Black Panther fans have reason to rejoice

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It is fairly common knowledge that Marvel Studios has a diversity problem. 11 movies in and not a single one has featured a woman or a Person of Color as the title character. While fans have been demanding a Black Widow movie for years now, Marvel Studios has yet to even announce one will be made (they keep saying they are open to the idea). Similarly, there has yet to be a MCU movie starring a Person of Color. On the smaller screen, things are slightly better, as two of the four Marvel Cinematic tv series are headlined by women (Jessica Jones and Agent Carter). All told though, between the big and small screen, Marvel isn’t deviating much from its white male leads. The sea of white faces are not the only problems facing the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Issues of whitewashing, racial stereotyping, and the erasure of Asian identity (I’m looking at you Dr. Strange, and you, Iron Fist) also plague the MCU. The company has a long way to go before it can claim to be truly diverse.

Now, I tend to harp on the problems in Hollywood and/or the comic book industry bc I care. I care about movies. I care about comic book characters. And I care about racial and gender diversity in both. I want things to be better. I want greater representation (not just of women and PoC, but also queer and disabled people, and more still; but that’s a subject for a different post). Not just for my benefit. Not just for the benefit of others whose opinions align with mine on this subject. I also want greater representation bc it is important for future generations, as cultural anthropologist Michael D. Baran explains:

It is critical that children see all sorts of people playing both the good and the bad roles in media. Otherwise, they may take those absences as meaningful and it may affect how they understand social categories. And it is certainly important for kids to be able to identify with heroes that they feel represent who they are as people.

For very young kids, this might or might not fall out along racial lines and we must be careful not to impose our reification of race onto their knowledge. But we might as well err on the good side, by having a diversity of heroes for people to relate to – not just racially, but also in terms of gender, religion, body type, etc.

While Marvel Studios has much work to do in diversifying its interconnected universe, there are some bright spots on the horizon, and I think there is cause to have some degree of optimism that things are getting better (even if getting to better is like swimming uphill in a tar pit).

I’m optimistic because the Netflix series Jessica Jones was an intense, well acted, rollercoaster of a series that I loved from start to finish. Jessica Jones was presented as a strong, flawed, and three-dimensional character. The widespread acclaim of the show led to the quick announcement of a second season (speaking of which, I need them to announce *when*). On the big screen, I’m optimistic because 2019 sees the release of Captain Marvel, which will mark the first feature length MCU film with a woman in the starring role. Based on the Marvel Comics superhero (formerly known as Ms. Marvel/Binary/Warbird), this movie has the potential to position Captain Marvel as the premier female superhero of Marvel (in a way comparable to Wonder Woman’s position at DC). Though no actress has been cast in the title role, I am hopeful that this movie and this character will receive the respect they both deserve. Back on television, all 13 episodes of the Mike Colter starring Netflix series Luke Cage (which has been likened to the critically acclaimed HBO series The Wire) drop on September 30. In the last decade, I’ve gone from ambivalence toward Cage to a fan of the character (writer Brian Michael Bendis may do a lot of things I don’t like, but his treatment of Cage has been exemplary). And then there’s the Black Panther, Marvel’s first black superhero. Seeing what Marvel has planned for the King of Wakanda between the comics and the big screen ought to please a great many Panther fans. I know I’m excited.

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Black Panther fans have reason to rejoice
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Marvel Studios went fishing and made a huge catch

After weeks of speculation, Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios have reached an agreement to share everyone’s friendly neighborhood wallcrawler.

It’s been talked about for a while now, but only as rumors. Would Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures reach some sort of agreement concerning Spider-Man-an agreement perhaps, that would allow the web-slinger to appear in Marvel Studios movies like The Avengers? That speculation, hoped for by many, has now become a reality, as an agreement has been made between both companies to share Spider-Man:

Sony Pictures Entertainment and Marvel Studios announced today that Sony is bringing Marvel into the amazing world of Spider-Man.

Under the deal, the new Spider-Man will first appear in a Marvel film from Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (MCU). Sony Pictures will thereafter release the next installment of its $4 billion Spider-Man franchise, on July 28, 2017, in a film that will be co-produced by Kevin Feige and his expert team at Marvel and Amy Pascal, who oversaw the franchise launch for the studio 13 years ago. Together, they will collaborate on a new creative direction for the web slinger. Sony Pictures will continue to finance, distribute, own and have final creative control of the Spider-Man films.

Marvel and Sony Pictures are also exploring opportunities to integrate characters from the MCU into future Spider-Man films.

Created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko back in the 1960s, Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man (the correct spelling of his name includes the hyphen), has become (arguably) Marvel Comics’ flagship hero. The character, known for the phrase “with great power comes great responsibility”, has been the subject of countless comic books, cartoons, coloring books, novels, records, and children’s books. The Spider-Man movies-5 in total, including the 3 directed by Sam Raimi and the 2 directed by Marc Webb-have grossed well over a billion dollars worldwide. Unfortunately for Marvel, because they licensed Spider-Man to Sony Pictures in 1999 (long before there was a Marvel Cinematic Universe-MCU for short), they haven’t been able to make use of the character (or any of his villains or supporting cast) in their movies. Much to their chagrin, I’m sure. One of the appeals of the Marvel Comics Universe (and the MCU) is the shared nature of their fictional world. Characters interact with one another on a regular basis. That was the basis (in part) for the creation of the Avengers. Not having access to their flagship character while building their shared universe had to be frustrating for Marvel Studios execs. With this new deal, Marvel Studios will now be able to expand their cinematic universe to include Spider-Man, and from the looks of the above press release, they’re already making plans.

If I had to guess, those plans include Spider-Man participating in Captain America 3, which will be based on Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s 2007 comic book mini-series Civil War. The story centered around the creation, in the wake of a tragedy involving superheroes, of the Superhuman Registration Act. The SRA required all superhuman beings to register their abilities and identities to the federal government. Iron Man supported the SRA. Captain America opposed it. Spider-Man initially sided with Iron Man but eventually switched sides and joined with Captain America. A significant moment in the story occurred when Spider-Man revealed his secret identity before the eyes of the world. The three characters are incredibly important to the story and when Marvel Studios announced that Captain America 3 was going to be a cinematic version of Civil War, I wondered how they would fill the Spidey shaped hole in the story. While it’s not been confirmed by Marvel, I think it’s quite likely that Spider-Man’s first MCU appearance prior to his own movie will be in the third Captain America movie.

No matter where his first MCU appearance occurs, one thing is certain: Andrew Garfield will not be reprising his role as the wallcrawler. In fact, the studios are apparently looking to reboot the character again. According to Variety, Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures want the character back in high school, which means finding a younger actor to portray him.

Actors have yet to be approached, and sources say Sony is looking to hire a new director to replace “The Amazing Spider-Man” films’ Marc Webb before tapping a new Spidey. The studio also needs to figure out whether it wants to go with another Peter Parker or introduce another character that suits up as Spider-Man, including Miles Morales, whose father is African American and mother is Puerto Rican.

Sony has put the character, played by Tobey Maguire and Garfield, in Midtown High School before, but the plan is to spend more time in the setting and explore his awkward relationship with other students while fighting crime out of the classroom. Midtown is a major setting in the comicbooks, and Peter Parker also returns to the school to become a science teacher in storylines.

One of the side effects of the Sony Pictures/Marvel Studios deal is a reshuffling of the release dates for upcoming Marvel Studios movies:

Disney has even pushed back almost all of Marvel Studios’ slate of upcoming films to make room for Sony Pictures’ next Spider-Man film, starting with Thor: Ragnarok, which will relocate from July 28, 2017, to Nov. 3, 2017. That, in turn, will bump Black Panther to July 6, 2018, Captain Marvel to Nov. 2, 2018, and Inhumans to July 12, 2019. The two Avengers: Infinity War movies, however, are still slated to open on May 4, 2018, and May 3, 2019.

Despite the change in release dates (I’m particularly bummed about Captain Marvel and Black Panther being bumped), I am excited to finally see Spider-Man interact with the heroes of the MCU. Now, if only Marvel could somehow reach a similar deal with FOX over the rights to Fantastic Four and the X-Men…

Marvel Studios went fishing and made a huge catch