Marvel’s Cinematic Universe: Little Room For Diversity

Following the release of the latest Marvel Film Eithne Dodd agues that attempts at diversifying their films have gravely missed their mark.[br]Doctor Strange, released just three weeks ago, is the 14th instalment in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (MCU). The film recently received backlash for the casting of Tilda Swinton as “The Ancient One,” – a controversial decision as the comic book character is traditionally an Asian male and the actress is not.This decision has puzzled and dismayed fans of the franchises. It’s shocking to imagine that Marvel could not have enticed Asian Hollywood heavy-hitters like Ken Wantabe, Chow Yun-fat, or even Jackie Chan to play such a prominent and lucrative role. Logic suggests that they could have; instead, it is likely that the studio had other metrics in mind.Marvel have previously been criticised before for not having enough women, heroines in particular. Tilda Swinton’s “Ancient One” was simply an addition to their stock suite of recurring female characters – Pepper Pots, Jane Foster, Agent Carter, and Maria Hill. Swinton may be a strong, well-known actor, but in their casting decision Marvel continued a fatal trend in ignoring potential intersectional roles in their films.Everyone has a multifaceted identity which reflects how they are viewed by society. Intersectionality is a theory used to distinguish different strands of classification from one another, and it shows how the layering – or intersection – of multiple qualities which society deems negative can compound and magnify discrimination. Women of colour face an entirely different sort of discrimination than both men of colour and white women, one that drastically limits their access to opportunities both onscreen, and in their daily lives.Swinton follows after the marvel heroines of Black Widow and Scarlet Witch, and precedes two soon-to-be superheroines, Captain Marvel and the Wasp. All of these women are white.Meanwhile the MCU now boasts leading roles for several black men; following Nick Fury we now have War Machine, Falcon and Black Panther. However, the same problem of intersectionality applies. Where are Marvel’s black women?To be a woman is one thing, and to be of a racial minority is another; Hollywood has problems with both, but when put together there is little hope of overcoming these intersected prejudices.Most of the non-humanoid characters are even played by white men. Paul Bettany plays Vision, James Spader plays Ultron. Bradley Cooper voices Rocket Racoon, Vin Diesel is Groot and Seth Green is Howard the Duck. Zoe Saldana played the alien Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy, but even this can be seen as a failure in representation as her blackness is masked entirely by her green skin.Marvel has failed to maintain acceptable standards of diversity. While men in the MCU vary in race, age, and even disability, all of its women are white and of similar, youthful appearance. The issue of intersectionality is as old as film itself. When we think of household names from classic movies, there are far more men of colour than women. Marvel has opted to embrace this bitter legacy, and it does not do so alone.In an earlier issue, we featured an article on Ghost in the Shell’s 2017 remake, featuring Scarlett Johansson in the role meant for an Asian lead. Similarly, DC’s Suicide Squad featured an eclectic cast of characters, including men of diverse races and men cast as crocodiles, while the women of the group remain pale-skinned.This is not an acceptable way for a studio to respond to complaints of a white male orientation. Marvel have responded to calls from critics and fans for more strong women in their films, so more were put in; they had no black heroes, so they added some. Marvel seems to think that they get cultural sensitivity “points” for exhibiting minimal effort to diversify their films.The MCU has become more diverse over its lifespan but it has failed, and continues to fail, to address intersectionality. By not involving women of colour, Marvel aids wider society in making their contributions invisible.Moreover, in a creative sense, the studio is hampering its own characters’ potential for growth. Scarlet Witch is a refugee whose home was destroyed and her family lost, but these character-defining qualities are lost as Marvel simply adds her to their list of female heroines.By simply adding more white women both Marvel studios and their fans have neglected a wider issue. It is not enough to simply put more women in their movies. Diversity means more than a single group of people – it means all of them, especially those who face intersectional discrimination.All MCU characters so far are heterosexual. There are no mixed race couples. While Captain America, Spider Man and the Scarlet Witch all grow up poor, they receive money from Shield or Tony Stark, thus removing the intersection of class from their films entirely.There are four main magicians in Doctor Strange: a white man, a white woman, a black man and an Asian man. This organization appears as a model for Marvel’s thoughts on race and gender as a whole. Bringing together actors of different races is of course an important thing; however, this mere gesture towards true diversity is not enough. It is not enough to simply take “one of each” and then declare that you’re done.Gender relations and race relations as well as social class, age, and a number of other factors are inextricably linked together. When Marvel seeks to separate these intersecting classifications, they allow the reality of their characters to disappear. Audiences will see less authentic characters and comic fans will have their expectations betrayed by their cinematic counterparts. When intersectionality is ignored, nobody wins.