Let’s Not Break Our Arms Patting Marvel on the Back For “Diversity”

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Tuesday morning, a packed house of fans, filmmakers, actors, and media gathered at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood for a mysterious “event” hosted by Marvel Studios. But as the event began, the mystery evaporated: studio president Kevin Feige was there to announce the entire slate for Marvel’s “Phase 3,” the presumed blockbusters that will roll out following next summer’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. In many ways, it was the very essence of hype: an advertising event at which a throng of superfans freaked out over dates and title fonts. But it was a morning of mostly good news — particularly with regards to expanding representation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has to this point been dominated by straight white guys. The only question is, did they go far enough?

I don’t mean to look a gift horse in the mouth. The big takeaway is that, among the 11 (11) Marvel films slated for release between 2015 and 2019 is the 2018 release of Captain Marvel, the studio’s first female-led superhero flick, and the 2017 movie Black Panther, starring Chadwick Boseman — who will also appear, Avengers-style, in other MCU pictures, beginning with 2016’s third Captain America flick. Fans of both characters immediately lost their shit (dumb conservatives, not so much) and for good reason; Captain Marvel, aka Carol Danvers, is a widely beloved character whose solo series is penned by feminist comic book writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, while Black Panther, aka T’Challa, is a brilliant badass refreshingly free of racial tropes.

These announcements are exciting, for all kinds of reasons. Marvel/Danvers is the kind of earthy, likable character who should fit in snugly with the style of the Marvel movies, which values character comedy above all else. It’s become clear that Boseman has got the real movie-star stuff, and Black Panther is a welcome addition to a universe that has to start figuring out how to carry on once Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans (respectively) age and interest out of their roles.

And yet… we heard nothing about Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), one of the few Avengers characters who hasn’t fronted a film of his own. Another is Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, suspiciously missing from the mix yesterday in spite of the fact that fans have been asking for a Widow movie, Johansson has been asking for a Widow movie, and Johansson made what amounted to a superhero movie last summer, which made nearly half a billion dollars worldwide.

Quizzed by Entertainment Weekly after the event, Feige recycled the same tired excuses for the missing Black Widow flick: “Frankly, it’s about bringing new characters to the screen,” he said, of a slate that includes third Captain America and Thor movies and a Guardians sequel. “Her part in Avengers: Age of Ultron is very, very big and further develops and further enhances her character. The plans we have for her throughout the rest of the Avengers saga is very, very big. A lynchpin, in fact, to those films. So instead of taking her out, instead of doing a prequel, which we haven’t done yet, we’re continuing the forward momentum and continuity of the cinematic universe of which Widow is a key, key part.” Uh huh. OK. One movie is all you get, ladies, now quit bothering poor Kevin Feige.

Again, this is not to rain on the parade of these two films, which are unquestionably a step in the right direction. But when you get down to it, are two movies out of 11 really that applause-worthy? Maybe when compared to zero movies out of 11, sure, and y’know, Hollywood doesn’t take chances, these things take time to make happen, etc. etc. Yet the studio finally, after literally years of squirming and excuses, throwing fans the bone of a single female-led movie and a female minority-led movie three or four years from now feels like what it is: too little, too late.