June 7, 2016

Diversity in Superheroes: Progress Made and the Long Road Ahead

Dina Doctoroff ‘18

Comic book fans have always seen superheroes as role models; people who always do the right thing and whose actions should be emulated. Many of them started as outcasts and went on to save the world, providing inspiration for the common reader.
A major issue, however, was that these superheroes did not actually look like the people who read the comics. There was little diversity in comic books.
An African American child would look at the comics and would not see anybody who resembled him externally. Since none of them looked like him, it was difficult to relate to the characters he was seeing and be inspired. Superheroes of other minority religions, races and sexual orientations were similarly underrepresented.
In response, the first African American superhero – Black Panther – debuted in 1966 in the “Fantastic Four” series of comics. More progress has been made since then: the first superhero to come out as gay was Northstar in “Alpha Flight” and the character’s wedding in June 2012’s Astonishing X-Men #51 was the first same-sex wedding in comics history. Most recently, “Deadpool” director Tim Miller recently revealed that fan-favorite Deadpool was pansexual. All of these were received incredibly warmly by the public.
The reveal of the new female Thor, who has replaced the traditional male Thor, is also making headlines all over the country.
This is not She-Thor. This is not Lady Thor. This is not Thorita. This is Tho,” writer Jason Aaron said. “This is the Thor of the Marvel Universe. But it's unlike any Thor we've ever seen before.”
Thor’s Avengers teammate, the traditionally caucasian Steve Rogers-iteration of Captain America, is also being replaced by Sam Wilson, a black superhero previously known as Rogers’ sidekick, the Falcon.
The diversity issue of comic books and movies is slowly being solved, but we still have a long way to go. According to the Harvard Political Review, many issues remain during this new diversifying stage.
The female characters are often depicted with revealing and hypersexualized clothing that male characters would never wear. There is still some shock that a woman is able to replace the much-loved Thor, and that the comic books featuring her are making more money than those of her predecessor.
Many people are also complaining that the only reason major motion picture studios are making these films and comic books is to pander to wider audiences and, in turn, make more money.
The issues being raised are valid and the creators of the movies and comic books need to listen to the fans and fix them.
A good start to solving these problems is to create superheroes that aren’t just there for the sake of avoiding controversy. For example, comic book writers can’t just write in a black female superhero to keep the black female minority happy. They need to develop this character, like they would with any other.
The movie “Sucker Punch,” directed by current “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice” director Zack Snyder, which includes many unique, non-DC or Marvel female superheroes, treats them as sexual objects and nothing more.
This movie should have treated its characters the way Peggy Carter is treated on the current television series, “Marvel’s Agent Carter.” The titular Agent Carter is a strong female character, who is multifaceted and very well-written. She is a perfect example of diversity gone right, as is ABC’s other Marvel show, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” which includes many well-developed minority characters who are not just there for diversity.
Although it is come a long way, the superhero industry obviously is not done diversifying yet.
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