It's About Time Someone Other Than Straight White Males Got To Be Superheroes

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On Tuesday, you likely saw Twitter freak out when Marvel announced its upcoming development schedule. “What are all of these nerds so excited about?” you maybe asked. “Who is this Carol everyone is tweeting about?" Well, here's the answer: the next five years of our lives will include not one but two non-white-male superheroes, Black Panther and Captain Marvel (aka Carol Danvers). The solidified plans are an impressive contrast to DC's speculative releases, and because it’s about time a genre about otherness started representing superheroes who aren't straight white males.

The discussion surrounding minority superheroes usually boils down to a variation on this: "Who cares about diversity? Everyone will go see these movies anyway." That's why this locked-down Marvel schedule is such awesome news. Sure, DC made its stab at expanding the comic-book universe, but it's not the same. The studio set “Wonder Woman” for release some time in 2017, but didn't provide any specifics; it also cast Ray Fisher as Cyborg, who will make his debut during the face-off of "Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice" before coming to a theater near you on his own ... in 2020. (It's a release date so far in the future, Cyborg might actually exist at the point.) Also, does anyone actually give a crap about Cyborg? While we'll have to wait for a solid Apollo and Midnighter film, Tuesday's announcement is a step in the right direction.

The progressive importance of Black Panther is right there in the name, and attaching Chadwick Boseman is a power move on Marvel’s part. Captain Marvel, while a bit less well known to those of us who have never attended Comic-Con, is also a significant choice. Over the years, the name has represented a variety of heroes, though since 2012 it has come to be associated most closely with Carol Danvers: a woman with the powers of super strength, flight and feminism. Captain Marvel was written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, and most certainly won’t be a “fighting f--k toy" in the way of the term coined by Professor Caroline Heldman in “Miss Representation."

Yes, these are big wins from a liberal nerd’s perspective -- black and female superheroes running the show and not just supporting the white main dude (or dudes, as in "Batman V. Superman"). Although even outside of the superhero genre, black- and female-led non-niche films are a big deal. Consider the fact that only 15 percent of the top films in 2013 had women in the lead. According to SAG, black actors play just 13 percent of all film roles, a number which has actually fallen from 15 percent in the early 2000s. It is important for black and female audiences to see people who look like them in major parts, especially ones that are not stereotypical supporting roles.

This reality is all the more empowering when those visible black and female characters are superheroes. There's obvious power in those representations. Beyond that, they are endowed with a special significance from the way the genre handles otherness. Superheroes are marginalized as a result of being different. Even when revered, they are automatically understood (or, rather, misunderstood) as outsiders. This is an automatic facet of the genre, most clearly seen through the civil rights metaphor of X-Men (the most interesting reading being that Magneto’s strategy for the mutants handling of humans is representative of Malcolm X, whereas Professor X is Martin Luther King Jr.).

It's easy for that to get lost in all the things crashing into other things, but there's beauty in the way all superheroes who spend time on Earth must come to not only accept but embrace the (literal) power of their otherness. The lack of black- and female-led films that riddles the film industry is especially troubling in a genre that is actually about being different. As tough as this cruel world might be on straight white males, it’s about time we saw the struggle of marginalization overcome by those who know the meaning of otherness even without superpowers.

Follow Lauren Duca on Twitter: @laurenduca



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