The Marvel superhero movie universe — responsible for a huge chunk of Hollywood’s box office in recent years — has begun to see a broad push to embrace diversity and inclusion, both in front of and behind the camera. The studio is starting to fully recognize that fans of these movies are extremely diverse, and are more vocal than ever with demands to be properly represented and spoken to. To that end, Marvel has asserted that it will answer these challenges.
So far, so good.
“Black Panther” earned its way into box office history, while also becoming the first superhero movie to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.
“Captain Marvel” – the first solo Marvel film with a female superhero in Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers – has earned over $1 billion worldwide so far.
Not to mention that, if you look beyond the Marvel Cinematic Universe itself, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” centered around the Afro-Latino Miles Morales, won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature.
Additionally, there has been a spillover effect behind the camera, which is just as significant for this shift to be sustained. For example, Ruth Carter, longtime Spike Lee collaborator as costume designer, became the first African American to win the Oscar in that category for her work on “Black Panther.” And Hannah Beachler became both the first African American to be nominated for the production design Oscar, and the first to win, also for “Black Panther.”
And finally “Captain Marvel” featured the MCU’s first female director in Anna Boden (who co-directed the movie with frequent collaborator Ryan Fleck).
These recent box office successes and Oscar wins should all serve as proof that Marvel’s diversity and inclusion drive has not only been successful, but may also be an indication of what the future of the MCU could look like as it progresses into Phase 4 and beyond.
Speaking on Variety’s podcast “Playback with Kris Tapley,” in December 2018, Marvel chief Kevin Feige acknowledged that “Black Panther’s” incredible success encouraged the studio’s diversity push, although cautioning that it’s one that was already underway.
Calling the Ryan Coogler-directed movie “the beginning,” and definitely not a one-off, Feige said, “That it worked out as well as it worked out just encourages us to head in the direction that we were going to head anyway. You look at that film and the experience of the film… it was incredible. That movie, obviously, would not have been what it was if everyone sitting around the table looked like me or you.”
Feige then went on to share that the team at Marvel Studios is now almost even in terms of the number of men and women on staff.
So a concerted effort at significant change appears to be underway, resulting in Marvel’s most diverse movies ever, as well as some of its most profitable. Should this commitment be sustained, what may initially seem to be a trend, just might instead become the norm. And Phase 4 projects that have been announced thus far help support Feige’s assertions.
Here are a few future Marvel movie highlights that are official:
- There is obviously “Black Panther 2”: Ryan Coogler has signed on to write and direct the sequel to the 2018 global blockbuster, which is expected to start production in either late 2019 or early 2020. And while it hasn’t been announced, or even hinted at, a Storm standalone movie is very much a possibility in Marvel’s future. One of the most popular and formidable superheroines in the Marvel universe, Storm is a long-time love interest to Black Panther in the comic books, and is one of the leaders of the X-Men. It wouldn’t be a surprise if she makes a cameo in the “Black Panther” sequel, setting up for a movie of her own down the road. And with the Disney/Fox IP acquisition now in the history books, a reboot of the X-Men franchise under Disney is also likely.
- “Shang-Chi”: A film based on the early-1970s comic Shang-Chi, to be penned by Chinese-American writer Dave Callaham. Destin Daniel Cretton, who is Japanese-American, is set to direct. It will be the first Asian superhero movie, and paramount to the studio will be to avoid white-washing characters, as it did with Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One in “Doctor Strange.” In the original comic book, the character is depicted as a Tibetan male.
- A “Black Widow” origin story: Scarlett Johansson’s spy character is currently expected to lead a standalone movie. Marvel has yet to date it, however its writer is a woman — Jac Schaeffer — and it will be directed by a woman as well in Cate Shortland. The film will be set before the events of the first Avengers movie.
- “The Eternals”: “The Rider” director Chloé Zhao will direct Angelina Jolie and Kumail Nanjiani, from a script by Matthew and Ryan Firpo. The Marvel comics series follows the battles between near-immortal beings the Eternals and the Deviants, who were created by cosmic beings called Celestials.
- A sequel to “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is in development with Joaquim Dos Santos and David Callaham set to direct and write, respectively, continuing Miles Morales’s story. There is also a spin-off in the works, featuring three generations of female Spider-related characters — Spider-Gwen, Jessica Drew / Spider-Woman and Cindy Moon / Silk. It will be written by a woman, Bek Smith, with Lauren Montgomery in talks to direct.
And while it’s not official, a reboot of the “Blade” franchise should not be counted out. Released by New Line Cinema in 1998, the original “Blade” was a financial success, hauling in $131 million worldwide, which was quite an achievement for an R-rated superhero film at the time. It spawned two sequels to complete a trilogy that is sometimes credited for helping to kickstart the modern dominance of comic book movies in Hollywood.
Currently, there are still almost a dozen calendar slots that Marvel has slated “Untitled” films for, through 2022, and any number of those slots could serve to forward the studio’s diversity and inclusion mandate.
For Feige, who is tasked with the difficult challenge of weighing fan expectations with studio objectives, with an eye squarely on the bottomline, it’s clear what the future of the MCU should look like.
“When you have diverse voices, you get better stories; and you get more exciting stories; and you get more surprising stories; and that is something very, very clear to us,” he said.
“Avengers: Endgame” is now in theaters.