Female superhero accused of sexism and racism

Power-up: Marvel boss Kevin Fiege says she is “the strongest character we’ve ever had.” © Marvel

After making 20 superhero movies in the past decade, today Marvel releases its 21st — and the first with a female lead. Some fans are accusing Captain Marvel’s star of sexism and racism. Why?

Brie Larson loves her latest film character, Carol Danvers (aka Captain Marvel). And it is not because she has super strength, or that she can fly and blast energy from her fists, although those things are all true. It is because she was “doing amazing things even before she had superpowers,” as she told Press Association.

Carol Danvers is a former US Air Force pilot — but she has lost her memories of that time and somehow acquired alien powers. “As she gets to know herself […] she really achieves her true power,” says the film’s co-director Anna Boden.

Captain Marvel is out in cinemas today — timed for International Women’s Day. It is the 21st movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the first with a female lead.

The reviews have been mixed. The Telegraph calls it “big on girl-boss attitude”, while Empire says it is an “essential […] feminist fable.” Others are less positive. The Hollywood Reporter calls it “mundane”. Slate’s review is titled: “Finally, women have their own mediocre Marvel movie.”

However, some Marvel fans are criticising Larson personally, accusing her of “racist” and “sexist” comments. Why?

Larson has been vocal about diversity in Hollywood for some time. In a recent interview with Marie Claire, she said that she had noticed that film critics were “overwhelmingly white male.” As a result, she decided to “make sure my press days were more inclusive,” including asking for diverse interviewers.

She cited research which shows that 77.3% of top film critics are men, while 88.2% are white. In total, 65.6% are white men, as opposed to just 3.7% women of colour.

“Am I saying that I hate white dudes? No, I’m not,” she said in a speech last year. But “if you make a movie that is a love letter to women of colour, there is an insanely low chance a woman of colour will […] review your movie.”

She has also lent her support to a new Time’s Up challenge asking for more female directors in Hollywood.

“With great power…”

Does this make her sexist and racist? Many of her critics have taken her words out of context; she herself says she wants to “bring more seats up to the table. No one is getting their chair taken away.” But when the figures are so unbalanced, hiring under-represented directors and critics will inevitably mean fewer opportunities for white men. Is this fair enough?

Is it even possible to be racist against white people? Many activists say no, because white people in the Western world have traditionally held all the power. The same could be said for sexism against men. And yet in 2017, an NPR poll found that 55% of white Americans believed there is “discrimination against white people” in the US today. Why do they feel this way?

You Decide

  1. Will you be watching Captain Marvel at the cinema?
  2. Is it possible to be racist against white people?

Activities

  1. Without looking it up in the dictionary, write your own definition of racism. Compare it with an official definition. Do you think Brie Larson’s comments were racist?
  2. Write your own review of a film with an important female character. Include a discussion of how her gender is treated in the film.

Some People Say...

“Being the best you can be…That’s doable. That’s possible for anybody if they put their mind to it.”

Carol Danvers (Ms. Marvel comics, Vol 2)

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Captain Marvel is released in cinemas today. The character of Carol Danvers was created in 1968 as a love interest in the Captain Marvel comics. (At the time, the superhero name was being used by a male alien called Mar-Vell.) She got her superhero powers later and has had several alter-egos ever since. Now she is known as the most powerful hero in the Marvel Universe.
What do we not know?
How the film will be received by audiences. It is expected to make $100 million in its opening weekend, around half the amount made by Black Panther during the same period last year. (However, this is roughly the same as 2017’s Wonder Woman, made by DC Comics).

Word Watch

International Women’s Day
Held on March 8 every year — this year’s theme is “Balance for Better”. It is calling for more equal gender representation in everything from boardrooms to movies. “Gender balance is essential for economies and communities to thrive,” its website says.
Research
The study was published by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. It looked at reviews of the top 300 films between 2015-17.
Speech
Made at the Crystal + Lucy Awards in June last year. In the same speech she announced an initiative to help studios connect with underrepresented journalists and critics for their films.
Time’s Up
A campaign group founded by actresses in the wake of the #MeToo movement. The #4percentchallenge refers to the fact that just 4% of top-earning films in the last decade were directed by women. It asks members of the film industry to commit to working with a female director in the next 18 months.
NPR poll
The poll surveyed 902 white adults between January and April 2017. It found that 84% of white people believed discrimination existed against racial and ethnic minorities too.