looking into the future after a year of marvel disappointment
It’s time for Marvel to stop erasing their strong, intelligent and brilliant female superheroes from the Cinematic Universe.
In 2016, two Marvel movies are set to be released and yet again, neither of these movies will have a female protagonist. This is a repetition of why the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been continually criticised by feminist and female fans over the last half decade.
But in contrast to this year’s theme of reducing important female characters to love interests or erasing them altogether, the next year of Marvel offers a ray of hope to female superheroes and their fans.
Captain America: Civil War is likely to be released in May 2016 and out of the 16 heroes and villains appearing in the film, three of them, the Black Widow, the Scarlet Witch and Agent Carter, are female. While this is clearly not equal representation, it’s more than we have come to expect from the Marvel film franchise. Similarly, Doctor Strange, set to be released in November 2016, will feature a female actress that will not be playing the role of a love interest. Actress Tilda Swinton is set to play the role of The Ancient One, the film’s villain.
However, Swinton has indicated at this point that she will probably be playing the character as a male and although this may be progressive for female actors, it still leaves the characters in Doctor Strange as disproportionately male. Additionally, Doctor Strange’s protagonist will also be male and while the film’s other female lead, the Night Nurse (played by Rachel McAdams), is not Doctor Strange’s traditional love interest, it would hardly be surprising if she was turned into one.
The future of feminist critique of Marvel in 2016 has yet to be determined. There is, however, hope for female fans of both Marvel comics and Marvel films that 2016 will feature more diverse casts and more kickass female superheroes.
The past year has shown no effort by Marvel to engage in any form of diversity or representation of women and minority groups. July 2015 saw the release of Ant-Man, which prompted a negative response from many Marvel comics fans, especially fans of Janet Van Dyne. Van Dyne, a superhero known as the Wasp, was the original founder and leader of the Avengers who was erased from the plot of Ant-Man almost entirely.
Janet Van Dyne is the wife of Hank Pym and the mother of Hope, the main female character in Ant-Man (played by Evangeline Lily). The Wasp was the leader and the co-founder of the Avengers and is even credited with giving the group their name, Avengers, in Volume One of the comics. However, by trapping Van Dyne in an alternate universe, the creators of the film ensured that Ant-Man was centered around another male superhero – the titular Ant-Man – instead of taking the opportunity to include a much-loved female superhero as a main character.
Moreover, as of the release of Ant-Man, the Wasp is the only original Avenger not to have her own solo movie. But what is more disappointing is that she is also the only original Avenger that is a woman. This is not a coincidence.
Good news for fans of Van Dyne is that Marvel has recently announced a 2018 film to be titled Ant-Man and The Wasp. Possibly a response to accusations of sexism and the complaints surrounding the Ant-Man film, we cannot yet pass judgement on whether this movie will redeem Marvel’s past damages to the Wasp or whether it will be another title to add to our list of Marvel disappointments.
But the Wasp wasn’t the only Marvel female character to be mistreated by the Marvel Cinematic franchise in 2015. Black Widow, the only female superhero in the Avengers, is yet to have her own solo movie, despite Iron Man, The Hulk, Thor, and Captain America achieving this years ago.
Natasha Romanoff is an elite Soviet agent (did someone say badass?), but Romanoff’s fascinating backstory has barely been explored by The Avengers films that have reduced her to a domesticated and submissive supporting character.
In another 2015 Marvel film, Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Black Widow was turned into a love interest. Natasha’s inherent femininity is portrayed in her ability to “calm” the Hulk when he is angry and out of control, perpetuating the stereotype of men as aggressive and lacking control, in contrast to women who are calming and submissive. Need I tell Marvel why this idea is harmful, especially when screened to so many children and young people?
I’m not going to blame only the writers and creators for Marvel’s sexism. Preceding the Avengers: Age of Ultron film release, the Black Widow was described by Avengers actors Jeremy Renner and Chris Evens as a “slut”. While this is not a strike against the films themselves, these actors are part of the Marvel franchise and their comment are a concerning display of the whorephobia that exists within the male-dominated “dudebro” superhero culture. How many times do young women need to hear that their strength, confidence and sexuality make them sluts? How many times can men use slurs against women without serious consequences? Another strike against the Marvel film franchise.
So yes, my disappointment in the 2015 Marvel films is over the continual lack of any diversity or representation of women in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But more importantly, it is about the erasure, slut-shaming and domestication of female superheroes.
So now we look forward to the future of Marvel films and hope that they will redeem themselves and repair damages done to female superheroes and female fans alike. Marvel, you underestimate the power of diversity and representation in taking important steps towards equality. Let the superheroes do what they do best.