The Disney-based studio could spearhead inclusive storytelling and hiring practices, a la A Wrinkle in Time.
Black Panther had a gargantuan weekend, and rightfully so. The Marvel Cinematic Universe premiered the teaser trailer for its first solo black superhero film. Directed by Ryan Coogler and co-written by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, Black Panther will feature a predominantly black cast and will be set in the fictional African nation Wakanda, one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world.
It’s setting itself up to be a keystone celebration of black representation in blockbuster movies. Despite this, Marvel Studios continues to drag its feet when it comes to furthering a diverse superhero repertoire. In an interview with Complex, Black Panther executive producer Nate Moore had some measured comments about whether inclusion is finally becoming commonplace in the MCU:
“Our biggest concern is that, in trying to get more characters out there, we rush something that’s not ready and we deliver something that’s not up to our standards. So it’s less about us rushing a character that’s diverse to get it out quickly and more about figuring out how to do it right.”
The thing is, Marvel’s had plenty of opportunities to ensure inclusion in their media. Fans have called for a Black Widow movie for years. Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff has made major appearances in five MCU films. But according to Kevin Feige, her solo film remains an amorphous concept beyond a promise that Marvel is “creatively and emotionally…most committing [sic] to doing.”
There was a fury of speculation surrounding the newest Spider-Man reboot when it was just freshly announced, as well. The prospect of having Miles Morales in a live-action Spidey film caused a wave of eagerness, only for it to turn out to be false hope. Don’t forget that it took almost two years since its initial Phase 3 announcement to cast Carol Danvers. So fans of the MCU are used to waiting for developments to happen.
In his interview, Moore praises other popular media franchises such as Fast and the Furious and gives credit to television (How to Get Away with Murder, Scandal) for paving the way towards a more holistically representative media landscape. He’s not wrong in this regard. The Hollywood landscape is changing, due in part to these landmark properties putting these issues at the forefront.
However, it’s telling when Moore would rather mention the backlash Marvel gets “when you cast against type” (Idris Elba as Heimdell is his example). When Doctor Strange and Iron Fist are repeatedly called out for cultural appropriation, many stay silent and some even bend over backwards trying to defend those choices.
There is a reason why “diversity” and “representation” are now part of our media vernacular. Audiences want to see themselves onscreen, and that’s not all. Members of the entertainment industry constantly affirm these very same goals and are finally doing something about it beyond simply repeating those buzzwords.
Recently at the Producers Guild of America’s Produced By conference, Ava DuVernay revealed that she had advised department heads on A Wrinkle in Time “not to submit a homogenous list of hires unless they could prove they had considered others.” She even recounted the time she convinced a producer to look past his all-white first choice crew:
“I believe that you can come out with a great result with a different crew, and make them great, too.”
This logic is also applicable to developing a franchise. It’s not hard to imagine the amount of freedom Marvel would have in making their movies. The company has been incredibly lucrative for Disney for almost a decade. Marvel continues to bring in huge numbers at the box office, even when it introduces brand-new, niche characters to their cinematic universe.
Marvel is not risk-averse in the slightest when it comes to establishing utterly random superheroes like Ant-Man and the Guardians of the Galaxy. But the company remains stagnant when it should make conscious efforts towards a more diverse roster.
That’s precisely why the onus is on higher-ups to think outside the box when it comes to planning and producing these films. DuVernay exemplifies that this is possible. Furthermore, although they haven’t quite gotten the hang of their formula yet, the DC Extended Universe has made bigger and quicker strides towards more inclusion. Even if Suicide Squad was a complete miss for DC and Warner Bros., Wonder Woman has been all anybody’s been talking about for two weeks — positively! — for its considered focus on a woman’s narrative.
Black Panther and Captain Marvel were originally slated for 2017 and 2018 releases respectively. They then moved around twice — Captain Marvel was only ever pushed back to later dates — to accommodate white male superheroes we’ve seen before. Granted, Spider-Man: Homecoming isn’t a sequel like Ant-Man and the Wasp, but the Peter Parker story has been told and retold. That’s not to say that it has no value or won’t be any good. But there are definitely fresher perspectives that could be given some priority.
The schedule barely even impacts the overall narrative structure of the MCU. The cinematic universe is joined together by threads at the very most and not the tough, fibrous kind from Spidey’s web shooters. The films only vaguely reference each other — especially so in their origin stories. They culminate in big event one-offs like the Avengers movies, but they don’t really cross over once they’re separated into their mini-franchises. Black Panther and Spider-Man: Homecoming are both set fairly quickly after the events of Captain America: Civil War.
So really, did Marvel have any reason to delay T’Challa’s full debut when it has both intense audience interest and cultural significance?
That’s a rhetorical question. We won’t even see Carol Danvers for a couple of years yet.
Marvel is no stranger to negating the importance of inclusivity and representation in other branches of their company. But to beat the same, tired drum when other producers and filmmakers within their own parent company are moving forward simply doesn’t cut it anymore. That argument will always fall between the cracks.