毫无疑问，漫威一直对DC《神奇女侠》的成功耿耿于怀，所以在2018年3月也开始筹备第一部女主电影。在《复仇者联盟：无限战争》结尾透露了惊奇队长在漫威宇宙中的关键作用，惊奇队长将由Brie Larson饰演。2019年，我们还能看到由Sophie Turner and Jennifer Lawrence主演的X战警衍生片《Dark Phoenix》。
And poor old Scarlett Johansson, who has soldiered away as Marvel’s Smurfette for almost a decade, will finally get her solo Black Widow movie.
DC, meanwhile, has a Wonder Woman sequel in the works, plus Cyborg, its African American superhero, and the cumbersomely titled Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). The latter is an all-female superhero team-up, including non-white characters played by Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Rosie Perez. Well done, DC – but here comes Marvel announcing plans for its own all-female spin-off to Into the Spider-Verse. The studio is also working on Black Panther 2. And just this week, Marvel revealed plans for the first standalone Asian-led superhero movie, centred on its martial arts master Shang-Chi.
Every week, it seems, one or other of the comic-book empires announces a new, diversity-championing project: Asian-American director Chloé Zhao has been hired to direct Marvel’s next generation of superheroes, the Eternals; Ava DuVernay is on board to do likewise for DC’s New Gods. Meanwhile, Marvel’s original old, white guys – Iron Man, Thor and Captain America – are preparing for retirement, and DC’s Batman and Superman movies seem to be on the back burner.
The benefits of having a culturally inclusive pantheon of superheroes barely need pointing out, but perhaps Marvel mastermind Kevin Feige put it best. “Black Panther’s not real, but he represents real hopes, and real dreams, and real representation,” he said. “A lot of people said: ‘Wait a minute, this is a hero that looks like me.’ And the importance of that really can’t be understated.”
But let’s not forget that the movie business is a business. Marvel had already made 17 movies in the past decade with white, male leads before Black Panther, honouring a Hollywood tradition that extends back to Christopher Reeve’s Superman in 1978. “As much as it would be lovely to think that both companies are really committed to diversity, if Marvel had lost money on Black Panther, we would not be seeing a Shang-Chi movie,” says Graeme McMillan, who writes on the superhero genre for the Hollywood Reporter. “If DC’s Wonder Woman had tanked, we probably would not be seeing Captain Marvel. The fact that they are successful is what means we are seeing more of this.”
It hasn’t always gone smoothly: Marvel tied itself in knots with Doctor Strange, where Tilda Swinton was cast to portray the Ancient One, a mentor character written in the comics as an Asian man. Marvel cast Swinton to avoid the stereotype of the “wise old Asian”, it argued. In doing so, it brought accusations of “whitewashing” – depriving an actor of colour of an opportunity by replacing their character with a white one. Similar problems arose with its TV superhero Iron Fist – a white American who was better at kung-fu than the Asians.
But as well as changing the culture, these movies are materially changing an industry whose white male dominance is even more pronounced off the screen than on it. It is hardly a coincidence that Black Panther was directed by a black person (Ryan Coogler) and Wonder Woman by a woman (Patty Jenkins). Studios are aware that their commitments to diversity will ring false unless they are matched by equivalent personnel changes. Captain Marvel is co-written and directed by husband-and-wife team Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, the latter of whom becomes the first female director of a Marvel movie. DC’s Birds of Prey is to be directed by Chinese-American Cathy Yan; its writer is Anglo-Taiwanese Christina Hodson. After that, Hodson’s next job is writing DC/Warners’ proposed Batgirl movie. Warners originally hired Joss Whedon – director of the first two Avengers movies and all-round pop-culture supremo – to write Batgirl, but he departed the project this February confessing: “It took me months to realise I really didn’t have a story.” Maybe his being a 50-year-old man had something to do with that.
Don’t expect this new, inclusive superhero universe to unfold without a hitch, though. For one thing, there is always the possibility that so many new films will lead to superhero fatigue. There is also the fact that other well-established, fan-friendly franchises, such as Star Wars and Doctor Who, have attracted ugly criticism for incorporating female or minority characters or “politically correct” stories. The comics world is no different. Following in the footsteps of Miles Morales, Marvel and DC have diversified their comic book lines, introducing female successors to Iron Man and Thor, a black Captain America, a gay Green Lantern and a female Muslim superhero (Ms Marvel).
A backlash has emerged, including a “comicsgate” movement that has protested against “leftwing dominance” and “oppressive social justice warrior harassment”. Some, including Marvel’s own executives, have even blamed falling comic book sales on too much diversity. This theory is incorrect – two of the biggest-selling titles last year were Black Panther and Ms Marvel – but it does suggest a conflict between diehard, conservative-minded fans and general movie audiences. If so, it is this latter contingent, who are global and diverse themselves, that now control the fate of superhero movies. And they will only grow more vocal the more they see themselves represented on screen. Whoever wins the diversity arms race, the culture war has already been won.