By Joe Glass
If there's one thing that has bothered me about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it's really pretty much the only thing as Marvel Studios are doing a frankly incredible job really building something that had not really been seen before in cinema, it's this: a frankly startling lack of diversity.
The most obvious shortcoming: there is still no Marvel movie (in the MCU line of films at least) that focuses and is headlined by a female superhero.
This is from a company which has done incredible well with female superheroes, and has an incredible roster of heroic superwomen. Where's our Captain Marvel film? Or a She-Hulk spin-off? There's finally talk of the possibility of a Black Widow movie, but honestly, they could have introduced her in her own movie, rather than giving her a rather terrible role to play in Iron Man 2 (unlike many, I actually really like Iron Man 2, but Scarlett Johansson was criminally underused and too often objectified in that role).
The second most obvious: where's our leading black heroes? Marvel has a history of creating strong superheroes of colour, and yet we still have no Black Panther movie, or a Luke Cage one (though a Netflix TV show is forthcoming at least); instead, in the MCU, black heroes, whilst still suitably bad ass, are rarely more than 'sidekicks'.
And then there's the third shortcoming, and one which personally bothers me quite a lot: there is pretty much no LGBT presence in the MCU.
I mean, in terms of the movies and TV shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I am struggling to think of a single character even alluded to as being LGBT, or being (annoyingly) presented as LGBT as the punchline to a joke (which is sadly common on TV and film).*
When it was announced, to some fanfare in the comics news circles, that Saffron Burrows would be playing Hand in the TV show, I think many LGBT fans hoped that the element of her sexuality would also be making the translation from comic to TV. There was hope. After all, the translation was successful in every other respect, even down to her red streaks in her hair.
And then the most recent episode aired. The tie-in to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, without too many spoilers for that film, changes everything, and of course, some huge shake-ups need to be in the show to reflect that too. Now, there's no way of saying this without some spoilers for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. itself, but sadly, one of those big shake-ups resulted in the death of Victoria Hand.
All of this happened before we had any kind of confirmation of her sexuality; we never met a love-interest, she never mentioned a girlfriend (or boyfriend) and neither did anyone else.
When I heard about this, I had to go and watch the episode in question ahead of its UK airing schedule in the hopes that they had left some kind of out, but it seems pretty permanent. Sure, the killing shot is off camera, but it seems pretty definitive. Which is a shame.
It's a shame, because with Hand breathing her last on screen before any kind of reveal like that, it means there is still no LGBT presence in the MCU (on TV or film).
In fact, as I mentioned earlier, I'm struggling to think of any LGBT background character even, so until now it's almost as if in the MCU, LGBT people might as well not exist.
It isn't just Marvel Studios who aren't so great at it either. In Fox's upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past, the studio had an option, which they actively ignored it would seem. They apparently needed a speedster in the movie, and they have gone for using Quicksilver, which they announced (curiously enough) around the same time as Marvel Studios announced the characters inclusion in the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron. They continue to make noise about how they didn't know Marvel Studios were also planning to use Quicksilver or it's not a show of one-manship (Fox's film comes first after all), but that doesn't wash with me.
After all, from all accounts, they are not touching on Quicksilver's relationship to Magneto, who in the X-Men films at least may not be his father. And there's even some talk that Quicksilver (as played by Evan Peters) actually has a really small part in the film.
So if there's no connection to Magneto to worry about, why not use another famous X-speedster? And one that would boost the films diversity, be a major first for superhero movies as a whole, courting headlines for more media attention AND presumably be the next logical progression for openly gay director Bryan Singer's highlighting of the mutant analogue to gay rights and human rights: why not have used Northstar?
It even logically makes more sense than Quicksilver. In the movie, it is reported that the plot point that brings Pietro into play is that the (mentally) time-displaced Wolverine met him in the future, which would be especially easy to do if they went for a character who was also Canadian like Wolverine, who was involved in Department H. Moreover, the new 25moments.com site setting up a timeline to the film reveals that in the movie, Pietro is a former athlete; this is actually a major part of Northstar's character in the comics, and not Quicksilver's at all. It's hard not to see the ignoring of this character in favor of Quicksilver as almost more offensive and annoying than the lack of inclusion at the other studios films.
Overall, diversity in superhero movies is sadly very poor. Aside from the complete lack of LGBT representation in Marvel movies, one of their biggest grossing films, The Avengers, sadly featured a predominantly white, male, heterosexual team (no matter what the Science Bros shippers may hope for).
There are some great movements finally happening though. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is perhaps the most diverse superhero film to date, certainly within the MCU. We have two black characters who play major roles (one may get slightly relegated to an albeit really badass sidekick role, but the other is the head of a massive organisation and is totally in charge), and there are several female characters who play major roles and totally kick-ass (including Black Widow who actually manages to build from a kind of snarky sidekick role into a character capable of leading a whole movie to herself).
Marvel Comics have been making great strides in diversity of late, with female teams, female led solo books, gay weddings, Muslim lead characters and more, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe is still sadly woefully behind.
But with movies planned well into the next ten years or so, hopefully we can start seeing this change soon.
*UPDATE: I have been informed that is in fact an LGBT mention in the MCU. During the Marvel One Shot 'All Hail the King' (naturally, the one I hadn't seen yet) there are not one, but two gay references…as the butt of jokes. One in fact being a slightly tasteless 'prison bitch' gag. So there you have it. Our one representation as a community in the MCU is as the butt of a joke.