It’s the first week of March, and this is a reminder that we only have to wait ten more days until season two of Daredevil is available on Netflix.
The biggest Marvel news of the week is probably the rumor that due to the public outcry against the casting of Finn Jones as Iron Fist, Marvel is now looking to add the martial artist and part-time Defender Shang-Chi to the Iron Fist TV show’s lineup and is auditioning actors of Asian decent for the role. Rich Johnston over at Bleeding Cool has said his sources at Marvel have flatly denied this, which I think would be a shame, since it was a move in the right direction, even if it wasn’t the right move.
It was the right move in terms of addressing what I mentioned last week–that there are currently no Asian men playing superheroes, and a whole lot of men and women playing bad guys. Although Marvel has done some racebent casting with Elodie Yung as Elektra and Chloe Bennet as Daisy Johnson/Quake. Shang-Chi onscreen is a good thing, but it also doesn’t “solve” the problem for Marvel. Having an Asian character stand next to your white characters whose origins are inherently racist doesn’t fix that racist origin, and Shang-Chi himself, being of unspecified Chinese origin and not American or other cross-culturally identified, reaffirms the problematic representation that Asian people face in terms of available roles, which perpetuates the idea of Asian people as foreigners. (Sidenote: special thanks to new WWAC contributor Draven for sharing their experiences with me).
Also, adding one character of diverse origin to a show’s lineup doesn’t make a show less “white,” as Marvel found out on the comics side this past week. Spider-Man #2, Miles Morales’ solo book written by Miles Morales’ originating creative team, Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli, was released this past Wednesday, and included these problematic panels.
The twittersphere exploded in discussion, and this article on Fusion lays out what’s at stake here when Marvel missteps like this. White people writing characters who aren’t white isn’t a neutral act; nor it is a neutral act when men write women, or straight people write queer characters. It’s not personal–it’s political, thanks to the fucked up world we live in. I believe that Bendis has the best of intentions with Miles and this entire question of what it means to be “Black Spider-Man” and for Miles specifically Afro-Latino, because erasure of his Puerto Rican heritage is very real (see this great piece on the viral gymnast Sophina deJesus who recently clarified that she is African-American and Puerto Rican, just like Miles).
Representation matters. The first Ghostbusters trailer featuring our all-lady Ghostbusters team debuted this week, and while many of the complaints and shitty reviews and passive-aggressive “oh I have no interest in this–but not because it’s ladies I swear” comments are complete bullshit, it was observed that Leslie Jones’ character Patty seems to be the only woman who isn’t a scientist, and has “street smarts.” Many people and many WOC objected to this, and Leslie Jones addressed the issue on twitter.
Why can't a regular person be a ghostbuster. Im confused. And why can't i be the one who plays them i am a performer. Just go see the movie!
— Leslie Jones (@Lesdoggg) March 4, 2016
Her question is valid, and the letter from the MTA transit worker that she shares on Twitter is very important, but her answer, for many, misses the point of the criticism–why does it have to be the WOC who is street smart? Why couldn’t Leslie Jones play the role Melissa McCarthy plays and Melissa McCarthy be the street smart transit worker? This is the problem created by tokenism and not actual diversity–what that person represents becomes incredibly important.
Tokenism doesn’t create a show that reflects the reality of diversity. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which was just renewed for another season, has fared better than most of the other Marvel properties due to having Ming Na Wen, Chloe Bennet, Henry Simmons and B.J. Britt as main characters at one point (remember that glorious season?). Unfortunately, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has become a revolving door with their POCs, many of them dying in spectacular fashion while Brett Dalton continues to get screen time. Even finally killing Grant Ward hasn’t stopped that. This is not to say I have anything against Brett Dalton. I actually think the Ward twist at the end of the first season was one of the best things Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ever did, but that was three seasons ago. It’s time for him to go.
Which brings me to Agent Carter, which just finished airing what will probably be its final season since not only is Hayley Atwell doing another ABC pilot, but it was just announced that Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters, the showrunners, are doing an ABC pilot with Gina Torres. Agent Carter’s ratings were disappointing for pretty much everyone, and I have to wonder why. This show had an amazing fanbase. I saw a sea of Peggys at SDCC this past summer. So what went wrong? I’ve got a few theories, but one major criticism of the first season was the lack of diversity, which led to the #DiversifyAgentCarter campaign.
Though it’s clear that there was a concerted effort to bring in a number of characters played by actors from underrepresented groups in both major and minor roles, the bulk of the diversity was brought in with Peggy’s new love interest, Reggie Austin’s Dr. Jason Wilkes. I liked Wilkes a lot, and I liked him as a love interest for Peggy in the sense that I 100% buy that she would find him and his story compelling. Wilkes was not only a brilliant physicist (so brilliant that Howard Stark hires him at the end of the series), but also a genuinely nice guy. But he was the only new diverse character who was part of the new main cast (although there were several POCs cast as minor characters with speaking roles this time around) and like with what we see with Patty in the new Ghostbusters, when you only have one character who represents all of your diversity, that character gets scrutinized. The solution is simple, as laid out by Constance Wu:
An easy way to avoid token-ism? Have more than one. Have 3+, make them all different & have them carry 50% of the dialogue. Not so hard.
— Constance Wu (@ConstanceWu) March 4, 2016
Had this season had the diversity its fans wanted it to have, I don’t think the ratings would have been this bad, which is why I picked Make Mine Diverse, Marvel as this week’s theme. We want to like you, Marvel. You’re just making it really hard. But I also think one of the problems was that Lyndsy Fonseca’s character Angie Martinelli was left behind in New York. Cartinelli is a major fandom ship, and for some reason, Angie was only in the dream dance sequence where Peggy Dances With the Stars in a drug-induced dream sequence where she must choose between Wilkes and Sousa.
This is not to say this season lacked women. There’s not a question of whether this season passes the Bechdel Test. There were new women this season, specifically Mrs. Jarvis played by Lotte Verbeek, and the main villain was Whitney Frost, a character modeled after real life Hollywood actress and technological genius Hedy Lamarr. Frost’s storyline had some very pointed critiques of casual misogyny and everyday sexism that I enjoyed. I was also pleased to see both Rose and Dottie return as characters as well, but those characters weren’t necessary to Peggy’s story in the same way that Angie was in the first season. While Peggy and Jarvis’s friendship continued to develop into a wonderfully platonic relationship, we were denied that with Peggy and Angie. Peggy makes only one mention of her in the very last episode, when she’s debating whether she should head back to New York or stay in California. We don’t even know if Angie ever really figured out what Peggy does for a living, and I find that an unsatisfying end, even if they did finally kill off Chad Michael Murray’s character.
Marvel’s Poe Dameron #1 is set to debut this April, but we’ve finally been given some preview pages and learn exactly when the comic is set (post- Return of the Jedi and pre- The Force Awakens, not unlike the movie prequel written by Greg Rucka). Also, the comic is going to include a bonus comic drawn by Chris Eliopolous and starring BB-8, and it’s kind of adorable.