Endgame has been out for nearing two weeks already, and the hype is still ever-present. The spoiler ban has been lifted and people are now able to talk more freely about it. I watched it two days after release, and ever since I have been itching to write a piece on our favourite female characters. I think it is a fair statement to make that throughout history, Marvel has been marketed towards cis men. Marvel’s ‘big names’ from the Golden Age (late 1930s to the 1950s) to the 1960s were all stereotypically male. Captain America, the ever-charming superhero that we know and love today was portrayed then as an American patriarch at a key time in world history. His creation during World War II meant that his image was used as anti-Nazi propaganda, with a comic book cover even showing him punching Adolf Hitler.
Captain America’s portrayal as the ideal citizen fighting for the good of humanity with his strength, indestructible shield and dazzling good looks (and nice butt) is an image that still stands today. Iron Man, Thor and The Hulk all also have qualities of the stereotypical, ideal male. All are strong, all are powerful, and all have status (albeit it in varying contexts given that Iron Man’s alter ego has a celebrity status, Thor is royalty and Hulk’s alter ego is a scientist). Amongst these strong male characters there have, of course, been women characters throughout Marvel’s history. It does seem, however, that for many years these female characters were oversexualized, and certainly not valued on par with their male counterparts. Even as recent as 2015 there has been outcry from some comic book fans at the thought of female characters becoming more dominant: “when Marvel announced that the mantle of Thor would pass to a woman and some aggrieved male fans accused the company of pandering to political correctness. For people outside the comic-book world, the backlash seemed to confirm the old stereotype of fans as aggressively maladjusted man-boys, like Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons” (Lynskey). Slowly but surely though Marvel have catered to their ever-growing diverse audience that was once dominated by cis, white men both within the Marvel universes and in the fan bases.
The current Marvel Cinematic Universe, Phases One, Two and Three, have had strong female characters from the beginning. That being said, I believe that it has only been in this final phase where these female characters have progressed, and even more female characters have been added. Of course, Phase One and Two had the characters of Black Widow, Gamora, Nebula Pepper Potts and Scarlet Witch among others but when Phase Three began and we were introduced to the likes of Valkyrie, Okoye and of course Captain Marvel. It is also in Phase Three where the existing female characters stories are expanded, they are more involved in the plots of each movie and they are given more screen time. The cherry on the cake, if you will, is in Avengers: Endgame where the majority of these female characters came together in a similar manner to the “A-Force” in the Marvel Comics. It is this scene in particular that I want to focus on for this post.
If you’re an avid reader of film reviews and opinion pieces on movies (or, let’s be honest, if you have used social media in the last few weeks) it’s likely you would have read something about Marvel ‘’pandering to the feminists’’ in their latest masterpiece. I genuinely believe this couldn’t be further from the truth. The scene in question presents to us the majority of these female characters, all backing Captain Marvel, the MCU’s latest and arguably most powerful superhero. Of course, Captain Marvel is a woman. That being said, her characterdoes not adhere to the typical conventions of a woman in the MCU. She is not dressed overly sexually, she does not have a male love interest (something that most female characters in the MCU have), and importantly, she is strong enough to stand against Thanos without fear and really give up a good fight. As well as this, Endgame Captain Marvel also has a different hairstyle to her own movie. We are treated to the glorious wonder that is Brie Larson with an androgynous, cropped hair cut. Defying gender stereotypes left, right and centre over here! With Captain Marvel leading our girl gang, the ‘A-Force’ are able to do some serious damage to Thanos’ army and we, the audience, are given some much wanted screen time of our female Avengers.
‘BUT IT WASN’T NEEDED’ shouts noobmaster69 from the back. Well, here is where I beg to differ. Here is where I argue that Marvel were not actually “pandering to the feminists” (notice how “feminists” here always has negative connotations?), and they were in fact making a much needed, long awaited (small) step in the right direction. As said earlier in this article, Marvel’s fanbase is growing increasingly diverse. It is only fair that the movies plots should change along with it. The “A-Force” scene provided, from first-hand experience, audible gasps and tears from the cinema audience I was sat in. It gives the younger generation a positive message that girls can be superheroes too – NEWSFLASH PEOPLE boys like Disney princesses and girls like Thor and Hulk!
Of course, it does cater for feminists, feminists being a whole variety of people, from cis men and women, non-binary folk, the trans community, old people, young people, your Mum, your Grandad, your GP receptionist (yep, we’re all bloody feminists now, get with the programme). But pandering to us? No. They have realised that this is what their audience want. They’ve realised that they can open the universe to further movies and shows by giving these female characters bigger storylines. They’ve realised that inclusivity is cool, it’s the done thing, and honestly, does it really take much more effort to begin with? The “A-Force” scene was, in my opinion, wonderful cinematically. It brought together all these strong female characters. But is this enough?
Well, it’s certainly a start but more needs to be done. It is slightly worrying that only now in 2019 we are seeing promising representation of anyone outside the area of the straight, white, cis male. Of course, Black Panther was phenomenal, and the representation of POC was fantastic. However, where has that representation been since? How much screen time have the characters of Black Panther had since? Where are our queer characters? I know there are rumours of Captain Marvel being queer, but are we really just meant to be satisfied with an androgynous haircut? As said in an article on website The Mary Sue: “Marvel has to step up.
We have stuck with them through highs and lows and have supported their vision, carrying the weight of queer representation when canon doesn’t. That also requires having the same energy for representation when it comes to all women and LGBTQ+ characters” (Weekes). As Weekes puts it, this has been a long time coming, and as wonderful as the scene was, it just wasn’t enough. To round off, the “A-Force” scene genuinely was one of my favourites from Endgame, in fact, it’s probably one of my favourite MCU moments of all time. It is a step in the right direction, but now Marvel needs to take further steps and represent their diverse fanbase. Maybe now the big names have taken a step back (bye bye Tony and Cap), there will be opportunity to represent women, POC, trans folk and more. Here’s hoping.