BY SHANNA BOWIE
Disclaimer: Since I was asked to write about pop culture from a feminist perspective, I want to make a few things clear. First, as a Black woman, my feminism stems from a place of intersectionality and centering Black women in discussions of feminism. If you’re looking for your hundredth “Why Doesn’t Black Widow Have A Solo Film?” article, you won’t find it here. Secondly, I am a professional fangirl. I don’t write about stuff I don’t like and if I critique something, it’s because I genuinely love it and I want it to be even better. I’m probably not going to call for a boycott of Doctor Who because Moffatt sucks (even though he does) but I will call something I love problematic if it is. In fact, that’s just what I’m about to do.
A recent back and forth on Facebook caused me to do some deeper thinking about representation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The MCU has been touted for its inclusion and diversity since it began. The MCU is based largely on the Marvel comics Ultimate universe reboot which started with the introduction of Miles Morales by Brian Michael Bendis. Subsequently, in 2008 the MCU started out with a concerted effort towards showcasing diversity and strong women. Samuel L. Jackson was cast as Nick Fury, whom the Ultimate’s artists had based their comic book version on. And Terrance Howard was featured as James Rhodes in the first Iron Man film.
Women were also given more prominent coverage like Pepper Potts, who was moved out of the mere love interest/sidekick role and molded into a businesswoman and equal partner for Tony Stark. As the MCU has grown, we’ve seen the addition of even more Black men; Idris Elba as Heimdall in Thor 1 & 2, Anthony Mackie as Falcon in Captain America: Winter Soldier, Avengers 2 and now the upcoming Ant-Man, and even a solo film for Black Panther slated to open in 2017. And women have been kicking ass and taking names all over the MCU; Agent Carter, Black Widow, Jane Foster, Lady Sif, more than half the cast of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Marvel’s universe has expanded beyond anyone’s wildest imagination but this did not spring forth without careful planning and thought. So my question is: with all this thoughtful planning, did anyone think to include Black women in the MCU?
Just to note again, I am a huge fan of the MCU (read my disclaimer again before you call me a hater) but this is a real question. It seems like there was a real concerted effort to include Black people (read: Black men) and strong women (read: strong White women) into the MCU and basically, everyone thought they’d covered their bases. Pats on the back, golf claps, we did it! We solved the diversity issue in comic book films! And now it feels like if you call out this glaring oversight, here come the excuses. “We just got Black Panther, why can’t you be patient?” “But Warner Bros. has all the mutants and the only good sistas in the comics are mutants” “You guys got Zoe Saldana in Guardians. Isn’t that something?”
The answers to your questions are: “I’m tired of waiting” “Misty Knight and Monica Rambeau” and “Zoe was an alien not a Black woman”. I’m not even saying that Marvel needs to add a Black woman in a solo film to prove their commitment to diversity, what I’m saying is, has anyone examined the fact that this was a carefully laid plan that started pre-2008, spans 12 films, 3 television shows, is filled with Easter eggs and references to characters seen and unseen and none of Marvel’s Black women characters have been included even tangentially. I don’t think it’s malicious, I think it shows how we are not even included in the thought process. I don’t think some exec stood in a meeting and vetoed every Black female character that was pitched, I think we honestly never crossed their minds.
Now I can sit here and tell you anecdotes about all the Black women I know who frequent shops or Comixology or what have you to prove our buying power and why we should be included, but honestly, that’s not why we should be included. We should be included because the invisibility of Black women in the MCU mirrors the invisibility we feel in the real world every day. Just like the Black women who marched for Trayvon Martin, we criticized and pushed with Black men for Black Panther. Just like the Black women who burned their bras in solidarity, we lobbied for Black Widow to have a prominent role in Avengers. So when can we finally speak truth to power and acknowledge that we have been erased in this universe, both on-screen and off. When can we ask to be seen? Or can we admit, this plan wasn’t made for us.