A Win for Whedon, a Set-back for Diversity

My dressing up as an alien monster days are far behind me.
I feel the need to start off by saying that I love Joss Whedon and his work. I feel he has done more to broaden the kinds of characters/heroes we can expect to see on TV and now in movies than most people working in the industry. I applaud him for that.

The trouble is that his success, and by that I mean the phenomenal success of The Avengers might have had some unintended consequences for women characters and characters of color. After all, as of this writing it’s third biggest movie of all time or something? To say it exceeded expectations is giving it the soft-sell. It has Marvel Studios smelling money, and it has the viewing audience thinking anything is possible. But it also created a problem that is exactly one word long: Thanos.

Hold onto that name. I’ll come back to it. First I want to talk about the blow to diversity in regards to their upcoming slate of movies.

At San Diego Comic Con, Marvel announced their next five movies, including release dates for most, if not all of them. (I’m too lazy to double check if they gave a date for Ant-Man, plus it’s after 12:30. You have a computer. Look it up if you want.) Three of them were no-brainers. They’ve been filming Iron Man 3 for a while now to finish out the trilogy, and the second installment of Captain American and Thor were already pretty much certain. Even Ant-Man has a bit of a development history, with writers and directors attached who have been turning in drafts for a few years now.

But Guardians of the Galaxy? Don’t get me wrong. I love Rocket Raccoon as much as the next guy…possibly more. But the book isn’t even being published right now. Is anyone clamoring for a Guardians of the Galaxy movie? I’d wager a resounding “No.” So why the movie? Two reasons. Avengers was a team movie and brought in a ton of money setting up Thanos as the next big baddie–a villain that most people just aren’t familiar with. Is it any coincidence that from the relatively large potential Guardian’s lineup, they included two characters with a specific tie to Thanos? I doubt it. In fact, the Guardians of the Galaxy movie seems to be, in large part, a chance for the studio to explain who the villain for the next
Avengers movie is.

Understandably, Marvel can only make so many movies a year. I don’t fault them for knowing that and planning around that. But what about Black Widow? Doesn’t she get a movie? Even paired up with Hawkeye, it would be something. What about Luke Cage, which can be made for a fraction of the cost of a big sci-fi team epic and has been talked about on the fringes of development for years? More importantly, what about Black Panther?

Oh, don’t worry kids, Marvel Studios co-president Louis D’Esposito has weighed in on the delay of making a Black Panther movie in a recent interview with MTV.

“He has a lot of the same characteristics of a Captain America: great character, good values… But it’s a little more difficult, maybe, creating [a world like Wakanda]. It’s always easier basing it here. For instance, ‘Iron Man 3’ is rooted right here in Los Angeles and New York. When you bring in other worlds, you’re always faced with those difficulties.”

Anyone else call bullshit on that? Wakanda has been created in comics and animation several times. Groundwork has been done, you dig? If Eddie Murphy can create an African kingdom from scratch in Coming To America 25 years ago, what’s the hold up? Plus, you can set the majority of the movie in New York if you really need to. But come on, that’s a lame ass excuse. Especially from the same studio that created Asgard and is making Guardians of the Motherfucking Galaxy with a talking tree and gun-toting Raccoon in SPACE! Are you not the makers of dreams?

So consider it a dream deferred.

While it’s great that they’re adding The Falcon to the Captain America movie, it’s hard not to read that as tokenism. Now, that’s not necessarily my take on it, but I can kind of understand that view. I have a bit of history with The Falcon. When I was a kid, the run of Captain America comics I had didn’t have Cap in them at all. Instead, they starred The Falcon trying to find Cap. So I’ve always connected with him as a much more integral part of the mythos than the casual reader. But in trying to point this out in a forum the other day, the reaction I got was, “Great! We get another black sidekick.” Suffice to say, there’s a good segment of the ticket-buying public who feels a bit left out.

Maybe Marvel will prove us wrong. One can hope.

UPDATE: It appears that MTV and Marvel discussed the Black Panther situation in a bit more detail back in June. It’s positive news. It’s a shame it’s taking a back seat to Guardians, but unless there’s been some kind of significant shift, a Black Panther movie might be in the wings between Guardians and Avengers 2. It would make sense. After all–Black Panther has a nice long relationship with the Avengers. Fingers crossed.

One thought on “A Win for Whedon, a Set-back for Diversity

  1. As always, your commentary is valid and poignant. However, I cannot fault Whedon or the studio for playing to their strengths – and by that I mean whatever it is they feel is going to bring in the most gold for the coffers. I don’t know how their dealings with Marvel are managed, but my experience from the card gaming side has taught me that there are some potentially huge costs in world-building, character development, and design specs that can surprise and confound. The idea that they would go in a direction to build up the Thanos story rather than consider race or gender in their planning is not at all surprising. Indeed, I would imagine that the only real race and gender considerations come after a story is considered and then someone asks, “Do we have enough diversity in this one?” I often think of guys like Mel Gibson and James Cameron who spent years making millions in movies to eventually reveal that they did it all so they could eventually make “that” movie that was deep in their hearts. Who knows? Maybe Whedon just isn’t there yet. Right now, he’s an icon but one fairly newly minted. Twenty years from now, he may just surprise us with that idealistic minority feminist masterwork that we never even thought could be done.

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