Diversity in the Marvel Universe

I should probably start with a disclaimer– I’m a white dude. I am also, admittedly more of a DC fan than Marvel when it comes to comics. Despite that, its clear that Marvel has been dominating the live action movie section of the super hero genre– and deservedly so. Their films are typically spot on, filled with interesting characters of all varieties, well plotted, and exciting.

There has been a lot of speculation about what movies will be announced to fill out the release schedule that runs through 2018. Some of these we know will fill in with Captain America 3, Avengers 3, Thor 3, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Dr. Strange, and Ant-Man. That leaves very few remaining slots.

We already know that an Iron-man four starring Robert Downey Jr. is highly unlikely. The other titles that have been rumored to fill into the remaining four slots between now and the end of 2018 include the Inhumans, Black Panther, another Hulk Movie. We also cannot discount that another direct sequel (Cap or Thor 4, GotG 3, Ant Man or Dr Strange 2) might seep in to take one of these spots. There could also be a spin-off from Guardians, most like Rocket Racoon.

Marvel has basically declared that there is no female oriented movie dedicated in this lineup. Ms. Marvel is highly unlikely, and they do not own any of the X-Men women, or conceivably Spiderwoman. Elektra has come back to Marvel with the Daredevil character, but if she gets a project it will conceivably be in the Netflix model tv lineup. I would suggest, despite the long time between now and the start of DCs own cinematic Universe Wonder Woman will have a solo movie before any Marvel universe heroine well.

So where does this leave us in respects to having a Marvel superhero movie not headlined by a white dude?

The only project rumored at this point which might not be, is “The Black Panther.” I think this would be a serious mistake for several reasons.

1. “The Black Panther” debuted in a time when diversity in comics was low, and yes, many of the first African or African American super-heroes had the word black in their names– Black Panther, Black Lightning, Black Eagle, Black Spider, Blackwing, Black Goliath. Its a somewhat problematic legacy which really only affects two characters that are still modern heroes (Black Panther from Marvel and Black Lightning for DC– Black Adam is a somewhat different story as Black describes his soul not his skin color, since he is of middle eastern origin, but deserves mention as a corollary).

Needless to say I don’t feel Marvel needs to use a character which uses this legacy “code-word” in the title of the first African or African American headlined super hero movie (since either Hancock or Steel depending on how you feel about Hancock, a property not related to either of the big two comics publishers).

What purpose does it serve? Is the black here to tell African American audiences that they can watch this movie, because, you know, “Black Panther! see, we do movies for you too!”

Is it there to tip-off Marvel’s current mostly white audience not to bother with this one? “Black Panther– leave that for them, no need for you to bother”. This could lead to another, doubly problematic issue if the movie goes over, an attitude of “See, we gave you Black Panther and it flopped, we’re done with that; now more white dudes for the next 10 years.”

2. The Black Panther, aka T’Çhalla, is an African prince from a make believe country known as Wakanda. That’s fine in and of itself– the character is what he is and a Black Panther movie could be interested. But what it is not is an African American superhero. Is the message that the only positive dark skinned heroes worthy of being venerated are mythical princes from Africa?

Why not any of the other African American characters in the pantheon of Marvel heroes?
Storm would be a Fox owned movie; Mile Morales as Spiderman would be Sony. Luke Cage and Deathlok have been given over to Netflix and ABC TV respectively. Blade already had three movies.

Unfortunately, that leaves the roster of Marvel African American characters somewhat thin. (Don’t believe me? take a look at this list here– http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_black_superheroes).

Outside the characters already discussed, the Marvel list gets slim fast (Brother Voodoo? The Human Top?) But there are two notable exceptions– which come with built in reasons for why they should be chosen instead already– Falcon and War Machine.

3. Falcon or War Machine would make better movies. Both these characters are already in the Marvel Cinematic Universe from their supporting roles in Captain America and Iron Man franchises already established. Both come with quality actors attached who are familiar to the general audience and who were excellent in the roles (Anthony Mackie and Don Cheadle.)

In the comics, the character of Falcon is currently doing a turn as Captain America, donning the red white and blue and slinging the shield while Steve Rogers is aged to his natural age. Why not give him his own starring movie role? A flying, soldier character could certainly carry his own movie.

Even more than Falcon, however, I would like to see James Rhodes aka Warmachine given a chance to carry a movie. Cheadle has the acting chops to work in this kind of role, is highly respected so a movie that focuses on this established character from two movies (Ironman II and III, a different actor played Rhodes in the first installment) could be a huge hit?

The Ironman franchise has been the most successful of the solo films to date, so continuing in that segment of the universe even with the departure of Robert Downey Jr. would seem a logical choice.

Besides this, the movie could fit into the continuity easily as a pure continuation– who among us wouldn’t go out to see “Iron Man 4” starring Don Cheadle?

If neither of these movies are on the schedule by 2018, it goes without saying that 2019 or 2020 will likely be too late, and neither an Anthony Mackie as Falcon movie or Don Cheadle as Ironman/Warmachine will ever come to pass.

To conclude– Up to now, African American super heroes have been banished to supporting roles– Marvel has demonstrated they will put non-white male actors in strong roles, so long as they are the buddy/ side-kick role rather than the starring turn. I sincerely hope this trend doesn’t continue through the next series, but simultaneously want to see Falcon or Warmachine before a “Black Panther” movie.

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