controversy followed with the release of the official Avengers: Endgame poster which included all the cast members on the poster names except Okoye actress’ Danai Gurira. Being the only woman of colour featured on the poster this prompted many fans to call out Marvel on social media platforms such as Twitter. Marvel quickly acknowledged the situation and officially released a new poster including Gurira’s name alongside her co-stars in the heading. Although it must be asked why her name was absent in the first place as MCU fans are aware Okoye’s roles in both Black Panther and Infinity War, but Gurira has also carried a leading role in The Walking Dead for many seasons.
A more narrative issue regarding the treatment of female characters of color within the MCU is there use as side characters or sidekicks. Whilst both Black Panther and the more recent Captain Marvel show Black women in strong and progressive roles, neither film deliberately places them at the heart of the narrative. This problem also applies to male characters of color too. These characters often only exist to develop the white hero’s character, they often operate supportive roles and are not fully developed characters themselves. Whether its Ned to Peter Parker, Luis to Scott Lang or Valkyrie to Thor, there is clear and distinctive pattern here.
However, things do seem more hopeful on the small screen. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues to put women of colour at the forefront of their storytelling. Mayhaps as they have Thai-American showrunner Maurissa Tancharoen leading the way in the writers room. Speaking recently to TVGuide, Daisy ‘Quake’ Johnson actress Chloe Bennet discussed how she felt about representing Asian women in the superhero genre. “When I was a kid, I really desperately wanted to be blonde hair, blue eyes, from California,” she confessed, “I wish that I had a show like this when I was younger”. She went on to say that she recognises the impact in seeing often-neglected minorities do what they’re not “supposed” to do in media. ” To think of the fact that now I can become a superhero”.
Here’s hoping that progress continues to be made, as Feige promises that the franchise will continue to get more diverse. Speaking to The Wrap Feige states “So is Black Panther a one-off? I said, no, it’s not a one-off. This is the future. This is the way the world is, and the way, certainly, our studio’s going to be run going forward, because it brings about better stories.”