Discrimination in the Marvel Cinematic Universe


ralpoonvas, Marvel: Pixabay

Kyra Ramsey, Staff Writer

I love Marvel. Ever since I watched the first Avengers movie, I have been in love with the characters, the stories, and the actors. But, despite this love, I can’t ignore that the franchise has some major problems addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion. For the purposes of this article, I will only be mentioning two of the most egregious problems, although there are many more. So, what are these problems, and what can be done to solve them? 

We’ll start with one of the obvious issues: the lack of female characters and female-led movies. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) began in 2008, with the release of Iron Man. Since then there have been twenty-two more MCU movies, each with their own unique set of characters and plots. However, out of all of them, there has only been one female-led movie: Captain Marvel. To make matters worse, this movie came out in 2019, eleven years after the start of the MCU. While this is an unfortunate example of gender discrimination, we do have to recognize the effort that the MCU is now putting into making their franchise more inclusive. There are a number of female-led movies coming in the next few years, including Black Widow (finally) and Wanda Vision. There have also been quite a few strong female characters in recent movies. Most encouragingly, their female gender does not limit or define their characters. 

But some of these efforts at gender inclusion strike me as hollow. One scene that misses the mark is the final battle of Avengers: Endgame. In this scene, Spiderman steals Thanos’ gauntlet (the item they are trying to keep away from Thanos and his army). Spiderman, being a young superhero, is understandably scared. However, Captain Marvel quickly swoops in and saves him by taking the gauntlet herself. She is then joined by the rest of the female characters in the battle as they face Thanos’ army. While this scene may have been intended to show empowered female characters, it was much too forced and incredibly unrealistic (even for a superhero movie). Many fans agree that Marvel could have put more effort into creating more authentically empowered female characters. 

Another example of gender discrimination in the MCU is the costumes. The issue of hypersexualization in female characters has been around for a long time, and Marvel may just be trying to remain true to the comics, but it is painfully obvious that the female characters are hyper-sexualized in their costumes. A clear example of this is Black Widow. While her male

counterparts are dressed head-to-toe in armor or, at the very least, realistic and functional clothing, Black Widow wears a skintight black suit with a low-cut front. How this is necessary or realistic clothing for a fight remains a mystery. Through jokes and side-character comments, it is clear how this costuming is intended for the benefit of male viewers. Audiences can point out that female superheroes are wearing much more sensible suits recently.  It also cannot be ignored how sexualized male characters can also be. However, the MCU still has a long way to go.

In addition to gender discrimination, there is also a glaring lack of representation of the LGBTQ+ community. In all twelve years of the MCU, there has not been an LGBTQ+ character or relationship between any major characters. Even the actors from the MCU have expressed their frustration with this. Tessa Thompson (Valkyrie) and Brie Larson (Captain Marvel) have both posted on their social media accounts hinting at a relationship between their two characters. They have also talked about it in interviews, saying that they would be happy to be the first LGBTQ+ characters in the MCU. There may be some good news on the horizon.  At an expo in August of 2019, Marvel announced that Eternals (one of their many movies coming in 2020) will star the first gay character in the MCU. They also talked about including a romantic backstory for Valkyrie, in which her bisexuality is revealed. This may be the start of a new, more inclusive era of Marvel.

The MCU has become a large part of American culture. The global franchise has the power to represent a change in society. Personally, I believe it is their duty to use their wealth and platform for good. Anyone will tell you that representation matters. Everyone wants to feel validated, to be told that they are just as important, and in this case, heroic, as the rest of the world. Marvel can do this. Marvel can give the silenced a voice.