After killing Iron Man and making Chris Evans too old to be hot, now Marvel's giving us the most diverse superheroes we've ever seen.
San Diego Comic-Con 2019 delivered a windfall of nerd dreams come true.
The details of Marvel's socially conscious and heavily diverse Phase 4 include the first superheroes to be Asian, deaf, and openly queer, as well as Natalie Portman taking up the mantle of Thor.
Marvel Studios, the fairy godmother of comic book fandom, have released the titles of the next 10 projects throughout 2021. President Kevin Feige (Marvel's equivalent to the Tooth Fairy) appeared to discuss the stars of The Eternals (2020), Scarlett Johansson's solo Black Widow feature, and Mahershala Ali taking on the role of Blade. Eternals director Chloe Zhao teased that the next installment focuses on "this group of incredible immortals but through their journey we really get to explore what it means to be human and humanity on our time on this planet."
The wave of diversity is a conscious push to correct a long history of white, male leads putting an exclusive face to America's favorite superhero narratives. Author Preeti Chhibber said, "Half of the highest-grossing films of all time right now are superhero movies. What that means is these are accessed by a huge number of people in the population, they shape popular thought, and they impact who is seen as powerful or important enough to be included."
These are just 5 of the most ground-breaking projects coming up in Marvel's Phase 4.
Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) in The Eternals
Tony-nominee Lauren Ridloff will play the first deaf superhero in the Marvel cinematic universe. The broadway actress will play Makkari in The Eternals, which will also star Angelina Jolie (Thena), Richard Madden (Icarus), Kumail Nanjiani (Kingo), Brian Tyree Henry (Phastos), Salma Hayek (Ajak), Lia McHugh (Sprite), and Don Lee (Gilgamesh), according to EW. In addition to being named Miss Deaf America (2000-2002), Ridloff is a former kindergarten teacher who picked up acting and soon after won acclaim on Broadway before being cast on The Walking Dead. Her character uses American Sign Language (ASL), as Ridloff does in real life.
Ridloff told Good Morning America, "There is an increased interest in casting more actors who are deaf, but there is still a woeful paucity of deaf talent behind the scenes, involved with the writing process." She added, "I feel that with more representation working behind the camera, the stories that are told in television, film and stage would become more intriguing, truthful and thought provoking."
On Instagram, the actress posted, "Honored and humbled to be a part of this powerful, diverse group. #Eternals"
Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) in Thor: Love and Thunder
Thompson has long pushed Marvel to include queer representation in its upcoming projects. Aside from inspiring dedicated fanart depicting the galactic power couple Valkyrie and Captain Marvel, Thompson has confirmed that the new leader of the Asgardians is indeed queer. "As new King, she needs to find her new queen, so that'll be her first order of business," she told TIME.
In fact, Thompson previously shared with Rolling Stone that a cut scene from Thor: Ragnarok depicted a woman leaving Valkyrie's bedroom in order to confirm her bisexuality: "It wasn't Marvel or Disney or anyone extracting that because it was an issue," she explained. "It just was like, that particular moment didn't make sense in the context of the scene. And there were other beautiful things where you get a sense of her backstory." Still, Thompson's always assured viewers that she's "played her as a woman that's queer."
We cute @TessaThompson_x https://t.co/7358yhTQlA— Brie Larson (@Brie Larson)1552924774.0
WHAT. we so cute @brielarson https://t.co/LGVXRoQbMy— Tessa Thompson (@Tessa Thompson)1552940606.0
Female Thor (Natalie Portman) in Thor: Love and Thunder
Natalie Portman will reprise her role as Jane Foster in the Thor franchise, with Taika Waititi also returning to direct the next installment, due for release 2021. In the comics' 2014 storyline, Thor renounces his title after losing his powers, allowing Foster to inherit his weirdly sentient hammer, Mjolnir, and become the Goddess of Thunder. She even acquires Thor's name and presumably becomes incredibly jacked.
Portman confirmed her return to the MCU on Instagram, posting, "So thrilled to share the news with you today at #sdcc2019 that I'll be returning to the @marvel #mcu as female Thor with legends @taikawaititi @tessamaethompson and @chrishemsworth. (Remember this as the before picture for when I get jacked)."
Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Ring
We're finally getting an Asian-fronted superhero movie from a major U.S. studio. Directed by Dustin Cretton and written by Dave Callahan, Shang-Chi will be fronted by Asian creators and an Asian lead. The universe follows the son of a "China-based globalist who raised and educated his progeny in his reclusive China compound, closed off to the outside world. The son is trained in the martial arts and developed unsurpassed skills. He is eventually introduced to the outside world to do his father's bidding, and then has to come to grips with the fact his revered father might not be the humanitarian he has claimed to be."
Kevin Feige said Simu Liu will "be a household name soon enough" after starring as Marvel's first Asian superhero. He's previously appeared in Nikita, Taken, and Kim's Convenience. Liu emigrated from China to Canada when he was 5 years old. Before he pursued acting, he was an accountant. "All I've ever wanted to do when I was growing was make [my parents] proud," Liu said on stage at Comic-Con. "What I'm trying to say is, I'm really happy I'm not a doctor. So, take that mom and dad."
Writer Preeti Chhibber noted, "Of course, Asians deserve to be represented on screen in something that has become a cultural behemoth. By excluding Asians from the narrative, the implication is that Asians aren't a part of that space—and not only does the Asian community pick up on this, but so does the non-Asian community." Jen Bartel, an illustrator and comic artist who's worked with Marvel and Disney, adds: "Kung fu films have resonated with a wide range of audiences for many decades now—a character like Shang-Chi, who specializes in martial arts, specifically kung fu, could potentially bring some of that mainstream appeal while simultaneously reclaiming that piece of our culture for Asian audiences."
Blade (Mahershala Ali)
One of Kevin Feige's greatest surprises was announcing that Mahershala Ali has been cast as the titular character in Marvel's reboot of Blade. Even more surprising is Feige telling The Hollywood Reporter that Ali approached Marvel about the part. "When Mahershala calls, you answer," Feige said. The Oscar-winner reportedly "came right out and said that he wanted to do Blade." The remake of the 1998 classic, starring Wesley Snipes, will carry on the momentum of Black Panther's all black cast. As TIME points out, "When Black Panther premiered in 2018, many fans cited Blade as the movie that laid the groundwork for a black superhero movie to break box office records."
Overall, the daring new wave of characters are a clear push to justify the dramatic ending of Marvel's Phase 3, wherein Captain America (Chris Evans) passed his shield to Falcon (Anthony Mackie) after aging about 80 years in a span of 10 seconds in Endgame, Black Widow and Iron Man die, and all the people eradicated in Thanos' Bitch Snap are revived (including Doctor Strange, who's also getting his own movie sequel with Benedict Cumberbatch reprising his role as a mystical silver fox with perfect enunciation). Here's what we know of Marvel's Phase 4 and continued global domination:
- "Black Widow: May 1, 2020
- The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: Fall 2020 (Disney Plus)
- The Eternals: Nov. 6, 2020
- Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: Feb. 12, 2021
- WandaVision: Spring 2021 (Disney Plus)
- Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness: May 7, 2021
- Loki: Spring 2021 (Disney Plus)
- What If...? Summer 2021 (Disney Plus)
- Hawkeye: Fall 2021 (Disney Plus)
- Thor: Love and Thunder: Nov. 5, 2021
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Breaking down the bias of comfort films.
With the constant onslaught of complicated news that 2020 has brought, sometimes you just want to be able to shut off your brain, relax, and feel happy.
Enter comfort films. These are the feel-good movies that feel like a warm hug when you finish them, the ones that allow you to escape for a short while. We often turn to these types of films in times of trouble or extreme stress, and when we're not sure what films of this nature we should watch, we turn to the Internet for options.
Rivera's "Glee" character was not just important, she was groundbreaking.
As a young queer girl growing up in the south, I was lucky that my parents weren't homophobes.
My parents believed that people were sometimes born gay, and while they wouldn't "wish that harder life" on their children, they certainly made me and my sister believe that gay people were just as worthy of love as anyone else. I was lucky.
Still, in my relatively sheltered world of Northern Virginia (a rich suburb near Washington D.C.), homophobia wasn't as blatant as hate crimes or shouted slurs, but it was generally accepted that being straight was, simply, better.
In high school, it wasn't uncommon to use "gay" as an insult or for girls to tease each other about being "lez." While many of us, if asked, would have said we were in support of gay marriage and loved The Ellen Show, being gay remained an undesirable affliction.
Even more insidious, I was instilled with the belief—by my church and my peers—that if gay and lesbian people could be straight, they would. But since they were simply incapable of attraction to the opposite sex or fitting into traditional gender roles, we should accept them as they are as an act of mercy. At the time, this kind of pity seemed progressive and noble. Those in my close circle of family and friends weren't openly dismissive or condemning of gay people, but we saw homosexuality as a clear predisposition with no gray areas.
Specifically: Gay men talked with a lilt, giggled femininely, and were interested in things that weren't traditionally "masculine." Meanwhile, gay women dressed like men, had no interest in makeup or other traditionally female interests, and probably had masculine bodies and features. In my mind, before someone came out as gay, they did everything in their power to "try to be straight" but were eventually forced to confront the difficult reality that they felt no attraction at all to the opposite sex. I viewed homosexuality not as a spectrum, but as a black and white biological predisposition that meant you were thoroughly, completely, and pitiably gay.
As a child, when I began to experience stirrings of attraction for other girls, I would reassure myself that not only had I definitely felt attraction for men in the past, but I also liked being pretty. I was a tomboy as a child, sure, but as I got older I recognized that my value was increased in the eyes of society if I tried to be a pretty girl. As it turned out, I even liked putting on clothes that made me feel good, I liked applying makeup, and I liked some traditionally "feminine" things. In my mind, this meant that I couldn't be gay, because gay women didn't like "girl" stuff.
As a teenager, I began to learn more about the difference between gender and sexuality, and the fluidity of both. I began to let myself feel some of the long-suppressed feelings of queer desire I still harbored.
Still, in the back of my mind, the instilled certainty of sexuality as an extremely rigid thing sometimes kept me up at night. What if I was gay? Would I have to change the way I looked? Would I have to give up some of the things I liked? In my mind, being gay meant your sexuality was your whole identity, and everything else about you disappeared beneath the weight of it.
But then, Santana came out as gay on Glee.
GLEE - The Santana 'Coming Out Scene' www.youtube.com
If you didn't watch Glee, than you might not know the importance of Naya Rivera's character to so many queer young women like myself. Santana was beautiful, she was popular, she had dated boys, she was feminine, she was sexy, and she was gay. There's even evidence that Santana had previously enjoyed relationships with men.
But the character came out anyways, not because she had to or because it was obvious to everyone around her that she was gay, but because her attraction to women was an aspect of her identity she was proud of. It wasn't an unfortunate reality she simply had to make the best of; it was an exciting, beautiful, aspect of her identity worth celebrating.
Before Santana, it had never really come home for me that being gay wasn't an entire identity—that it wasn't an affliction or disorder, but just another part of a person. She also didn't suddenly start wearing flannels or cutting her hair after coming out. She was the same feminine person she had always been. I had never realized that being a gay woman didn't have to look a certain way. Santana and Brittany's gay storyline showed two femme-presenting women in love, and for me, that was a revolution.
If it wasn't for Naya Rivera, we may never have had that important story line.
"It's up to writers, but I would love to represent [the LGBTQ community] because we know that there are tons of people who experience something like that and it's not comical for them in their lives," Rivera told E! News in 2011. "So I hope that maybe we can shed some light on that."
While Rivera herself wasn't gay (the importance of casting gay actors in gay roles is a separate conversation), she understood how important her character was to the queer community. "There are very few ethnic LGBT characters on television, so I am honored to represent them," Rivera told Latina magazine in 2013. "I love supporting this cause, but it's a big responsibility, and sometimes it's a lot of pressure on me."
Rivera wasn't just a supporter of the LGBTQ+ community on screen. In 2017, she wrote a "Love Letter to the LGBTQ Community" for Billboard's Pride Month. In it, she wrote, "We are all put on this earth to be a service to others and I am grateful that for some, my Cheerios ponytail and sassy sashays may have given a little light to someone somewhere, who may have needed it. To everyone whose heartfelt stories I have heard, or read I thank you for truly enriching my life."
Now, as we mourn the loss of Naya Rivera, at least we can take comfort in knowing that her legacy will live on—that the light her Cheerios ponytail and sassy sashays gave us won't go out any time soon.
Excuse me, I have to go weep-sing-along to Rivera's cover of landslide now.
Glee - Landslide (Full Performance + Scene) 2x15 youtu.be
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