Captain Marvel, the 21st film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) released this weekend to a group of internet trolls trashing the film because it has a female lead. Most of them criticized it before the movie even came out.
It’s hard to understand the backlash of this movie without going into the history of Marvel Studios and the supreme overlords at Disney who bought Marvel president Kevin Feige’s shared universe idea in 2009 for four billion dollars, which started in 2008 when the first Iron Man film released in theaters to become the godfather of the MCU franchise.
Without Iron Man, there is no Avengers. In the years before the release of the first Avengers movie, people speculated if Samuel L. Jackson’s post-credits scene in Iron Man would lead to anything like a superhero team-up film. Historically, a shared universe idea was unheard of at the time and do something that innovative was going against the grain. People thought it was just a tease for something that would never happen. A wink to the fans and nothing more.
When the first trailer for the Avengers dropped and the film inevitably followed in the summer of 2012, those people ate their words and the age of the “Marvel Formula” began. Humor mixed with huge action set pieces and Easter eggs for the comic book fans. Could anything get more awesome for Marvel Studios and the MCU?
Spend even a small amount of time with the search terms Disney and gender roles and you’ll be ankle-deep in the history of Walt Disney and his company’s role in reinforcing old gender stereotypes — such as men work while the women cook, clean and care for the children.
This 1950s idea of the perfect family was a fabrication, but people tried to make it a reality by looking at Disney animated films. In particular, the Disney princess films like “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,” “Cinderella” and more, which romanticized the damsel in distress archetype. For both Snow White and Cinderella, a man needed to save them.
Surely we’ve made leaps and bounds in female representation since then? Well, in 2014, former Marvel Studios CEO Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter said he doesn’t believe in female superheroes driving box office sales and tickets. He pointed to films like Catwoman, Supergirl (1984) and Elektra in a leaked email quoted on Indie Wire as reasons why they shouldn’t greenlight more female superhero films.
Fun fact, Perlmutter is the reason Don Cheadle replaced Terrence Howard as Rhodey Rhodes AKA War Machine in the MCU in 2009-10. According to Vanity Fair, Perlmutter claimed Cheadle was cheaper and no one would be able to tell the difference. In 2015, Kevin Feige replaced Ike Perlmutter as CEO of Marvel Studios.
Later, in 2016, with the controversy of casting Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One in “Doctor Strange,” screenwriter C. Robert. Cargill said in an exclusive 2016 interview with Double Toasted (NSFW) that the character of the Ancient One is an unwinnable battle.
Cargill called it Marvel’s “Kobayashi Maru,” in reference to Star Trek, and went on to talk about the history of the character in the comics and the various cultural landmines they couldn’t avoid. The film’s director, Scott Derrickson, made a decision early on that feminism was the hill he wanted to die on.
The question on people’s minds shouldn’t just be whether Captain Marvel will be good, but if the release of a female superhero film in the MCU is too soon or not soon enough.