I live for superhero films. What’s better than getting an opportunity to watch, without fail, the good
guys win each and every single time? Watching these types of films is fun because in the world of DC and Marvel, no matter how hopeless the situation, some being with extraordinary powers will always come to save the day.
But as awesome as they can be, and as much as I enjoy them, I’ve begun to notice a disturbing issue with these films.
Every major headlining superhero film has the same protagonist, in the sense that, whether Iron Man or The Hulk, they are all white, heterosexual and male.
Where are the minorities? Where are the women?
The last major superhero movie to have a female or minority lead was released over a decade ago in 2004 when Halle Berry played the protagonist in “Catwoman.”
Superhero films are the perfect platforms in which to discuss and analyze the issues of diversity on-screen because they enforce and are reflections of the moral and cultural norms of our country.
Sometimes this is exemplified by the very name of the superhero, such as Captain America. Other times, it is in the content and plot of the film itself. In the 1978 version of “Superman,” the hero’s greatest line occurs when he asserts that he stands “for truth, justice, and the American way,” making the very character a symbol of not only justice and morality but also American culture and values.
As a consequence, these movies create and personify, through the heroes, the qualities of the “ideal American,” and by extension, what these “ideal Americans” look like.
The current absence of minorities and women as protagonists in these films send the underlying message that anyone who is not a white, heterosexual male could never be a true blue American fighting for good. This is an extremely nativistic, homophobic and misogynistic mindset.
But the issues with superhero films do not end there. What little roles women and minorities do get often portray horrible misrepresentations of both groups.
Examples of female heroes in films include Black Widow in “The Avengers” and the heroines in “Sucker Punch.” However, while these movies do seem to take a step towards inclusiveness and diversity, they don’t exactly send a powerful feminist message.
In both cases, the women are chained to the concept of sensuality and sexuality. Black Widow’s skintight suit that she wears for most of the film focuses the attention on her body rather than her intelligence or her spectacular fighting skills. In “Sucker Punch” especially, all the women in the movie, heroes or not, are all simply seen and treated as sexual objects. The movie includes an entire realm where the female cast is expected to act as burlesque performers whose only form of defense is their sexuality.
Superhero movies also do not do minorities any justice. For the most part, Native Americans and Latinos are completely absent from most mainstream films, and most Asian characters in those films only serve to fulfill stereotypical roles that often have little or no dialogue.
Take for example the use of the “evil Chinese mobsters” that make frequent appearances in superhero films, including “The Dark Knight,” who have no other purpose other than to be “evil Chinese mobsters.” Similarly, the exclusion of the key members and black characters — Black Panther and Falcon — in “The Avengers” films has raised some eyebrows of hardcore comic book readers and Marvel fans.
These issues have been longstanding and are deeply-rooted in issues that exist outside of these movies.
However, because these movies help enforce the values of our nation, they can also be used to influence people in a positive way. Proper inclusion and diversity in superhero films can help change the perspectives of the millions of people who go see these films.
As of recently, it seems that movie companies have decided to begin amending their shortcomings. With the announcement of the development of both the “Black Panther” and the “Wonder Woman” movies, we will finally have leading women and minorities portrayed in a positive manner.
Hopefully this will be the beginning of a trend that will continue on beyond just those two movies. More inclusive superhero films can potentially be a crucial step in altering the negative public discussion that is still currently directed towards women and minorities. They helped shape American culture and moral values the first time around, they can be used as a tool to help reinvent and update the morals to a standard that fit the mindset of our world in 2016.
Ashley Duong is a first year literary journalism major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.