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Underrepresentation in Superhero Franchises

By Esha Peer (‘21)

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

The Marvel universe is immensely popular on an international scale as its movies hit box office records year after year due to their creations of entertaining adaptations of the original comics. Even though Marvel Studios has released films with more diverse casts, it still is not enough in terms of proper representation of minorities in America.

In 1939, a comic book company about superheroes was started in New York City. A man known as Timely created two superheroes in his debut, the Human Torch and Namor the Sub-Mariner. The company grew to become one of the largest platforms for superhero comics evolved into a production company in 1993 known as Marvel Studios. The first few movies released by the company was almost exclusively, if not fully, a Caucasian cast.

Watching movies today about superheroes are not as diverse as they should be in the 21th century. As of 2017, the U.S Census Bureau estimated about 23.9% of America are made up of racial minorities. As per research from the William’s Institute in UCLA, people who identify as part of the LGBT community make up 3.8% of the population.

A few weeks ago, Marvel released the first trailer for Captain Marvel; the most powerful superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and the first female superhero in Marvel to have her own film.

Marvel Comics features over 50 female characters, yet the studios seem to have transitioned into making the live-action movies by excluding many. The prominent female characters of marvel include Gamora, Storm, Black Widow, Wanda Maximoff, the Wasp, and recently, Captain Marvel.

Excitement is rising in students for the upcoming project. After Infinity War, Captain Marvel is foreshadowed to be the hope for the future of the marvel universe. “It’s pretty cool [because] she’s a strong female character,” said sophomore Shreya Narsingani.

The release of this project came after the major success of Marvel’s release of Black Panther as it featured an almost all-black cast. On top of that, the two love interests of Peter Parker in Spiderman Homecoming were half African-American, half-white, Zendaya and Laura Harrier.

However, compared to the overall releases in the Marvel timeline, these achievements are less noteworthy. Only in its 25th year has the company even released a movie without major Caucasian characters. On top of that, 26 years of being a production company, there has been neither a Latino, Asian, female, or LGBTQ character with a movie centered around him or her, although there are characters from the comics which could be adapted. Some examples include White Tiger, Anya Corazon, and America Chavez.

It seems of interest that the first woman with a marvel movie will be a character who is yet to be introduced into the movie universe. Meanwhile, Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson in the Avengers trilogy since 2012, is a female superhero that fans have been anticipating a film from the character since the beginning of her introduction. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, bits of her story were revealed. But after 6 years, Black Widow has been beaten by the introduction of Captain Marvel to the movie screens.

“Black Widow definitely should have gotten [a movie] first. I’m surprised they still haven’t done it,” said Sophomore Ira Dixit.

As females are slowly being integrated into the MCU, so are African-Americans. For example, the largest Marvel superhero series, The Avengers, is working slow at the process. The latest movie had three out of the four of the black characters are from Black Panther, highlighting the small amount of diversity in the other blockbusters.

Another fact to consider is the diversity in other parts of the media. Today, America is made up of not only African-Americans and females as minorities, but Hispanics, Asians, the LGBTQ+ community, and so many others. The integration of black people in MCU films is a step, but Americans need superheroes today to represent these parts of the country as well for viewers to able to relate more.

“There’s an obvious need for more diversity, considering the fact that a movie like Black Panther did so well,” said race, class, and gender teacher Mrs. Marisa Carlisi.

The trouble with integrating minorities into the superhero universes is not just a problem in the Marvel Cinemas, but other superhero franchises as well.

The Detective Comic (DC) Comic studios, arguably the biggest competitor of Marvel, released blockbuster movie Wonder Woman featuring Gal Gadot, an Israeli-origin actress and model in 2017. Another diverse cast was in Suicide Squad as it had a wide range of actors, such as Will Smith, Viola Davis, and Adam Beach, all African-American.

It is important to note that most of their hit series movies, Batman and Superman, include an almost entirely white cast. The two series are the most known superheroes in DC universe, if not by audiences. While the smaller projects have consolidated minorities, the larger audience watches the popular movies. The movies with a larger audience are more noticeable in their changes in cast.

Representation in the media is needed for people who make up such a large portion of the country, and it starts with superhero studios being able to represent the population, giving hope for the future as well.

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