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The face of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is changing, and many fans believe those changes are for the better. In recent years, we’ve seen more diversity with on-screen superheroes than ever before. That trend will continue well into the future, at least according to Marvel Studios’ president Kevin Feige.
Feige, who is credited as the groundbreaking Black Panther‘s producer, recently told The Wrap that diversity and representation are the future of the MCU: “This is the way the world is, and the way, certainly, our studio’s going to be run going forward, because it brings about better stories,” the director said. “The more diverse the group of people making the movie is, the better the stories.”
One only has to watch the final minutes of Avengers: Endgame (spoilers ahead!) to see just how committed the studio is to creating a more diverse MCU. In a poignant scene after living a full life in the past, an elderly Captain America hands his shield over to Anthony Mackie’s Falcon. The scene indicates that forthcoming Captain America films will, like Black Panther, have a strong African-American superhero at the helm. With the power superhero films have right now, a more inclusive MCU could help break down social barriers in our increasingly diverse world.
African-American Superheroes on Screen
Black Panther was a box office juggernaut as well as a critical success, even earning an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. The groundbreaking film paved the way for widespread acceptance of an African-American Captain America. However, this movie didn’t pioneer diversity on its own. The film’s predecessors in representation include the Blade trilogy, Netflix’s Luke Cage, and the early 2000s animated series Static Shock.
Of the three, only Blade is a Marvel creation, but the films didn’t appeal to a wide set of audiences, as they were R-rated and contained graphic violence. Static Shock, as an animated show, was more notable in promoting diversity among all age groups. The series, which ran for four years, followed the story of Virgil Hawkins, an African-American teen who gained electric powers and used them to fight crime in his fictional hometown. His sidekick was his best friend Richie, who was white. The show helped African-American boys see themselves as the lead hero rather than a side character. Today, we could do with more TV shows and films that accomplish the same feat.
The Importance of African-American Representation
Positive representation of African Americans is imperative in our current political climate, where racism remains a stark reality — particularly for African-American males.
In the U.S., African-American males are incarcerated at a much higher rate than white males, and they have a shorter life expectancy. On average, the life expectancy of African-American males is about five years less than that of white males. This is primarily due to healthcare disparity among low-income populations, which is exacerbated by numerous factors, including substandard housing and higher rates of suicide and violence.
African Americans are also at a higher risk when it comes to certain health problems, including HIV. African-American men account for 44% of HIV and AIDS cases nationwide. Furthermore, they succumb to the condition at higher rates than white men: Nearly 20 of every 100,000 African-American males diagnosed with HIV die, compared to just 2 per 100,000 among white males. Racism and discriminatory hiring practices may also contribute to skewed healthcare numbers, as it can be difficult for African-American males to obtain high-paying jobs with medical benefits.
A More Inclusive World
So how does the lack of quality healthcare access and a lower life expectancy among African Americans connect to greater on-screen representation?
Well, when young people watch a film or TV show that features a primary character (or characters) representative of their culture, they may come to view themselves as more strong and capable, like their on-screen heroes. And while those children probably won’t ever be real-world superheroes, the simple act of representation can give a child hope even when their real life seems bleak. In identifying with superheroes who look like them, young people may try to emulate the values those characters embodies, thus helping to break down social barriers and improving their quality of life.