Commentary

Commentary: The HER-O We Deserve

M.Zhang/The Phillipian

I fell in love with superheroes when I was 11 years old. On a cloudy night in May, I went to see my first Marvel superhero movie on the big screen. There is something magical that comes along with sitting in a theater, seeing the bright lights flash, and hearing gasps and laughter coming from the audience. I remember my whole body tensing in excitement as my idols battled fiercely for the fate of the universe.

Superheroes have long captured the hearts of different people from around the globe, beginning with characters like Superman and Captain America in the ’40s and ’50s. For years we have put all of our fears and hopes into these heroes. They always have their fair share of troubles and challenges, but in the end, they are able to rise above all to do good in the world. That is why superheroes are so important to people, and so it is crucial that we can identify with them, see ourselves in them, and incorporate the lessons we learn from those two hours in a dark, crowded room, in our own lives.

Many fans had been anticipating the trailer for “Captain Marvel”, which centers around an Air Force pilot who gains powers and becomes caught in the middle of a war between two alien species, according to IMDb. Upon its release this past week, however, the trailer has received a large amount of backlash. Obnoxious comments, negative videos, and critical discourse have create a steady stream of hate. Throughout all of this, there seems to be something that is upsetting viewers the most: the fact that Captain Marvel is a woman.

Diversity in Marvel movies is not a new concept. A large number of their existing films feature white, male leads, but Marvel has made consistent efforts to diversify their cast and characters. Take, for example, “Black Panther”, which has a majority-black cast and centers around a superhero from a fictional country in Africa. Additionally, the recent film, “Ant-Man and the Wasp”, was the first Marvel movie to contain a female superhero’s name in the title. A small step, but a step nonetheless, as Evangeline Lilly’s character, The Wasp, was an integral part of the movie’s plot.

T.Conrady/The Phillipian

T.Conrady/The Phillipian

So, why has “Captain Marvel” received so much hate? Many furious internet users took to social media platforms to complain that Marvel is forcing feminism into its films, and others said that the trailer looked bad simply because Captain Marvel was a woman. One Instagram user, when commenting on a clip of the trailer that Marvel posted, said that it felt “forced because of the feminists… it doesn’t fit in a story.” Another account commented: “Why can’t Captain Marvel be a male actor? It will be so much better… this movie will never reach its full potential.”

These comments are a little ridiculous. Strong female characters with interesting personalities and unique backstories have become increasingly more integral to Marvel’s recent works. It makes sense that there should be a superhero movie in which the main character is female. Not to mention that although females make up almost half the world’s population, superheroes and action stars are still mostly male. Isn’t it time for change?

“Captain Marvel” means so much to me. As an avid fan of superheroes, finally having this strong, powerful — and, yes, female — character at the center of a film is groundbreaking and meaningful. Society is influenced by media. We are inspired to become the characters we see on our screens. Little boys who grow up watching superheroes want to become them. They want to lead and do good in the world. They want to invent, like Iron Man, or fight for their country, like Captain America. They want to be strong, brave, and courageous.

On the other hand, little girls see far too many women cast as highly-sexualized love interests of the male lead. An example is Harley Quinn in “Suicide Squad”. She is needlessly sexualized, and the film contains many shots of the famous Hollywood “male gaze” that pans up and down her body. Her life is controlled by her love interest, The Joker, and although he is a mentally unstable antagonist, the abusive relationship he and Harley Quinn have leaves a lasting negative effect on the audience. These depictions of female characters can be detrimental to little girls’ self-confidence, goals, and still-developing sense of the world. How can they, too, become superheroes if there are barely any for them to look up to?

“Captain Marvel” indicates a change. Marvel Studios is slowly but surely injecting diversity and powerful messages into their movies. As a powerhouse in the film industry, it holds the ability to create a wave of inspiration for other films, even outside of the superhero genre. By doing away with old societal conventions linked to patriarchal ideas, Marvel is saying that women  can                              

be strong, brave, and courageous. They are proving that female superheroes are just as inspiring, influential, and successful.

Regardless of public opinion, “Captain Marvel” is another step on the path to equality and representation in movies. The film industry is shifting and evolving before our own eyes. Next year, on March 8, hundreds of little 11-year-old girls will go see their very first superhero movie. When they come out of the theaters, hearts beating fast, smiles wide and beaming, they will be empowered and ready to change the world.

Sophie Glaser is a Junior from Summit, N.J. Contact the author at sglaser22@andover.edu.