Originally posted at Just Add Color

With the culmination of the San Diego Comic-Con, we’ve been getting a lot of DC Comics movie franchise news. Some of which includes the new footage of the Justice League movie, featuring Batman (Ben Affleck), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), the Flash (Ezra Miller), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and Superman (Henry Cavill).

With the introduction of DC’s superhero team, I started wondering — which movie franchise represents its diverse audience more?

Let’s take a look at some stats. According to the MPAA, the movie-going year of 2015 saw 23 percent of Hispanics and 11 percent of African-Americans going to the movie theaters, even though Hispanics only made up 17 percent of the population and African-Americans made up 12 percent. Similarly, Asian Americans and Americans of other ethnicities were 9 percent of the movie-going population, even though they only made up 8 percent of the total population. Even though white Americans go to the movies a lot, too — 56 percent of them made up movie audiences last year — they go much less than non-whites, since they are 62 percent of the total population. With all of this said, it’s clear that if you’re non-white, more than likely you’re in a movie theater at some given point in time. This also means that a disproportionate percentage of the money generated by movies is from non-white pockets. Therefore, movie theaters should start catering to those dollars more than they already do.

In the movies department, it’s pretty clear that DC is about to school Marvel on using diversity as its opening actBatman v Superman’s trailer had a frustrating scene for me — the scene in which a ton of extras with Westernized Dia de los Muertos-esque skeleton face paint revering Superman as a god. It looked a lot like the scene from Game of Thrones, with a ton of brown people exalting Khaleesi as their savior. In short, I didn’t like it. And to be fair, not many people liked the movie in its entirety. But, it appears that DC will still have the Marvel beat when it comes to catering to a wider majority of its audience.

Enter the footage for Justice League. 

Already, we have an overlapping group consisting of a woman and three people of color (I’m including Gal Gadot in this group, hence the use of the word “overlapping”) — and even though he’s not playing a gay character in the films, the Flash is played by Ezra Miller, who is gay in real life. Already, that’s a heck of a lot more inclusion than Marvel’s Avengers, which is majority white male (the only actual member of color is the Falcon, and the only woman is Black Widow).

DC also has Marvel beat when it comes to treating female characters like actual characters. People have been begging Marvel for years now to create a Black Widow movie, but cries had been falling on deaf ears until very recently, when Marvel finally announced that a Black Panther film and Black Widow film were going to be made. We have finally been getting tons of news about Black Panther, but a Black Widow film is still missing in action. However, the third movie in DC’s official movie franchise is Wonder Woman.

You can read my full thoughts here, but the short of it is that seeing a female superhero do her thing on the big screen is going to instill pride and hope in a lot of girls and women out there. It would behoove Marvel to do the same.

The diversity quotient is also high with Suicide Squad, which features women (in general) in various roles, but the film also prominently features people of color as the heroes (including Will Smith, Viola Davis, Margot Robbie, Cara Delevingne, Karen Fukuhara, Adam Beach, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuouye-Agbaje, and Common).

Of course, someone could say, “Well, it’s cruelly ironic that the heroes of Suicide Squad are the evil guys, and that over half of the evil guys are people of color.” Yeah, it is cruelly ironic. But let’s contrast this to Ant-Man, which was also about bad guys becoming the good guys. Except with Ant-Man, Paul Rudd was the genius who actually acted like a genius a good portion of the time. Ant-Man’s friends, played by T.I., Michael Peña, and David Dastmalchian, were supposed to be geniuses, too, but they frequently acted like racially-charged buffoons, characters who seemed to be the brainchild of someone who believed non-white people actually act like stereotypes in real life. It was clear the Rudd’s character was the cool, calm, and collected leader, even though they were all supposed to be on the same level of intelligence.

Sure, a lot of non-white people are the bad guys in Suicide Squad, but at least they all seem to be written to exist on the same level. They seem to all have their own individuality. There’s also the case of Smith’s character Deadshot in the leadership position, a change of pace from Marvel’s status quo. Also great is that Davis is the one in charge of all of them.

Marvel’s films are also failing in another area: proper representation of race. Marvel is quick to tout it’s “diversity” in terms of how many black people they hire for films. They’re especially doing that now, what with Black Panther and the Netflix show Luke Cage. But it took ages for Marvel to finally commit to Black Panther, and before they finally committed, bogus statements had been put out regarding their indecision, such as how supposedly hard it would be to create a realistic Wakanda, even though Marvel had already made Thor, which featured another non-existent locale, Asgard.

Second, it’s not like Marvel has ever had a character of color lead a film until Black Panther; the Marvel universe has had enough longevity to be able to put out several movies with characters of color as the leads, but instead, they’ve constantly resorted to the “goofy, yet smart white male” lead, which makes almost every movie in the latter half of Phase 2 feel like the same movie, just retold with varying degrees of success.

Third, the characters of color the films do have are always in secondary positions. The Falcon has since become Captain America in the comics, but in the films, Falcon is relegated to Captain America’s buddy; I dare say he was relegated to mere “sidekick” in Captain America: Civil War, because Sam all-too-readily agrees to follow Cap into the sunset, even without fully hearing Cap’s plan or questioning Cap’s decision to become a fugitive. Rhodey is a great character, but even still, he’s Iron Man’s buddy. Nick Fury is the most powerful man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but sometimes even he is treated like an outside force, a character that is “important,” but is merely a guise to lure audiences into believing that the black characters in the Marvel Universe are treated better than they actually are. Heimdall is also powerful, but as some have said online, they felt Heimdall was nothing more than a glorified doorman, not the all-mighty keeper of the universe and its alternate dimensions.

Marvel also lets down audience members in general by asserting the reductive conclusion that black people equal “diversity,” when there are a lot of people Marvel are leaving out of the conversation. Case in point: Doctor Strange. If you read my online roundtable discussion about Doctor Strange, you’ll find that quite a few people are upset by the lack of foresight given when casting the title character and the Ancient One as white people.

Also lacking in foresight was the decision to “add diversity” by casting Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong as Doctor Strange’s… I don’t know… helpers? Again, Marvel assumes the hierarchy of characters should be that people of color fall back as sidekicks or magical helpers, while white characters assume the “default hero” character role. Marvel has also failed when it comes to representing Latinos, people of the Middle East, South and East Asians, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and black women. I’m sure I’m missing some other groups as well.

If the only other non-white, non-black Marvel character is Michael Peña’s character from Ant-Man, then it’s clear Marvel’s doing something wrong when it comes to fully representing fleshed-out versions of all Americans. The kicker is that they have representations of fleshed-out characters of color in their comics right now. Ms. Marvel and Spider-Man are two such examples. When are we going to see live-action projects featuring them? How many more white dudes with powers are we going to have to see on the big screen? Black Panther can’t be the only time we see a majority non-white cast in a Marvel film.

DC might have gotten their act together slowly, but they are coming out of the gate swinging with possibilities. We’ve already got Wonder Woman coming, and AquamanThe Flash, and Cyborg films have already been scheduled for 2018 and 2020. In building a franchise, it would appear DC has been studying Marvel’s failures as well as Marvel’s successes, and it seems like the franchise is planning on welcoming more people to the table.

However, Marvel seems to be slowly getting the message, since they have already cast Brie Larson as Captain Marvel for her own standalone movie:

And the cast of Spider-Man: Homecoming has been surprisingly multicultural (the film includes Donald Glover — who had campaigned to play Peter Parker years ago — Zendaya, Hannibal Buress, Tony Revolori, Garcelle Beauvais, Bokeem Woodbine, Abraham Attah, Kenneth Choi, Tiffany Espensen, Laura Harrier, and is rumored to also feature Selenis Leyva). The film has already had to face its share of whitewashing accusations when it comes to the casting of Michael Barbieri as an original character based on Ganke Lee, who, in the Ultimate Spider-Man comics, is Miles Morales’ Korean-American best friend. But have they revamped that decision, based on this picture of the cast?

Despite their flubs, Marvel is working on rectifying their current lack of focus when it comes to representing their huge audience, baby step by stuttering baby step. If Marvel starts getting serious about showcasing LGBT characters too, then I’d be absolutely convinced Marvel has learned its lesson from past mistakes.

What’s fascinating is that while Marvel has a ton of issues to get out of its system when it comes to the movie franchise, the same can’t be said of its TV and Netflix offerings. Such as Luke Cage, which offers up the politically-charged image of, as showrunner Cheo Coker told Vanity Fair, “a bulletproof black man.” Whatever is going on in Marvel’s TV department needs to filter into the movies department. But I’ll write more on the TV side of both the DC and Marvel universes in another post.

If you have thoughts about the movie and/or TV branches of either universe, feel free to discuss in the comments section!

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15 thoughts on “DC vs. Marvel: Which Movie Franchise Represents Its Audience More?

  1. lets not forget ezra’s ambiguous heritage. those eyes and cheek bones? my king is anything but white (at least on his mother’s side) something the fanboys have made extremely clear. here are some things i’ve heard about mr. miller: “he looks japanese” “he’s not blonde” “he doesnt look white”. well if you dont want him i’ll take him anyday of the week lol he’s with us! and before wonder woman and justice league we have suicide squad, the most diverse comic book movie ever: black, asian, latin and native american. rather you compare the dccu to the beginning or current mcu, dc still stands taller. in the words of shinhwa ” i put my fist up cause anything is possible”. representation is happening in all forms of media from the stage to the screen and its all good. put your fists up my people!

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  2. Khal Drogo is in a superhero movie! Seriously though, Luke Cage is on my to-watch list since it features, as the article puts it “a bulletproof black man.”

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  3. This is a fantastic and informative article. You’ve given insight and now I want to dig a little deeper into the original comics. Me and my son are fans of both DC and Marvel. I am looking forward to seeing the characters of color on the big screen and can’t wait for the Black Panther movie!!

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  4. Cumberbatch should have been cast as British instead, I think part of his appeal is his accent. Definitely DC is winning in many aspects the POC aspect and the woman aspect. As for cultural appropriate that is tricky and in my belief it will become meaningless in the years to come. Hell Western civilization was built upon cultural appropriation our numbers are Arabic, our letters are Latin, our democracy is Greek.

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  5. Marvel treats their female characters the hell better than DC does. Warner brothers has made comic book movies based on DC characters for decades and I am STILL waiting for a female character who isn’t treated like a sexy lamp, only in the movie to get rescued by the hero, or a female lead movie which isn’t outright or borderline sexist. They finally make a Wonder Woman movie? Big freaking deal, a Wonder Woman movie should have been the first thing on the agenda directly after the first Superman. The very latest they should have made a Wonder Woman movie a decade ago, but instead they did stuff like Catwoman, which is one of the most offensive movies I have ever watched.

    I am also not ready to give DC any credit for something I haven’t seen yet. Again, their track record with diverse characters is practically non-existent even though they made movies for decades, and now they are two movies in and the only “diverse” character so far in Perry White.

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    1. well they did do supergirl in the 80s (love it!) and i agree it would have been nice to have seen a wonder woman movie earlier but seeing what they did with the tv show? no thanks. i’m fine with the animated wonder woman movie and the upcoming live action film.
      as far as perry white being the only diverse character in dc: next week we get suicide squad which is multiracial and multicultural plus it has not your token one female like marvel has done but three female leads. lets also not forget gal gadot is israeli and last i checked that was in the middle east…cant really say much about catwoman, especially when its not the REAL catwoman the movie is about. either you liked it or you hated it, to each their own.

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      1. I am pretty pessimistic when it comes to suicide squat, I have the feeling that everyone in the movie will be overshadowed by Will Smith (who is there because he is a bona-fide star) and the Joker, even Harley Quinn. And Gal Gadot might be Iraeli, but she doesn’t look that part at all. (Is there anyone who liked Catwoman? And don’t set me off on a rant about Supergirl. Arggggh!!!! Maybe the most air-headed female lead ever created…because, you know, it is more important to go to school and deal with bullies and fell in love instead of rescuing your home world after you lost the one thing which kept it alive….)

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  6. Already, that’s a heck of a lot more inclusion than Marvel’s Avengers, which is majority white male (the only actual member of color is the Falcon, and the only woman is Black Widow).

    You’re not counting War Machine?

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  7. Of course, someone could say, “Well, it’s cruelly ironic that the heroes of Suicide Squad are the evil guys, and that over half of the evil guys are people of color.” Yeah, it is cruelly ironic.

    It’s ironic, yes.
    At the same time, diversity in films can and should extend to villainous roles. This is something I’ve thought of regarding comic books. Look at the JLA, the Avengers, the FF, the X-Men…how many villains of color do they have? How many female villains do they have? Obviously, there needs to be a delicate line to walk when depicting PoC in the role of antagonist or villain, but part of being more inclusive of minority groups is granting them the same roles that white people have played: be it supporting cast member, sidekicks, lead character, anti-heroes, villains, antagonists, and more. We deserve to be portrayed in diverse roles as well. Despite my dislike for the movie Unbreakable, I look at Samuel L Jackson’s role in that movie as an important one bc it cast a black man as (essentially) a super-villain, a category that is largely exclusive to white men (imagine that-white men being the exclusive members of a club). I’d like to see more of that in movies and comic books.

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  8. I do want to point out that Suicide Squad actually reduces some of its POCs to pretty poorly-written racial stereotypes. The inclusion and diversity is great, but the execution is sorely lacking.

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  9. Erza Miller said he identified as queer not gay. As he admitted that he still feels attraction to women.

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  10. Falcon is relegated to Captain America’s buddy; I dare say he was relegated to mere “sidekick” in Captain America: Civil War, because Sam all-too-readily agrees to follow Cap into the sunset, even without fully hearing Cap’s plan or questioning Cap’s decision to become a fugitive.

    Sam Wilson aka the Falcon had already made his decision about the Sokova Accords BEFORE</b. Steve Rogers ever did. Even after Sam had made it clear that in no way he would sign the Accords, Steve was thinking about signing the document until Tony Stark said something that changed his mind. I didn't like "Captain America: Civil War" that much. But Sam simply didn't blindly follow Steve's lead in this matter. In fact, he was the one who made the decision to recruit Scott Laing aka Ant-Man.

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