Importance of Black Women in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

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The importance of black women in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a subject that can’t be looked over. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is one of, if not the most popular film franchise shared universe in film history. Their films have such strong characters, well-written stories, exciting fight sequences, and amazing special effects. As a black biracial woman, who happens to be a fan of Marvel Studios movies and their T.V. shows, I was longing to see myself represented. Not to say that I didn’t love seeing characters such as Peggy Carter, Wanda Maximoff, Hope Van Dyne, Agent Hill, Agent 13, Pepper Potts, Jane Foster, Sif, Darcy, and Natasha. I just wanted a character on the big screen who was played by someone who looked like me. Thankfully, now there’s a few characters in the MCU  that do look like me — let’s take a look at which characters they are, the actresses who play them, and why it’s important to see more of us represented in the MCU. I’ve also included quotes from a Marvel actress who made this list and a journalist like myself.

MARVEL TELEVISION

The television side of the MCU has proven to be diverse: Ming-Na and Chloe Bennett are the leading actresses on Agents of SHIELD who are both women of color.  Also Agents Of SHIELD gave me Ruth Negga as Raina, who like me, is half black-half white. Though Ruth played an antagonist, I was thrilled to have representation. Then Netflix side of the MCU gave me Rosario Dawson  (who is Afro-Latina) as Claire Temple who is a nurse that helps heal the wounds of heroes of Hells Kitchen, which to me would make her a hero as well. Rosario has appeared on Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Jessica Jones thus far in the television side of the MCU. Simone Missick as Misty Knight on Luke Cage meant the world to me. Misty Knight is a Harlem police detective who is pretty damn good at her job, but also we got to see her be vulnerable, smart, sexy, and strong. She was such a fleshed out character played by a black woman that is rarely seen in mainstream media. I could honestly write for days on how much Simone’s performance as Misty Knight meant to me, but we’d be here for days.

Another actress that was introduce in the Netflix side of the MCU on first Jessica Jones and then later would get a more in depth background story on Luke Cage is Parisa Fitz-Henley. Parisa plays Reva Connors who is Luke Cage’s ex wife that works as a prison psychologist. I got the opportunity to chat with Parisa, who is a wonderful woman, about the importance of black women in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and also how it feels as an actress to be apart of that representation.

Parisa:
“Adding to the representation of Black women anywhere in the media is essential and an honor to take part in. To do that with Marvel, in a genre that is so often about teamwork, fighting for what’s right, aspiring to heroism, and overcoming ‘otherness’ is thrilling. The MCU connects so many different people, on-screen and off. It makes me feel connected with the audience and as a fan. It’s a joy to have that connection with Black communities, and to be part of a contingent of Black artists carrying forward such an important story.

I’m half Black, half White. Too often having someone like me on a project that is mostly White (as most projects still are) is enough to make it seem like diversity was achieved — not realizing that people of African descent come in a range of shades and that the lighter-skinned among us frequently receive preferential treatment. We miss the opportunity to embrace the full spectrum and beauty of Blackness — and the  humanity all races share — when we don’t acknowledge that and branch out.  With Luke Cage, to look side to side and see so many beautiful faces in every shade — and then to be among them? That was a dream come true.”- Parisa

Parisa touches on a very important subject that  some people may not understand, which is that as biracial black women (who are half white) are more likely to see ourselves represented in film and T.V. than black women who aren’t biracial and or light skinned. Whether or not the actual character is biracial, biracial actresses are more likely to be cast which is why Luke Cage including black women of all shades was such a breath of fresh air as Parisa points out.

MARVEL STUDIOS

While the television side of the MCU was making progress in representing black women,  it seemed as though the film side would take even more longer. Then Captain America: Civil War was released, and there was a special moment in the that movie that made me and so many other black women rejoice. It was one line, one scene, just several seconds, but it meant the world to us.  Actress Florence Kasumba played T’challa/Black Panther’s body guard as part of the Dora Milaje. She and Natasha looked at each other, and Florence’s line was “move or you will be moved.” This moment was iconic for so many black women.

We had been longing for representation in the film side of the MCU that this one line became the highlight of our joy for the film. Maybe it was planned from the beginning, or maybe it was us hyping it so much on social media, but when Marvel announced that Florence would be returning for Black Panther’s solo film, there was so much joy and love happening on social media and in our hearts. Florence, though wouldn’t be the only black woman to be joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The cast of Spider-Man: Homecoming was announced which included two young black women: Zendaya and Laura Harrier. Marvel didn’t stop there– they announced Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira who would also be apart of the cast of Black Panther!  However, Marvel continued to cast more even black women into the MCU! They also confirmed that Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie for Thor: Ragnarok,  Angela Bassett as T’challa’s step mom for Black Panther, and Letitia Wright would also be joining Black Panther as Shuri. Finally our prayers have been answered!

The images of Tessa on set for Thor: Ragnarok actually made me cry tears of joy.  She is who I have been waiting to on screen– a woman who looked like me would be playing an awesome warrior–someone who, in the comics, is a hero as I always wanted to be as a kid. I instantly thought about all of the little girls like me and Tessa that would get to see themselves play a hero and grow up knowing that they could be anyone.

Further Thoughts

Representation of black girls and women in superhero films and T.V. shows are important. Film and T.V. can influence people on how they see people of other cultures and races, and most importantly how they see themselves. There was very limited representation for black girls and women in main stream media, and almost non-existent when it came to the comic book genre. When black girls and women aren’t present in the superhero genre, it makes us question are we worthy? Can we be heroes? Do we matter? That’s why so many of us clung onto Florence’s one moment in Captain America: Civil War. For a fraction of a second we saw ourselves. Now though, we’ll get to continue seeing ourselves.

I also asked  Valerie Complex  who is a fellow journalist and  a black woman on the importance of black women being in the MCU especially with the release of the trailer for Black Panther:

Val: Diversity is one thing, but representation and presentation is a different beast. The Black Panther looks to transcend those expectations by showing Black women in a light that I had never seen in my lifetime.

With the release of the trailers for Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, and Black Panther black girls and women have so many more options of representation.  The trailer of Black Panther is everything! Not only do we get to see black girls and women represented, but also we’ll get to see African culture in a main stream comic book film. That’s pretty amazing! And in both Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther, we’ll get to see black women of all shades being heroes. The world is diverse, so our heroes on and off-screen should be too.

We hope the representation of black girls and women will continue to keep growing with characters like Lunella Lafayette, Riri Williams,  and Monica Rambeau being introduced to the MCU at some point.   It’s also extremely important that we’re getting black girls and women with different skin tones, so every black girl and woman will feel represented.

Now our eyes are set on seeing a black female solo led comic book film. Who shall be the worthy contender?

Featured image by John Robinson

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