Mighty Marvel Monday: Marvel and Diversity
I want to continue this week in looking at the way Marvel has (or hasn’t) made progress in 2015, paying particular attention to diversity and underrepresented groups. I also want to look at characters, creators, and other aspects.
In the world of Marvel Comics, the highs this year were pretty high.
Ms. Marvel continued to garner accolades for its awesomeness, including a Hugo Award. Miles Morales was finally incorporated into the main Marvel continuity, although for my money, Silk, starring Cindy Moon, is the best Spider title out there right now (I love you Robbie Thompson!). There were also incredibly diverse debuts and reboots in the All-New, All-Different Marvel universe. Amadeus Cho became the new Hulk. America Chavez, Adam Brashear (Blue Marvel), and Monica Rambeau all came back and are on the same Ultimates team (which is a title I really wanted to like, but am struggling with). And few titles got more praise from the women at WWAC for just existing than when we found out about Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. And best of all, Marvel just announced a solo title for my latino space heartthrob Poe Dameron written by Charles Soule and illustrated by Phil Noto.
But it’s not just lead story announcements that were noteworthy There were also small moments that earned praise, like Jeremy Whitley’s story “Misty and Danny Forever” in the one-off Secret Wars, Secret Love anthology.
But there were missteps too. Good intentions were likely the motivation behind the Hip Hop series of variant covers, but there’s a difference between homage and cultural appropriation. David Brothers pinpoints the main issue with Marvel that led to these covers being controversial–a lack of diversity behind the page. It’s difficult not to be skeptical of the sincerity behind such well-intentioned overtures without it.
I am optimistic to note that in 2015, Marvel started addressing that too. Finally. The new Korean-American Totally Awesome Hulk has a Korean-American creative team. When Marvel rebooted Red Wolf they made certain to have Jeffrey Veregge, as part of the creative team, who is of Suquamish and Duwamish descent and a member of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe from Kingston, Washington. And finally, it was announced (in the New York Times, even) that Ta-Nehisi Coates was going to be writing the new Black Panther. I’m not sure there could be a bigger “get” for Marvel, and based on the behind-the-scenes Coates has been sharing with us, my expectations are high.
Unfortunately, the same diversity cannot be found in the onscreen adaptations. I avoided writing about the women of Marvel in the MCU last week partly because I knew it was going to be the main subject for this week’s column, and it brings up what was my refrain in 2015–that representation at the expense of another underrepresented group or that excludes another underrepresented group is not progress. It’s progress with an asterix.
The most disappointing thing about the MCU are not the mistakes (the whitewashed casting of Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One), but the missed opportunities (see our feelings about Benedict Cumberbatch’s casting as Dr. Stephen Strange and Tom Holland as Peter Parker). Marvel needs to take a good long look at itself when DC is winning the diversity casting competition. And I’m not letting Fox off the hook either. Let’s not forget that we could have had it all with Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm, but the studio managed to screw that up too.
On the small screen there is more of the same. I love Agent Carter, but it’s difficult to be pleased by the success of Agent Carter when there were no women of color to be found, and season two, which premieres tomorrow night, doesn’t appear to have added any either–although the lovely Reggie Austin and Reynaldo Valentin have been added as regulars, and several POC minor characters appear according to IMDB. #DiversifyAgentCarter was an important call for Marvel to answer, but they may not have done so.
Netflix’s Daredevil and Jessica Jones were incredibly successful, and slightly better in terms of representation. Although the main cast was very white, Rosario Dawson, Ayelet Zurer, and Vondie Curtis-Hall played very important supporting characters. Daredevil also made an effort to show us some of the diversity and meeting of cultures you’d actually find in Hell’s Kitchen, with Russian, Chinese, Japanese, and Hispanic cultures represented. I am hoping for more of the same in season two. On Jessica Jones, Mike Colter and Eka Darville’s characters–and their character arcs–were so important. But still, only two WOC made appearances, and Reva Connors, Luke Cage’s wife, ends up dead.
Looking forward, in the forthcoming Luke Cage we will get more Mike Colter and Rosario Dawson, and they will be joined by Sonja Barga as Claire Temple’s mother and Simone Missick as Misty Knight, making Luke Cage the most inclusive series on the books so far. We’re still waiting to hear about Danny Rand and Iron Fist and whether the yearlong #AAIronFist campaign has had any effect), but in the meantime, the second season of Daredevil, which will premiere in March (not May like I previously thought) includes Elodie Yung as Elektra.
So with yesterday’s announcement of a second season for Jessica Jones, it’s time for our favorite badass woman (and badass woman showrunner) to step up.
Full disclosure: sometimes I forget that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a thing. We’re approaching the second half of season three, and although I faithfully watch from week to week, I find myself wondering why I’m not more excited for it. It has been better overall in terms of diversity with its main characters, recurring characters, and minor characters. I went back through the IMDB cast list and was surprised to note how many characters have come and gone.
Yes, we still have Ming-Na, Chloe, and Henry Simmons. But things don’t look good for Blair Underwood, and even though Juan Pablo Raba made history as the first queer character in the MCU, he’s only appeared in a handful of episodes so far. Even with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. can do better, and hopefully the newly re-announced AoS spinoff Marvel’s Most Wanted starring Adrianne Palicki and Nick Blood will be better, too.
But, as was mentioned in reference to Marvel Comics, representation behind the camera is just as important as that in front of it. The most positive move Marvel has made to that end is getting Ryan Coogler to direct Black Panther. After months of speculation, it’s official and really happening.
— Marvel Entertainment (@Marvel) January 12, 2016
As for the rest of the MCU on the big screen–yes, Meg LeFauve and Nicole Perlman are writing the Captain Marvel screenplay, and they’ve just added Stephany Folsom to Thor: Ragnarok. We know that they’re looking to hire a woman to direct Captain Marvel, so at least that’s on the table.
In terms of ABC’s Marvel shows, Maurissa Tancharoen is one of my favorite badass ladies behind the camera and one of the showrunners of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Despite this (or maybe because of this?) the show has only hired four female directors in three seasons, though two of them have directed multiple episodes, giving the show a whopping total seven episodes out of sixty six, and one more than episodes directed by male directors who aren’t white, though they are fewer in number. The writers room is about the same, featuring three women in three seasons, of which two are women of color, though there appears to not be any other demographic boxes checked for the men other than white.
Last year Agent Carter had one episode directed by a man who isn’t white, and none by women. Let’s hope this year they do better. The writing staff itself, though, is actually very diverse, composed of four women, three white men, a latino man, and an African-American man. I believe most of the writing staff stayed on for season two, but I’m not sure. We’ll find out soon enough. There’s also the still unnamed mystery Marvel project by John Ridley, so 2016 is ripe with opportunities.
For Netflix’s Marvel, diversity behind the camera is not that much better. There was only one woman writer on Daredevil, and there was one episode not directed by a white man. Here’s hoping season two improves on that. Melissa Rosenberg is faring a little better as the showrunner for Jessica Jones, with three women having directed episodes, and three women in the writers room. There were no male directors who were not white, though there were two writers. Cheo Hodari Coker should have no problem beating those stats on Luke Cage should he choose to do so.
Overall, in 2015 there was progress, and 2016 is poised with more opportunities for Marvel to do more. To be better. But they’re not starting from nothing, and I believe they’re learning. Next week, I will address the big gay elephant in the room–Marvel and queerness.
Sebastian Stan seems to be avoiding social media for the most part–but he does have a weibo account, which I just discovered, and has given us these adorable gems.