A Lack of Diversity Might Kill the Superhero Genre

Everyone loves a good superhero movie. I don’t need to show you how much money Marvel’s already made on just the first Avengers film to prove it. People are just drawn to heroes—it makes them feel better about themselves and about their regular, everyday lives. Most of the people that go to these movies don’t see themselves because most of these movies star white male actors. Fans have begun to take notice and voice their complaints for the lack of diversity online, but, for some reason, movie executives have become comfortable with the status quo and aren’t listening. It doesn’t look like they’re interested in pushing any narrative boundaries to make something new and exciting. No, they have a formula that’s guaranteed to net them a ton of money and they’re going to stick with it, even if it burns out the genre with boring mediocrity.

Marvel already has seven films starring a white man named Chris with four more with release dates, all before a single movie with a person of color or female lead. That’s three Captain America’s, three Thor’s, three Avengers, and two Guardians of the Galaxy’s—starring Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and Chris Pratt—before Black Panther and Captain Marvel come out in 2018. And there’s still no chance of a Black Widow movie happening, despite how much the fans want it. Marvel is the one that’s really leading the superhero charge, but they’ve grown complacent with their success. They’ve proven that diversity isn’t important to them by casting Benedict Cumberbatch as the racially ambiguous Doctor Strange and completely rebooting the Peter Parker Spider-Man with a white boy again instead of going with the rumored afrolatino Miles Morales.

Maybe that’s why Ant-Man recently pulled the lowest grossing opening weekend for Marvel. The movie featured a dominantly white cast with bland characters that didn’t push any boundaries or show us anything new. Ant-Man was boring. It featured daddy issues—something we’ve never seen in a Marvel movie before—a straight white man, a more competent white female companion, and a plot that can be wrapped up with a nice little bow in the end while also hinting at other upcoming Marvel films. Sure, Scott Lang was a criminal turned reluctant hero—a regular Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor—but he sure wasn’t qualified to be Ant-Man in any capacity. That role should have gone to Hank Pym’s—the original Ant-Man’s—daughter, Hope van Dyne, who, throughout the entire film, kept reminding us that she was more qualified than anyone to use the suit. I’m not even going to get into the trope where the more competent woman trains an incompetent man to do the job she should’ve done the entire time and how this movie personifies it. (You see this trope over and over again in the Lego Movie, the Matrix, and Edge of Tomorrow to name a few.) Or, better yet, they should have given us a Wasp movie, instead of not-quite-fridging Janet van Dyne, the original Wasp and one of the most iconic Avengers. When Evangeline Lilly’s character said, “it’s about time,” in the post credits scene where her character was given the new Wasp costume I agreed with her, even though that line was kind of cheap; we’re probably never going to see the Wasp in anything other than a supporting role.

The studio didn’t try to do anything new this time around, and even Edgar Wright left the film due to creative differences even though he was clearly invested in directing it. We’ve seen how controlling Marvel can get with its property after Age of Ultron came out and director Joss Whedon explained why the film felt so choppy and rushed. Marvel has a lot at stake when it comes to the success of their movies, because superheroes are the only thing they’ve got. Audiences have shown that they will go and see a Marvel film no matter what, but when will Marvel start reflecting their fanbase? Most moviegoers aren’t white and male. People from all walks of life enjoy watching superhero movies and, most importantly, they love spending money on superhero films. Why Marvel hasn’t taken advantage of the fangirls and made a Black Widow film yesterday, I’ll never know.

DC, however, does seem to be taking notice of who exactly watches their movies. The upcoming Batman v. Superman will also feature Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman alongside Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck. Not only will Wonder Woman star in the film, she’s also getting her own action figures and promotional marketing with boys, while her movie is set to come out in 2016, years ahead of Captain Marvel, the first female led marvel film. The upcoming Suicide Squad also looks very exciting and wonderfully diverse with for main female characters and almost half of it’s cast are diverse as well. The concept is also different as well. This film will show the villains we know and love being forced by Viola Davis, as Amanda Waller, to play the heroes. It looks gritty and dark, and I, for one, and completely excited for the change of pace in the genre.

DC hasn’t been perfect, though. Nolan’s the Dark Knight trilogy was pretty white when it came to casting, particularly when it whitewashed three prominent characters. Tom Hardy plays the hispanic Bane, Liam Neeson plays the Arabic Ra’s al Ghul, and Marion Cotillard plays the Arabic Talia al Ghul. Pretty much every Batman and Superman film from the 80s onward had little to do with diversity, featuring primarily white casts. The failed Green Lantern film a few years back also failed to make waves in the diversity department when they chose to go with Hal Jordan instead of John Stewart, who was extremely popular in the Justice League animated show. We don’t know which Green Lantern they’re going to go with in the Justice League Part 1 movie, but they have given us Ezra Miller as the Flash who will be the first openly queer superhero. We also have Jason Mamoa, a Hawaiian native, as Aquaman and Ray Fisher as Cyborg, a well known African American superhero. Both of these actors will appear in the Justice League film as well as getting their own solo films.

Marvel and DC aren’t the only studios looking to make money on superheroes. Sony has the X-Men and Fantastic Four franchises and they are ahead of the curve when it comes to diversity. When Bryan Singer’s X-Men came out in 2000, it featured a cast full of iconic characters, about half of them female. Every X-Men movie onward in the franchise has continued this trend with a plethora of diverse characters, though there are still an overdose of straight white men. The new Fantastic Four reboot was surrounded in controversy when the studio cast Michael B. Jordan, a black man, to play the white character Johnny Storm. Jordan will add some much needed color to this series.

Film isn’t the only medium that Marvel and DC are taking advantage of. Marvel has taken over Netflix with their smash hit Daredevil, featuring a blind superhero, and their upcoming Jessica Jones show featuring the popular black superhero Luke Cage. Agent Carter was a major success on ABC, earning itself a season two despite being whiter than Wonder Bread. Hayley Atwell, the star of the show, has brought up diversity in the writer’s room so hopefully we’ll see some of that in action. DC has taken to the silver screen with a multitude of shows—Arrow, the Flash, Constantine, Gotham, Supergirl, Heroes of Tomorrow, and some others—with varied and diverse casts.

The success has varied, but maybe Netflix and the Networks are more equipped to handle superheroes than big budget blockbusters. The smaller budget and the ability to actually develop a bunch of characters over a couple of episodes instead of cramming everything and everyone into one movie may suit the episodic nature of comic books better. More obscure heroes may get a chance to shine, and that includes heroes of different colors, religions, sexualities, and genders. The future of superheroes is probably on the small screen, though television may be overwhelmed by the amount of shows coming its way. Maybe it’ll work more like the comics: you don’t have to watch every single show and movie and crossover event to understand and enjoy your favorite hero.

Women and minorities on the big screen is something that can probably save the genre from burning out and becoming too boring. Why have another Ant-Man when you can have so much more interesting diversity? DC and Sony seem to have gotten the message and made it their mission to diversify their comic universes—we’ll see in the years to come—but if Marvel wants to keep its stranglehold on the industry, it’ll have to listen to its fans and think outside of their safe, boring box.

This article was written by Halley Dewey, a writer for dusk magazine. 

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