The changing face of Marvel heroes are battling fans' high expectations — and some backlash
Representation soars as the Marvel content machine moves forward
The face of Marvel is changing.
Anthony Mackie is now the new Captain America, taking up mantle from the original Steve Rogers.
Kids are already lining up to play with the Shang-Chi action figures, the first Asian character to lead a Marvel movie, which opens this September.
And this November, Oscar-winning director Chloé Zhao will introduce The Eternals — a film about a group of immortals which will address some of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's long-standing blind spots.
WATCH | Marvel introduces new range of diverse superheroes:
When The Avengers smashed onto screens in 2012, the focus was on the familiar and all-white characters. The Eternals, starring Kumail Nanjiani, Salma Hayek, Gemma Chan, Ma Dong-seok and Brian Tyree Henry is decidedly different. The new film will also introduce Phastos, the company's first openly gay superhero, and Makkari, a deaf hero played by Lauren Ridloff, seen recently as the sign language teacher in Sound of Metal.
"When there are people from various backgrounds and genders, stories are better," Marvel president and CEO Kevin Fiege said in an interview with Variety.
WATCH | Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings trailer:
But the response to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier suggests not all fans are ready.
Julian Green, a Black film reviewer who goes by the name Straw Hat Goofy on TikTok, pointed out that while Marvel's Black Panther raised the topic of race in America, the six-part series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier goes further.
"They were actually willing to have deeper, more meaningful conversations about race, the tension between our government," he said. "[Showing] even superheroes can't get a bank loan and get racially profiled."
But when Green started to highlight the themes of race and supremacy with his 1.8 millions followers, the backlash started.
"As soon as I started bringing those things up, people started telling me, 'You're reaching dude. You're making everything about race," he said in an April 16 TikTok video.
WATCH | Julian Green discusses the backlash on TikTok:
It got to the point where Green was receiving racial slurs in his direct messages. He says it's been a rough number of weeks.
"I still love the fandom. It just really exposed a lot of toxicity that was part of the fandom," he said.
Creating heroes for changing times
The ability to question what kind of hero the world needs is what attracted Canadian director Kari Skogland to the series.
WATCH | Kari Skogland discusses what makes a hero:
She's pleased the series is provoking conversations.
"We were able to put into this racially motivated and racially charged conversation some very thoughtful notions for people to come away with and chew on … and I hope we moved the needle a little bit in terms of understanding."
The power of seeing yourself on screen
Canadian comedian Vong Show is one Marvel fan excited about what's changing.
The self-described "official spokesperson for gay super-cute Asians" says he didn't see characters he connected with when he was a young Marvel fan.
"I think my favorite superhero was Spider-Man because he has a full mask on, so it's easier to dress up," he said.
So when Show saw the first trailer for the upcoming Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, it was emotional.
"My reaction to seeing the trailer, I was crying," he said. "As a kid I internalized that I couldn't see myself. I didn't have the emotional tools to really figure out what I was feeling. "
When asked about how Marvel fared with the first wave of films beginning with Iron Man, Show doesn't hold back
"I would give them an F," he said. "The representation just wasn't there, but a lot of it was because they were trying to go with characters that were created in the Golden and Silver Age of Marvel … when it was all white writers and artists."
But now that's changing. Coming soon to Disney+ is Ms. Marvel with Canadian actor Iman Vellani as the company's first Muslim superhero. The series is inspired by the comic books by Islamic writer G. Willow Wilson and Pakistani American editor Sana Amanat.
Show says that's the difference authentic writers make.
"Ms. Marvel was created from the ground up, from somebody from that community, from a Pakistani woman. You just get so much more richness and I would say that that's what's making me most excited."
Another thing Show's looking forward to is Marvel's first openly gay hero. When he learned The Eternals will a feature a gay on-screen kiss, he started making plans.
"I'm probably going to bring my boyfriend and when they kiss ... we're going to kiss. I'm going to bring all the gays and we're going to have this shared kiss moment at the theatre."
And Marvel is not alone, Black author, comic writer and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates is reported to be working on a new Superman movie with producer J.J. Abrams. Is the fandom ready for a Black Superman movie?
Film reviewer Julian Green says it all comes down to great stories.
Now it's his three-year-old daughter who pretends to save the day, thanks to movies such as Black Panther and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
"There's such a power in seeing someone that represents you on that screen because it makes you believe that you can be there as well," he said. "I feel like anyone who's trying to condemn that needs to take a deeper look and have some self-reflection."
WATCH | Julian Green discusses the future of Marvel: