Gaming | Film | TV
Gaming | Film | TV

The case for Miles Morales: Diversity in superhero film

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While steps have been taken, lack of diversity is still a problem in today’s superhero movies.

WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS

Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach, producers of the Spider-Man franchise at Sony, recently confirmed that Miles Morales will never be in a Spider-Man movie. Who’s he, you ask? In Marvel Comics’s Ultimate line, an alternate universe to the main one, Morales is a black Hispanic teenager who took up the mantle of Spider-Man when Peter Parker dies. The character has been met with overwhelming critical and fan acclaim, and it’s hugely disappointing that he won’t be in any of Sony’s films. It’s just the latest instance of the crippling lack of diversity in the superhero genre.

If a random New Yorker were bitten by a radioactive spider, the chances of them being a straight, white man are pretty slim

To state the obvious, Spider-Man lives and operates in New York. Less than 50% of New York’s population is white. If a random New Yorker were actually bitten by a radioactive spider and granted superpowers, the chances of them being a straight, white man are pretty slim. The only black main character in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is the villain Electro, who (apparently) dies at the end anyway. Now, Peter Parker gets a pass because he’s been around for so long, and the comics in which he initially appeared were being written for a presumed audience of young white men. But superheroes are the most popular genre in film right now, and we need a more diverse line-up.

Purely in terms of business, it’s a weird move for Sony to dismiss the Miles Morales character. They want a Spider-Man film to be released every year, and having Morales in their universe would be an excellent way to achieve that. Plus, when Andrew Garfield inevitably leaves, Sony would have a character who can take over without having to reboot the universe again. They’re willing to make a film about the superficially interesting but actually pretty one-note villain Venom, so why not one about Miles Morales?

Peggy Carter

Sony are hardly alone in failing to deliver diversity in their output, though. As usual, Marvel Studios are leading the charge – or, rather, the slow limp – by giving Falcon and Black Widow a lot more presence in Captain America 2, and they also have upcoming TV shows featured black superhero Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and the (hopefully) Asian-American Iron Fist. They’ve also recently announced that Peggy Carter, one of the best women in the MCU, is getting her own TV series.

We’re getting Dr. Strange and Ant-Man, but not Captain Marvel or Black Panther, while the four main Avengers are straight white men

But let’s not forget that these are all TV shows, arguably indicating a relative lack of confidence in these characters: Marvel evidently doesn’t think they can carry a film by themselves. Black Widow still hasn’t had her own film announced, we’re getting Dr. Strange and Ant-Man films, but not Captain Marvel and Black Panther, and of the four main Avengers, all of them are straight white men (and two of them are called Chris). Marvel Studios are doing better than most, but they’re still not doing especially well.

Women have been getting particularly short shrift in the superhero genre, frequently relegated to the role of love interest or damsel in distress. Superheroes have ruled the box office for 15 years now, and the only one with a female lead was the execrable Catwoman. Of all the female characters, though, the one whose treatment is most galling is inarguably Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman is the definitive female superhero, one of the most recognisable female characters not just in comics but in all fiction, and she’s been a feminist icon since at least 1972, when she featured on the inaugural cover of Ms. Magazine. All this, and she’s making her feature film debut as a supporting character in someone else’s movie. That is shameful, Warner Bros. Yes, it’s good that she’s finally in a film, but it’s not good enough. The message being overwhelmingly sent by these movies is that men are the heroes and women are second best. We need female heroes, and we need them now.

More on Cap 2: Does The Winter Soldier get the gender and race balance right?

Wonder Woman

This isn’t even touching on the issue of the complete lack of LGBT characters in superhero film – the fact that there are no gay X-Men after almost 15 years of the film franchise is a shocking omission considering the subject matter. Hatred of mutants has always been an allegory for homophobia: X-Men 2 had Iceman’s famous ‘coming out’ scene, and in First Class, Mystique declares that she’s “mutant and proud.” In the comics, the X-Men saw the superhero genre’s first same-sex wedding back in 2012, immediately after New York legalised same-sex marriage. So why are none of the X-Men on-screen LGBT?

We need to demand better representation. Everyone is seeing these films, and everyone should be represented in them

Most of these problems derive from problems in the source material, and to be sure, they’re hardly problems specific to the superhero genre. Progress is being made, though it’s slow and occasionally backwards – despite having a very prominent role in The Winter Soldier, it appears that the Falcon won’t be in Avengers 2. The fact remains, though, that superheroes are the most popular thing in the world at the moment, and there’s no way that 100% of the audiences for these films are straight white men.

When the new superhero blockbuster routinely opens at no. 1 and The Avengers is the third most successful film of all time, we need to demand better representation. Everyone is seeing these films, and everyone should be represented in them. Sony’s unwillingness to put Miles Morales in a film is just indicative of how short-sighted they are. And seriously, where the hell is that Black Widow movie?

More on film: Is it the beginning of the end for comic book movies?

Featured image: Marvel Comics

Inset images: Marvel Studios; DC Comics

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