Marvel held the Thor: The Dark World junket in London this weekend (word from the junketeers: the movie's pretty good!) and Kevin Feige, the capo di tutti capi at Marvel Studios these days, was once again asked about diversity in the Marvel movie slate. When, he was asked, will we see a female superhero getting the spotlight? Feige's answer was a dance around giving an answer, but I think we can parse it:
I know we have numerous exciting female heroes, whether none of them are currently slated, some of them are in development -- frankly, you can look at what Jane Foster does in [Thor: The Dark World], look at Pepper Potts literally saving the day and defeating the bad guy in Iron Man 3, and I'd say we already have great female heroes that are showcased and play major roles in our universe now. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, as you will see, features Black Widow in her biggest role yet in any of our films. In terms of a solo standalone female hero, I'm not sure when that will be. We make two movies a year, we've planned through 2015 and we have some ideas of what we're doing in 2016 and 2017, so we'll see what happens.
That's a cop out. Pepper Potts does save the day in Iron Man 3 and that's great, but it's still an Iron Man movie. I don't care how much screen time Black Widow has in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, she's still second banana in a man's film.
At the same time, I understand where he's coming from. There have been no successful female superhero movies. While Marvel has been great at bringing female audiences into what had been previously seen as a boys-only world, you have to wonder if they feel confident in being able to bring boys to what would be perceived as a girl movie. While Marvel has some great female heroes who could totally take the spotlight, it's not entirely certain that they could open a movie like that.
That's why mentioning the fact that Marvel releases two movies a year is key - they have two slots per calendar year, and releasing a movie that tanks or underperforms will be a big deal. Notice how there's no Incredible Hulk 2 on the horizon: as successful as The Avengers and Iron Man are, the other Marvel movies do pretty well, and they don't want films coming in at under 'pretty well.'
Is that cowardly? A little. It's also realistic. It's also the reason why Black Panther isn't on any schedule yet - because there are a handful of black actors who can open movies to big numbers, and none of them are in the price range/are right for the part. So we're left at this impasse, where Marvel doesn't have female/minority characters with the big name value that guarantee openings and because of their limited number of slots per year they're afraid of taking that chance. I'm disappointed - Ant-Man feels like as big a risk as a Captain Marvel movie would be - and I do hope this attitude changes.
The easiest way to make a female or minority hero work would be to spin them off from an established franchise. As excited as I am to see Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch show up in The Avengers: The Age of Ultron, I'd love to see Black Panther in the mix and then spun off to his own movie. Or to have Captain Marvel join the team.
At the same time I wish I knew how to convince the masses to give female and minority characters a chance. The reluctance to embrace them isn't just cinematic - women and minorities have a hard time drawing audiences in the comic book world. There's a lot of good discussion to be had about why that is (and how it might be changing) but the reality is that the characters who support multiple titles a month are all white men, while women and minorities find themselves getting canceled much more often.
And so we're at an impasse. All it will take is the right female/minority superhero movie to prove to everyone that these characters can draw crowds... but that will take someone with the courage to step up to something that looks like a hard sell. That's what makes me most disappointed in Feige: Marvel is the studio that has been proving willing to take on the hard sells, to have faith that their characters will connect... and they've been right. I would love to see them take a big swing again, this time to bring a little more diversity to their universe.
The best way for us to help make that happen? I don't think it's yelling at Marvel. I think it's expressing our interest in shelling out ten bucks at the movies for films that don't revolve around straight white men. And that's not just superhero movies - it's all sorts of movies.