Bianca Reátegui

Representation hardly a super feat

By  Bianca Reátegui, Youth Speak News
  • August 14, 2015

Marvel’s Ant-Man is the 12th instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Marvel Studios’ 12th consecutive top-grossing opening at the box office. With a gross of more than $8 billion at the worldwide box office, the MCU currently sits as the highest grossing film franchise in the world. And if that’s not enough, the highest grossing film worldwide, The Avengers, is also an MCU instalment.

Numbers like these cement MCU’s huge cultural influence, but also make its diversity problem a lot more pernicious.
There’s a real problem at the heart of the ever-popular MCU: the severe lack of minority representation in the franchise. Take The Avengers as an example. All seven of the main characters are white and all but Black Widow are male. It’s no better in other Marvel movies. Almost invariably, MCU protagonists are white males.

Diversity is a part of the human experience. We identify with different races, ethnicities, religions, sexualities and genders. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that all people, despite their differences, have the same nature and the same origin and are called to be saved. Discrimination in all of its forms is an evil, one that disregards that all are created in the image of God and enjoy an equal dignity.

As Catholic consumers, we should demand media that is inclusive and honest. Media present a constructed version of the world. They communicate moral and ideological messages. It is important to be able to recognize harmful and false media messages and criticize them. By not representing minority groups, the media suggests minorities are not important enough to be portrayed in the media.

Lack of media representation is a form of discrimination. Viewers, especially younger ones, tend to use media messages to evaluate themselves and others. If the media they consume is discriminatory, viewers are susceptible to internalizing those discriminatory attitudes. When only one group of people is positively and significantly represented in the media, those who do not belong to that group may feel excluded.

Minority characters are relegated to being only secondary characters (such as Rhodey in Iron Man 2 and Avengers: Age of Ultron and Sam Wilson in Captain America: The Winter Soldier), or they are altogether invisible. Marvel is giving a dangerous message to its viewers when it codes only one group of people as heroes.

Of course, it’s not enough to just have diverse characters visible in fiction. They cannot be tokens or walking stereotypes. That isn’t representation. They need to be necessary to the story, they need to be not just background characters, but protagonists, antagonists and everything in between. Their identities can’t be used as punchlines or mined as bait for viewers. Proper representation is informed and respectful.

But while MCU is doing a poor job with representation, Marvel Comics seems to be doing a much better job. Just take a look at The Avengers lineup for the new All-New, All-Different Avengers series: the team features the new female Thor; Sam Wilson, a black man, as Captain America; Muslim and Pakistani-American teen Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel; black and Puerto Rican teen Miles Morales as Spider-Man; and Sam Alexander, who is of Latino descent, as Nova. Oh, and Tony Stark’s Iron Man is in there too.  

From what I’ve seen, the comics feature a great cast of characters belonging to diverse racial, ethnic, sexual and gender minority groups. I won’t say that the comics’ universe is perfect in regards to representation (I’m grimacing thinking about Iceman’s outing in All-New X-Men #40), but it does have its share of triumphs.

The problem is that the diversity of the Marvel comics universe isn’t being brought to the MCU. Inclusive fiction isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. And it’s not hard. It’s just a matter of opening your mind.

(Reátegui, 17, graduated from Holy Name of Mary C.S.S. in Brampton, Ont.)

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