When I saw that Hailee Steinfield was the frontrunner to play Kate Bishop in Disney+’s Hawkeye, I messaged everyone I knew about it. Finally, someone like me was going to play an Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) hero: a mixed race Filipinx person who fell into the “ambiguously brown” category. While my excitement was not universal and Disney has not confirmed the casting, I believe that making Kate multiracial could add depth to her character. Additionally, a mixed race Kate would bring diversity in storytelling to the MCU by grounding one of Marvel’s many default white characters in a specific ethnicity.
Personally, Marvel’s choice to always use traumatic or tragic incidents, rather than cultural cues, to give characters a backstory has always struck me as odd. For example, Daisy Johnson in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (AOS) was established as mixed race in Season 2, with her fictional parents being Jiaying (Dichen Lachman) and Calvin Johnson (Kyle MacLachlan). (This generally reflects the heritage of Daisy’s actor, Chloe Wang, known in the United States as Chloe Bennet.)
While this remarkably made Daisy Marvel’s first live-action Asian superhero, the AOS writers chose to have Daisy separated at birth from her parents. That meant that her character was informed by being an orphan, rather than her experiences growing up within her two cultural communities, a divergence from Bennet’s own experience. While making Daisy an orphan is definitely a character-defining choice, the list of already-existing orphaned superheroes is so long that it’s practically a requirement. Additionally, many of these orphaned characters are white by default or, like Daisy, have stories that are centered primarily around the trauma of losing parents, rather than the complexities of a character growing up within a distinct ethnic community.
When I first met Kate Bishop in the Hawkeye series from 2012-2015, I loved her character. She was funny, smart, and a lovable trash fire who I enjoyed watching kick bro butts on both coasts. She didn’t take Clint’s shit, and learned how getting close to your heroes is also a reminder that they are people too. However, as I continued to follow her story across comic book runs and learned more about her past in Young Avengers, she started to feel less unique and a lot more like the other light-skinned, brunette women of the Marvel Universe.
While certain details make her backstory interesting, her similarities in look and character made me wonder if anything really separates Kate from Jessica Jones, Jessica Drew, or even Laura Kinney. In the crossover event between Jessica Jones and Kate Bishop in issues five and six of Hawkeye (2016-2018), without the costume differences —Kate in her Hawkeye purple and Jones in her leather jacket — and the very deliberate coloring of their hair (black and brown, respectively), the two investigators might have looked identical. While the intention for the crossover is that Kate learns the ropes from Jessica, the hijinks of that story reads eerily similar to early issues of Alias.
While archetypes are important, I think a specific ethnic background would help differentiate Kate from those other light-skinned brunette women and bolster her character without making her experience trauma. For me, having read Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians series at the same time as reading Hawkeye, Kate’s background as an heiress seemed most in-line with her being possibly of Asian descent. While this is a common head canon since she was not written as an Asian-American, what I like about the potential of Steinfield as Kate is the possibility of bringing more non-white, mixed race stories to the screen, building on the precedent set by Miles Morales in Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Let’s explore how this story hypothetically could work. Based on Steinfeld’s own multiracial heritage, Kate’s story could start as an exploration of inter-generational wealth with a non-white, Afro-Filipinx, Yakima-Japanese, Zimbabwean-Chinese, or any other biracial or multiracial person making the Bishop family fortune. From there, we could see a story that, depending on when it is set, explores how that relative of Kate’s navigates being mixed race during the civil rights era and the repeal of anti-miscegenation laws, or during the Cold War and Reaganomics in the eighties. Or really, any combination of these stories that explore what it means to earn wealth and status while also being mixed race in the United States.
Do Kate’s parents identify with one or more of their heritages? Do they fit the phenotypic norm for either group? What role does that play in them eventually being a villain in Kate’s eyes — if that person is her father Derek, could the show explore the plots from Hawkeye (2016-2018)? Or if that person is her mother, how do we understand that character’s mental illness?
Alternatively, could Kate be the first mixed race person in her family? How would her character grow from conversations with family members about being teased about her looks, being asked where she’s from, or whether she wants to “pass” as one ethnicity over another? How does that feed or motivate her to take up the mantle of Hawkeye, a character who, in the cinematic universe, has had minimal character development? While a mixed race Kate would not be the first mixed race character in the live-action MCU, she could be the first to draw from that as a foundation for her backstory.
Heritage is history. It is what makes us who we are, as long as we aren’t genetically created in a lab and raised to be killing machines. Heritage could inform Kate’s character without relying on a traumatic event to push her into training. Also, it would allow for a multi-generational exploration of being mixed race that we have yet to see in almost any media.
While this casting remains a rumor and one that Steinfeld herself suggests isn’t “necessarily happening,” the potential of a mixed race Kate getting help from an Afro-Filipinx Lolo or Lola to help her understand who she is and what she wants as a superhero seems like an amazing option that I hope Marvel capitalizes on.