Artwork by Sarah K
It is safe to say that, at least in recent times, comic book characters and superheroes are no longer confined to the thick pages of graphic novels and are, quite literally, bursting through silver screens and repeatedly racing past the one billion dollar mark to, somewhat surprisingly, create some of the highest grossing movies of the 21st century. While their commercial success and place in popular culture is unquestionable, I have my doubts about their ‘accomplishments’ in terms of diversity. Let’s start with the underdog of all heroes, the loveable Peter Parker of the ‘Spiderman’ franchise, which undoubtedly kick-started an uprising in successful comic book adaptations, an incredibly witty yet white, male protagonist. Now, let’s move on to Bruce Wayne, courtesy of ‘Batman’, eccentric billionaire by day and caped crusader by night, as well as white and, of course, male. Our next hero is none other than Uncle Sam himself, Steve Rogers of Captain America, the male saviour of the United States, whom also just happens to be white. Sound familiar yet? I could continue to list off an entire collection of similar heroes, stretching from Iron Man to Thor, but it would eventually turn out to be tiring and repetitive, just as these movies are rapidly threatening to become. There can be no denial that some films, such as those included in the Marvel universe, have attempted to include at least a slice of variety but as to whether these efforts have been triumphant or not is hardly a debatable topic.
Indeed, in two of Marvel’s greatest successes, The Avengers and Captain America, we have been presented with a female character of particular intrigue, known to you and I as Black Widow, but there is still much of her character that is shamefully unexplored. She may be featured in Marvel’s vast cinematic universe but it is only when she comes to the aid of her supposedly superior males that she is given to us. Why is it that Natasha Romanoff, the aforementioned mysterious widow, is yet to have a movie that is focused solely on her as the central character, when multiple male members, sans the Hulk and Hawkeye, of the Avengers team have their own? Is it possible that, even in 2014, many still carry the belief that women simply do not make as heroic or as interesting a protagonist as men? How can any decent filmmaker find it within themselves to neglect a character that is so rich in moral ambiguity and tragedy? While these questions may go unanswered by the brains inside Hollywood’s finest studios, it is time for us to question the ethnic and cultural range of cinema’s comic book era.
As stated before, moviegoers are consistently bombarded with the conventional Caucasian male as the primary focus of said comic book adaptations yet we rarely meet heroes of varying ethnicities and I have to ask; why? Why is this apparently the way when there is a whole array of fantastically talented young actors and actresses, Lupita N’yongo and Oscar Isaac being the ones that immediately spring to mind, that would be more than able to take on those iconic roles of Clark Kent, along with his poorly kept secret identity, and Wonder Woman? In fact, the latter of the two crime fighters I have just mentioned brings me to another point, that even during this global trend of comic book victory, Wonder Woman, one of DC’s proudest creations, has not yet been handed her own film to shine in, nor has she even featured heavily as the sidekick, perhaps, of other DC characters. The notion that this character of such integrity and determination is ignored and instead replaced with another ‘super’-male, is something of a worrying one, as Wonder Woman could easily become the icon of a generation, due to both her ability to overpower the patriarchy and her Amazonian descent, as she is the perfect example of the multicultural society within in which we now live.
So, as the latest instalment in the absurdly wealthy world of Marvel and their movies hits cinemas, let’s continue to strive for some form of multiplicity in their interpretations of the comic book universe while we await a seismic shift in this sector of film-making.