Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame is a record-breaking conclusion to a series of 22 movies (plus one-shots and television shows) rounding out the final phase of Marvel’s effort to invest in its fans. In that time, we’ve seen Disney acquire Marvel as well as witnessed a shift in the comic books that inspire Marvel movies and who creates those comics.
From the lush landscape of Wakanda to the skies of Asgard, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has introduced more characters and cultures of color — and women of all colors — as time has gone on. With “Endgame” in play, it’s clear that it takes all types of people from all across the universe to attempt a defeat of mega-villain Thanos (Josh Brolin).
(Warning: Spoilers ahead!)
The Importance of Inclusion and Diversity in Marvel Films
Marvel makes moves in “Endgame.” In a support group led by Captain America (Chris Evans), a gay participant talks about the loss of his partner (due to Thanos’ ‘Snap’) and how dating just doesn’t feel right. And Cap, a representation of the United States in a trying time, responds with normalcy and empathy.
Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), also known as Falcon, gets Captain America’s shield, meaning that the current Captain America is a black American. Cap has clearly thought hard about this decision, choosing Sam, a virtuous Avenger, over his best friend who has a more speckled past.
Avengers: Endgame also includes Black Panther (Chadwick Aaron Boseman) and the powerful women of Wakanda. The Wakandans come to the defense of Earth against Thanos.
Some fans may criticize overtly inclusive behavior as too little too late. The first gay character in the movies wasn’t a superhero: he was a regular guy impacted by loss, leading to eye-rolling and underwhelm.
The Stated Need for Representation in Films
While the movies might lag behind the progressive nature of Marvel’s comics and what’s happening in the indie entertainment scene, it is happening — and with good reason. Of the 321.4 million people in the United States:
- 22% have a disability
- 3 million speak a language other than English in the home
- 5% of women and 2 percent of men are bisexual
To best identify with characters in films, we need to see a little of ourselves in them. To believe we can do extraordinary things as individuals, we need to see that representation on screen. As viewers, representation also helps us reflect on, understand, and feel positively towards our own cultures and subcultures.
As the above statistics indicate, it’s also a more accurate representation of the real world.
Inclusion as a Marketing Move
Altruism aside, Marvel’s inclusive initiatives are also smart business moves. While more men than women still view Marvel movies, it’s been repeated again and again that the future of superhero movies is female. In 2014, nearly half of all comic book buyers were women or girls. That’s a big chunk considering only one of the original MCU Avengers was a woman.
Marvel also serves a global audience. While much of its plot takes place in the United States, “Endgame” and other Avengers movies have taken place all over the globe. China is about to overtake the U.S. as the world’s most profitable film market, further prompting diversity in cast and franchise filming locations.
Women of Marvel: Prepare for the A-Force
Women in particular experience a new level of representation and empowerment in “Avengers: Endgame.” In the comics, readers enjoy the A-Force, an all-female superhero team. In “Endgame,” we experience a stunning tableau demonstrating these complexities, with women of:
- Many races
- Varying educational levels
- Different planets and regions
- Different income levels
- Overall different origins
While some fans call the woman-powered scene pandering, generally, the deliberate recognition of women’s contributions shows off an impressive framework of powerful characters who happen to be women.
Additionally, one of the most powerful Marvel characters is Captain Marvel, or Carol Danvers (Brie Larson). Marvel didn’t wait to introduce this character due to lack of progressive thinking — her appearance just before “Endgame” times well for a final Thanos conflict. She patrols the universe, and Earth is one of a multitude of places she protects.
Critics call Captain Marvel a “Mary Sue” character since she is such a contender, but most fans see it as Marvel banking on a woman to take charge. In “Endgame,” we see the other women of Marvel stand with Carol.
The Demise of Black Widow
One of the more controversial points of the movie involves the death of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). In doing this, she allows her best friend Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to retrieve the soul stone at the cost of her life. After spending a fair amount of time insisting that The Avengers are their own family, it’s clear that Natasha believes it; she’s also been the one gluing that family together through very difficult times (as Iron Man [Robert Downey, Jr.] had been in outer space).
Natasha declares she wants to make her sacrifice because Clint has a family. Natasha, as we found out previously, is infertile, and not by choice. Does Natasha’s Avengers family not count? Was it right to kill off this character in such a way? While the scene was quite emotional and displayed the depth of a memorable platonic relationship, fans debate about this one. Ultimately, including more women in this universe means we do need to see a way to cycle them through to accommodate real-life contracts ending and to make way for even more progressive characters.
While “Avengers: Endgame” has some debatable flaws, its progress in inclusion is undeniable. There’s a real difference between inviting an audience and including them. Marvel’s inclusion is a genuine invitation because it is hardly subtle and exists in a world full of socio-political climates pushing back against marginalized identities.
We can only move forward from here.