Over the weekend, Marvel fans at the D23 Expo in Anaheim were thrilled to get their first glimpse of Avengers: Infinity War. The footage hasn't been released online (it's likely unfinished, given the film is only just wrapping up filming now). That hasn't stopped descriptions of it going viral, though, and pretty much every Marvel fan knows what happened in that thrilling clip.
What few have noticed, though, is that the footage seems to make one thing clear: Marvel has a major problem with its female characters.
Here's The Problem With The Footage
Avengers: Infinity War promises to have every Marvel superhero we've seen on the big screen in the last 10 years. But descriptions of the footage act as a sharp reminder how few female superheroes Marvel has actually developed.
- An early scene showed Thor slamming into the Milano's windscreen, much to the bemusement of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Gamora and Mantis are in this scene, and it's Mantis who awakens Thor. She and Gamora appear in two more scenes, one in which Gamora reacts with horror as Thanos appears.
- Scarlet Witch is seen using telekinesis.
- Black Widow is seen in one action sequence, with her hair dyed blonde.
And that's it. We caught a glimpse of just four female superheroes — Gamora, Mantis, Black Widow, and the Scarlet Witch. And here's the really disturbing thing: so far, that's all of the female superheroes Marvel Studios has developed in the past decade. They'll soon be joined by Tessa Thompson's #Valkyrie, due to be introduced in Thor: Ragnarok, but she wasn't seen in any of the Infinity War footage.
Is This A Fair Criticism?
Infinity War celebrates ten years of Marvel movies, but it's worth remembering that the company has changed a lot during that period. Until 2015, the whole of Marvel was run by controversial CEO Ike Perlmutter. Perlmutter seems to have been at the forefront of resisting any element of diversity. The Sony hacks in 2014 revealed that he cited the failure of films like Catwoman, Supergirl, and Elektra as evidence that female superheroes don't perform well at the box office.
Meanwhile, his experience with Toy Biz explains Perlmutter's preoccupation with merchandise, and we saw female superheroes significantly underrepresented in Marvel's action figure range. Shane Black, writer of Iron Man 3, revealed he was forced to rewrite his script when "New York called" and insisted he couldn't have a woman as the main villain — because female action figures wouldn't sell. While Black complied, the irony is that Marvel never issued an action figure based on the villain, Killian, anyway.
In 2015, in-fighting between Perlmutter and Marvel visionary Kevin Feige forced Disney to conduct a full corporate restructure. Marvel Studios was pulled out of the wider Marvel Entertainment group, and established as a separate subsidiary of Disney under Feige's leadership. It's a matter of record that the studio has immediately improved in terms of diversity; Spider-Man: Homecoming was remarkably diverse, casting on Thor: Ragnarok has been positive, Black Panther will bring us our first black lead superhero, and both Captain Marvel and Ant-Man and the Wasp will up the level of female representation in the coming years.
But There's A Catch
And yet, it's hard to excuse Marvel's poor record of diversity. It's worth remembering that, back before the 2015 restructure, Feige openly defended the status quo. What's more, in the immediate aftermath of the restructure, we saw Marvel's film slate adjust quite a lot, but we still haven't seen any hint of that Black Widow movie. Sadly, last year Scarlet Johansson suggested that the clock is ticking on that idea.
"I’m invested in that character. Marvel is greatly invested in that character. If I did it, I’d have to do it while I still actually wanted to wear a skin-tight catsuit. I don’t know how much longer that’s going to be."
Behind the scenes, things haven't improved much at Marvel Studios. To date, out of 35 writers (which includes writers on announced projects that haven't yet released), the studio has hired two women: Nicole Perlman and Meg LeFauve. Although the company briefly took on Patty Jenkins for Thor: The Dark World, she left under something of a cloud, and you have to look to Anna Boden's Captain Marvel before you see another female director on the horizon. Should everything go well with the film, the first female-led superhero film in the MCU will also be the first one to have a female director. Given Captain Marvel won't release until 2019, 11 years after the MCU was launched, that's pretty shameful.
It's too simple to say that everything changed in 2015, and that the slate has been wiped clean. The clear reality is that Marvel Studios isn't in any hurry to address its problem with female characters.
The irony of all this, of course, is that Marvel Television — which is still under Ike Perlmutter — is flourishing. Chloe Bennet has become the main superhero of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Jessica Jones has been voted Hollywood's favorite female superhero, and Hayley Atwell became a cultural icon as Agent Peggy Carter. If you want to see actual diversity in the MCU, you have to look away from the movies, and focus in on the TV shows. Given Marvel Television tend to pick up the characters and concepts the films aren't interested in, that fact in itself becomes a criticism of Marvel Studios.
#InfinityWar will mark the tenth anniversary of the #MCU. We have a lot to celebrate, as Marvel has given us a wonderfully creative shared universe, with countless innovative characters. But the MCU isn't perfect. #Marvel Studios has set a very poor record in terms of developing female superheroes, let alone in giving female writers and directors a shot at making a blockbuster superhero film. As we look forward to the next decade, let's hope Captain Marvel and the Wasp usher in a new era.
Which female superheroes would you like to see in action? Let me know in the comments!