When Scarlett Johanson’s Black Widow made her first appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it felt like somewhat of a disservice to her fierce comicbook counterpart reduced to the sidelines in Iron Man 2. However, a few years later, her gender-wise skewed yet powerful appearance in Avengers was finally a “yaas” moment for the representation-deprived women MCU fans.
Over the years, the representation spectrum started to widen with token appearances of woman here and there. With each film, there was a minuscule improvement in where women stood and the weightage they were given. But a standalone film was still a distant dream in the MCU’s Phase 1 and 2 governed by its dominant ‘dudebro’ culture.
With Phase 3, however, the MCU took a stand and how!
Years of absentee women in the comicbook film genre were reinstated in the form of powerful female characters. Gamora, Okoye, Valkyrie, and Scarlet Witch to name a few. And with Captain Marvel — the first female superhero solo film, the MCU openly announced its stance as a loud and proud beacon of gender representation.
Even the penultimate magnum opus of MCU’s phase 3 — Avengers: Endgame, made a statement. Its final battle scene where women band together was an announcement that the ladies had arrived and are here to stay in the franchise. And the death of Black Widow, although tragic, was a symbolic end to the token one-woman-army trope giving way to the entourage of women heroes to come.
Now, with the recent announcement of the upcoming films in Phase 4, the MCU reinforced its standpoint of being the champion of diversity in pop culture. Its lineup for future films is testament to its stand of welcoming women into the nerd club with open arms.
Black Widow: May 1, 2020
Phase 4 is scheduled to open with the much-anticipated Black Widow movie in May, 2020. After her memorable appearance in the first Avengers film, fans wanted nothing more than a solo film that talked about this mysterious agent’s shady past. Among most characters in the MCU, hers was the background with the most potential for a well-rounded and compelling prequel.
Every time Natasha Romanov dropped easter eggs about her past, — be it her time in the KGB or even the tragedy of her forceful sterilisation — we’ve yearned to hear her story. And years later, we’re finally getting one. While the long-overdue film’s late arrival has puzzled fans for years, there couldn’t have been a better time for the prequel to arrive.
The Eternals movie: November 6, 2020
With the Eternals — a group of super-powered beings — finally making its debut on screen, the MCU has made an open proclamation. That our erstwhile damsels in distress no longer need rescuing and can very well be their own heroes.
Just casting Angelina Jolie as Thena and Salma Hayek as Ajak is a statement in itself of showing the middle finger to ageism and sexism with two brilliant strokes. It is notable that Ajak is a male character in the comics. It is heartening to see the MCU still going a step ahead with its gender diversity — something it started with Dr. Strange’s The Ancient One and Captain Marvel’s Mar-Vel.
A cherry on the diverse icing of the Eternals’ cake is the addition of Lauren Ridloff as Makkari. Former Miss Deaf America, Lauren will be the first differently-abled actor to be a part of a superhero film. What a wonderful way to be inclusive to a far too marginalised section in the superhero genre.
Thor: Love and Thunder: November 5, 2021
With upcoming shows and notable films like the Dr. Strange sequel, Phase 4 is going to end with a bang that is Thor 4. And this time Thor’s mantle will be passed on to Natalie Portman who, for the first time ever, will be playing a female Thor on screen.
Playing ‘The Mighty Thor’, this will be the first time a Marvel heavyweight is getting passed on to a woman. And there couldn’t have been a better conclusion to the 4th phase. Given that diversity did come late to the MCU, it has come at a great and more accepting time.
It is also notable that Valkyrie was announced as bisexual, strengthening Marvel's pro-LGBTQ stance like the heroes they are.
Years ago, I remember my little cousins designating Black Widow to the girl and Iron Man to the boy during playtime. Watching Avengers: Endgame, however, I witnessed a little boy and girl fighting over who wants to be Captain Marvel. That is the power of diverse representation.
We are soon inching towards a time where kids learn that there are no male or female superheroes. No gay, lesbian, or bisexual hero. Only heroes ready to face a challenge head-on no matter their gender, race or sexuality. And the pop culture franchise has finally learnt that gender diversity is not something to be afraid of.
Diversity makes perfect business sense as the audience is as varied as it gets at this point of time. But it’s also an important statement the MCU is gradually yet so beautifully incorporating into its ethos.
And women are finally no longer a token presence or meant to satiate the male-gaze. So thank you Marvel. This long-time superhero fangirl will be eternally grateful for MCU, Phase 4.