In terms of structure, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is unarguably one of the most ambitious and ground-breaking undertakings in modern film. This cohesive narrative – created through multiple, inter-connected film franchises, using a selective range of comic book characters – has kick-started a renewed passion for studio blockbuster universe-building. But, as lucrative as this particular enterprise may be, it is not without its frustrations – at least, as far as fans and audiences are concerned. It may well be ambitious and ground-breaking in structure, but it is deeply non-progressive in terms of inclusivity. In that respect, one of those biggest frustrations is Captain Marvel, and the quest for the first female director of the MCU.
Let’s not sugar-coat it – Marvel has, to date, released 14 movies under the banner of its Marvel Cinematic Universe. The 15th is almost upon us, as Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2 arrives in U.S theatres on May 5th, 2017. Every single one of those films has been led by a white male character (because Black Widow is, so far, a supporting character), and directed by a white male filmmaker. With the exception of Nicole Perlman’s contribution to the script of 2014’s Guardians Of The Galaxy, they’ve all been written by men, too. So, it was to great fanfare that Marvel announced it would be making a Captain Marvel movie, and that having it directed by a woman would be a priority for the studio.
Of course, that’s great news. But, here’s where the frustration lies – it took eight years and two six-film ‘phases’ for the studio to make that announcement, and it’s taken even longer to get the project in motion. Academy Award winner Brie Larson has been cast in the titular role for over 12 months, and Marvel has yet to publicly identify a director. We know that the script comes from Academy Award nominee Meg LeFauve (Inside Out) and Marvel alum Nicole Perlman – which makes it the first MCU instalment to be written by women, in addition to being the first MCU instalment to be led by a female character. But, why does it seem to be taking so much longer than any of the previous MCU movies (with the exception of Ant-Man) to actually happen?
In terms of optics, it looks to the general public as though it is taking the studio much longer to select a female director for this one movie than it did for any of the male-made films that went before it. Now, that may or may not be the case – we really don’t know for sure what goes on in the board rooms of Marvel Studios – but the fact that the studio has chosen to delay its first female-led superhero movie until March 8th 2019 absolutely frames it that way, in the audience perception. Perhaps Marvel announced the project further ahead of time than it normally would, to satisfy the growing call for a female superhero – and the consequence of that is a longer, more publicly scrutinised wait. But that could have been avoided by simply including more female superheroes in leading roles earlier in the MCU, and not waiting for sixteen films to include directors other than white men. After all, there is absolutely no reason why that wouldn’t have been just as successful.
And so, it is from this point of immense frustration that we view the latest news to come out of the recent Marvel Open House event in California. The world’s media were invited to attend and receive updates about various Marvel projects – including those that are wrapped and waiting release (Thor: Ragnarok), those in production (Black Panther), and those on which cameras have yet to roll (Captain Marvel). While discussing his own sequel project – Ant-Man And The Wasp – director Peyton Reed let slip the fact that Marvel has indeed selected a director for the Captain Marvel film, but that he was not allowed to reveal that filmmaker’s identity.
This is a curious twist, given that the Marvel Open House would have been a great venue for such an official announcement. In practical terms, withholding the identity of a director selected for one of the most highly anticipated superhero films scheduled during the next five years would suggest that the deal has not yet been officially signed – in which case, anything could still happen. Also, since we know that a great deal of pre-production work has already gone into Captain Marvel, it is unclear to what extent the director will be jumping aboard a moving train – calling into question the extent to which they will be able to put their own stamp on the project, and the balance between studio involvement and filmmaker vision. In terms of the optics of the situation, it might also look like Marvel is waiting to make the reveal in some kind of grand PR gesture other than its own Open House event (Comic-Con, perhaps?), in the expectation of receiving praise for finally hiring a director that isn’t a man. Unfortunately for Marvel, it’s a little late for that, because it is 2017. We are still two years away from a female-led MCU movie, and all our comic-book-related, female-director-based attention is focused on DC’s Wonder Woman, which is directed by Patty Jenkins, and arrives in a matter of weeks.
Whichever director is eventually revealed to be taking the helm of Captain Marvel, the opportunity for Marvel Studios to pat itself on the back for what Hollywood apparently calls ‘diversity hiring’ efforts is long gone. While the work of directors like Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok), Ryan Coogler (Black Panther), and whichever woman is hired for this 2019 slot is long-awaited and highly anticipated, the studio’s past insistence on a white male focus is not easily forgotten. We certainly look forward to this more inclusive Phase Three of the MCU, but Marvel deserves no praise for inexplicably waiting so long.