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Diversity in the Marvel Universe

Ever since the release of its first movie - Fantastic Four - in 2005, Marvel has been shaping popular culture around the world. Setting standards for the next action and superhero movies, special effects, and popular references. While it is clear that the Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (MCU) has inspired many, and the overall message of the productions were positive, millions of other spectators were not able to identify with any of the characters, given that they did not see themselves and their qualities reflected on screen. Over the last few years, the number of Marvel fans has greatly increased, such an upturn is reflected in the box office profits, which according to Forbes increased from ​​$134.8 million in 2008 - The Incredible Hulk - to $858.4 million in 2019 - Avengers: Endgame. Although the enlargement in both the number of fans and profits made by Marvel is undeniable, there are various factors that were changed in order to achieve the desired results. Amongst them, the introduction of new characters, with which more people would be able to connect.

When the topic is Marvel movies, the Avengers are the first group of superheroes that comes to mind. Looking at the original 6: Thor, Hawk-eye, Black Widow, Hulk, Captain America and Iron man, we are faced with the harsh reality that amongst them, all 6 are white, 5 are males, and 1 is a female. Thus, there is a clear discrepancy in terms of diversity. Given this discrepancy, many of the minorities did not see themselves represented on screen. Aside from secondary characters, amongst them, the Falcon, played by Anthony Mackie an, African American, there is not much representation and diversity in the first 2 Avengers movies - Avengers and ‘Avengers Age of Ultron’. According to Forbes: ‘as of 2018, if you look at the major characters in the Marvel films, the MCU is 61 percent White and 20 percent Black’. As such the introduction of the Black Panther was the initial mark for the increase in diversity we have seen in the last 4 years. Not only was he the first Black superhero in the mainstream comics, but the 2018 film also surpassed barriers and presented shocking results with regards to the box office records. The movie was really well received by the African-American community, according to Jamie Broadnax, the founder of Black Girl Nerds -- Pop-culture site focused on sci-fi and comic-book fandoms -- the characters “are rulers of a kingdom, inventors and creators of advanced technology. We’re not dealing with black pain, and black suffering, and black poverty”. The statement made by Broadnax is extremely valid, given that the movies portraying African-Americabns are usually centered around black pain, black suffering and black poverty.

Seeing the lack of diversity as an international issue, Marvel took action. This year Marvel has released the movie ‘Shang-Chi and Legend of The Ten Rings’, offering to the audience the first mainstream Asian superhero. According to John Jennings, media and cultural studies professor at UC Riverside, such a change was extremely significant in the sense that it showed spectators that Hollywood was moving away from “yellow face” - having non-Asian characters rely on stereotypes including: costumes, martial arts and accents to portray an Asian character. Having been written by an Asian-American and having a Hawaian descendent as its director, the movie also showed diversity with regards to the staff hired, proving that the changes that we see now, are being solidified not only on-screen but backstage as well.

Released in the later half of this year, ‘Eternals’ also presents a wide variety of backgrounds when it comes to both cast members and staff. The story centered around a race of immortal beings with superhuman powers, who had secretly been living on Earth for thousands of years, includes a great number of female mainstream characters, as well as the first LGBTQ+ and a deaf cast member. Furthermore, Chóle Zhao, director of the movie, is both female and Asian, which demonstrates diversity in staff members as well. The changes have created a huge uproar in the sense that now most people would be able to feel represented by the image of superheroes that is put forward by the media, as it is now both more realistic and more diversified. Cast members agree this transformation period is crucial for our society to be more accepting of differences. Angelina Jolie, who plays Thena in ‘Eternals’ commented on the issue when asked by reporters: “It makes us stronger, diversity makes you stronger,” "felt so right" and "how it always should have been". Her words serve as evidence of the relevance of the movie, as Angelina Jolie is a renowned actor in her field.

The development pursued by Marvel, is of extreme relevance, as it shows people from all different backgrounds that they too are an indispensable part of society, and that regardless of differences, they can also achieve their goals. According to Victoria Alonso, Marvel producer: ‘For those that say it’s taken us too long, they’re right’. At the end of the day, the essence of superhero stories is inspiring others, and through such development, those stories will be able to reach the hearts of many more, inspiring them to be the very best versions of themselves.


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