Will the MCU Ever Follow Marvel Comics' Shift Towards Diversity?

Wednesday, 24 June 2015 - 7:22PM
Wednesday, 24 June 2015 - 7:22PM
Will the MCU Ever Follow Marvel Comics' Shift Towards Diversity?
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While Marvel Studios may have just cast yet another white kid to play Spider-Man, fans of Marvel Comics have likely noticed that a number of their favorite heroes have looked a little different over the past few years. The first notable change came in the form of Miles Morales, who was introduced in 2011 as the new Spider-Man of the Ultimate Universe after that particular reality's Peter Parker died. Miles is black and hispanic, which his creators argued is a more realistic portrayal of a teenager hailing from Queens, New York, which today is the most ethnically-diverse place on the planet.

Some voices, mostly on the American political right, were critical of the move, labeling it "extreme political correctness". Marvel was forced to defend the move by pointing out that it was just an alternate version of Spider-Man, and that Peter Parker was still alive and well in the main Marvel Comics continuity. No big deal.

But now the Ultimate Universe is no more thanks to the converging of realities in Marvel's "Secret Wars" event, and we've just learned that when the dust settles, Miles Morales will be headlining his own book in the true Marvel Universe, simply titled "Spider-Man". Not alternate Spider-Man, not black Spider-Man, not Spider-Man number two. Just Spider-Man. And while the next Spider-Man movie will feature Peter Parker in the titular role, we have to wonder: How long until Miles makes it to the big screen?

Of course, Spider-Man isn't the only hero to get a well-overdue dose of diversification. In July of 2014, Marvel revamped two of their biggest heroes, Captain America and Thor. The new Captain America was black, with Cap's longtime ally Sam Wilson, AKA The Falcon, taking up the mantle in place of Steve Rogers, while the new Thor was a woman, eventually revealed to be Thor's ex-girlfriend, Jane Foster.

The reveals caused the usual controversial reactions from some camps, but Marvel held firm in their decisions. So firm, in fact, that it's already been revealed that both the black Captain America and the female Thor survive the "Secret Wars" event, and will continue on as the heroes in Marvel's main continuity, shattering the theories that they were simply headline-grabbing placeholders.

These diverse moves will only increase as Marvel reboots following "Secret Wars", with the new Wolverine and Nova both being revealed as women, respectively, longtime X-Man Iceman coming out as gay, and Pakistani-American Muslim Ms. Marvel, first introduced in 2013, joining the Avengers.

So, what does this all mean? Are all of these moves simply Marvel's way of trying to quiet the critics who (quite rightly) say that Marvel's films are seriously lacking in diversity? We don't think so. We are actually of the opinion that Marvel Comics, in its present, diverse state, is showing us the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Because at this point, the comics aren't driving the movies, it's the other way around. Case in point: The Fantastic Four, and to a lesser extent, the X-Men.

The Fantastic Four invented the Marvel Universe - in the comics at least. Their introduction in 1961 paved the way for a new type of superhero and the Marvel brand, earning them the nickname "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine". The X-Men, meanwhile, started the modern superhero movie craze with Fox's X-Men in 2000. But now, both properties are practically being erased from Marvel's history by the very people who benefitted from their creation.

Marvel canceled the Fantastic Four comic book earlier this year, and doesn't appear anxious to bring it back (X-Men comics are faring slightly better thanks to strong sales numbers, though last year Marvel did kill off their most popular character, Wolverine). As if that weren't enough of a bad sign for the properties, Marvel has also been removing the Fantastic Four and X-Men from official Marvel merchandise, in some cases even photoshopping characters off of reprinted classic covers they had appeared on and replacing them with characters more in line with Marvel's movie plans.

The rumored reason for these somewhat ridiculous moves is Marvel is not happy with their current licensing deal with Fox. Fox owns the movie rights to the Fantastic Four and the X-Men, and Marvel doesn't think they're getting a big enough cut of the profits, so they're going out of their way to avoid promoting Fox's films and to disassociate them with the Marvel brand. Because it's all about the money, and the movies are where the money is.

Which brings us back to the diversity issue. Only 62% of the United States currently identifies as white, a number that will continue to shrink, and of course roughly half the population of the country is female. Marvel's white male-led movies don't reflect what our country looks like at the moment, nor does it reflect what it will look like in the future. We'd love to say that any moves by Marvel Studios to diversify their movies will be made because they're the right thing to do, but that would be a tad naïve. Put simply, a more diverse roster could potentially bring in higher profits from untapped demographics, which is a strategy that seems to be working in the comics with the female Thor outselling her male counterpart.

Could it be that this new diverse approach is Marvel's way of testing for potential diversified movie adaptations? Or perhaps the changes in the comics are simply Marvel's way of preparing the public before moving more diverse characters to the larger stage of the MCU, as a way to lessen the impact of any potential controversies (because there will be controversies, there always are).

(The All-New All-Different Universe is shaping up to be more diverse than anything Marvel has done before)

Whatever they're doing, it's significant. If what's going on in Marvel Comics wasn't relevant to the movies, then the Fantastic Four and the X-Men would be happily chugging alongside the Avengers and Spider-Man like they always have been, but they're not. What's happening in the comics is directly related to the movies, now more than ever, and eventually we're going to see the comics' diverse world show up on screen, whether it be through social pressure or the realization of new marketing opportunities. In fact, in some ways, we already are seeing this comic book diversity spilling onto the big screen. Marvels upcoming adaptation of Dr. Strange disappointed some by casting Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role, but the project has since made up for it by casting Tilda Swinton in a traditionally male role and Chiwetel Ejiofor in a traditionally white role.

It may be a long time coming, but it won't be long before a major hero from a more diverse background debuts in the MCU, and we should all look to the Marvel's current plans for their new comics universe for clues on whom that's going to be. Unless we're wrong and Marvel ends up casting a white dude named Chris as Captain Marvel.
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