When Kevin Feige speaks, the Marvel Cinematic Universe tends to tremble. He's a bit like Galactus, only without the purple suit or insatiable hunger for planetary consumption. The reasoning behind this is simple - Feige is the man with the plan, and with his hands on the purse strings. What he says, goes.
So when he recently spoke out about the potential backlash against Marvel's perceived lack of female characters, what he said wasn't just a comment from an impartial observer - It was de facto Marvel Studios Policy. Which makes his response - when asked by ScreenCrush whether he thought there'd be backlash if Marvel didn't announce a woman-driven movie soon - all the more interesting:
"Well, yes. I don’t think J.J. Abrams or the ‘Star Wars’ people — I have no idea — but my guess is that they were not swayed by any backlash. We’re not going to be swayed by the backlash. We’re going to keep bringing the movies out the way we envision it and the way we believe in it — and that includes diversity in all of the active films. And certainly, on our development slate of many of the characters — some of which you just named — and always being conscious of that. The great thing for us is the comics have been conscious of that through the decades and have been rather pioneering in that over the years."
Which is...a fair point, in principle. At the end of the day, he's responsible for the company's bottom line, and what Marvel have been doing on screen so far has been successful, to say the least.
The only problem is that for many the current level of diversity, as envisioned by Marvel Studios, is far from sufficient. With The Avengers having only one female member, and their greatest cultural diversity (S.H.I.E.L.D. agents aside) being a Norse God and a green rage monster, the film is certainly open to criticism from that perspective.
The most interesting part is that it's likely that Feige agrees with that same critique, at least in part. He's clearly aware of the problem, and hasn't been afraid to push strong female characters in Marvel movies, as Guardians of the Galaxy is reportedly set to show, and has helped to make Black Widow into something of a modern icon. Gamora will be with us in a few days and The Scarlet Witch is due to arrive next summer, as - most likely - is The Wasp. The question, though, is whether this is enough, and - if not - whether there are more female heroes on the horizon.
As Feige himself pointed out, Marvel Comics have been fighting for greater levels of diversity for a long time - and more often than not, winning. The last few decades in particular have been notable for a gradual improvement in the representation of non-white and female heroes - as well as for a slow decline in the overt misogyny of traditional character design.
The perfect example is Ms. Marvel, likely the character most sought after by fans for an appearance in a future Marvel movie - and the prompt for ScreenCrush's question.
Carol Danvers, aka Ms (or Captain) Marvel, started out looking something like this:
And has since started to look a whole lot more like this:
Which, seeing as her character is a former Major in the US Airforce, makes a whole lot more sense - and provides a much more clear cut, non-sexualized role model for young women.
(And who, incidentally, you can help to fan-cast right here...)
The question then is, with the character having a long history with The Avengers, and having become one of Marvel's premier heroines over the past decade, why hasn't she been in a movie yet?
The answer to this, much like the question of whether the current number of non-white and female heroes in the films is sufficient, is a complex one. It's possible that there is an innate problem within the system, and it's also possible that it's just business, and that Marvel Studios are simply responding to consumer research data that tells them an Ant-Man movie will sell better than one starring Captain Marvel.
Another crucial factor is scheduling - with only two release windows a year, and one of them dedicated to sequels, Marvel have a finite amount of space in which to put major new properties. That being said, no matter what new Marvel stars are announced in a few days time at Comic-Con - and The Black Panther and Captain Marvel are both being heavily rumored - it's unlikely that every fan will be satisfied. Especially if one of the upcoming slots is taken by the distinctly white Doctor Strange.
All of which still doesn't answer the question that lies underneath all of this - do the Marvel movies need more diversity? With the majority of the Marvel Studios efforts having been revealed this week to have failed the Bechdel Test, it's not a problem that's going to go away any time soon - but, similarly, Kevin Feige is unlikely to change his core business model for anything other than business reasons. What's more, he clearly believes that the films are already on a path towards sufficient diversity as is.
That's the biggest problem here - there's no obvious villain, cackling away behind the scenes. The root cause of the problem is a status quo in which a lack of strong female and non-white heroes is widely seen as acceptable - one which means even those fighting for stronger female heroes (Joss Whedon, for one) are limited by the constraints we all inadvertently put up around them. There's no big bad who we can defeat, and in so doing solve every part of the problem.
Except for Thanos.
[The Avengers: Age Of Ultron](movie:293035) is set for release May 1, 2015.
What do you guys think? Do we need more diversity in our superhero movies?