Gonna take it right into the spoiler zone, Fellas and Femmes.
Light plot spoilers only, but we’re going to be talking a little bit about theme.
I know how sensitive you lot can get.
It isn’t really news at this point that Captain Marvel has dashed all expectations, yielding some of the highest early-returns in Hollywood herstory and history. I’ll be upfront and say that I think it was one of the better origin stories we’ve gotten so far, and one of the better Marvel Movies altogether. After this and Wonder Woman, I dearly hope that Mr. Hollywood’s changes his tune on female heroes and their ability to make a buck.
As we all know, leading up to the movie there was a very vocal backlash. Already, a particular group of people had decided that they didn’t like the film very much. Without even having seen it, they decided that it was too feminist and too ‘male exclusionary’. These men, for they were mostly men, claimed to be the true audience of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and to them, the franchise belonged to them. Thus, how dare Kevin Feige make a single movie led by a woman. How dare he go the way of Kathleen Kenedy and Patty Jenkins, and cater at all to women. Never mind that Feige also betrayed the white men for the care and attention given to Black Panther.
Because after 20-odd films layered with men leading the show, a single super-powered woman was a slap in the face.
In spite of the boycotts, the falsified fan reviews, and the petty critical reviews Captain Marvel did much better than ‘okay’ at the box office. And I don’t want to hear anything about your conspiracy theories. There is absolutely no sense in a studio lying about how well it’s own film does. Not only is that illegal, but it is awful business sense.
And if you’re complaining about a ‘liberal agenda’, maybe consider that Mr. Hollywood only ever follows the money. Disney wouldn’t bet on a liberal agenda if they hadn’t focus tested, studied, and re-tested the waters to make sure they could turn a dime on a big-budget film with that ‘agenda’.
It certainly seems that way — any of these boycotts don’t seem to be stopping these films from making bank. Which leads me to an early conclusion: these ‘fans’ don’t drive as much of the box office as they think they do. And maybe these ‘fans’ aren’t actually the ‘true fans’ that they claim to be. And, most importantly, Mr. Hollywood doesn’t have to listen to them anymore when their man-panties get in a bunch.
If you’re an honest fan of Marvel, and I mean a fan who is aware of the intellectual properties, and the creative intentions behind the content and characters, then you have no problem with Captain Marvel. In fact, exit polling of the films indicated that while the vast majority of the opening weekend for Wonder Woman were women, about 60% of the opening weekend audience for Captain Marvel were men. Fans of Marvel, those who are aware of what these characters and plots mean to the franchise, understand that Carol Danvers is a big deal.
From where I stand, I think it’s difficult to be a fan of Marvel and ignore that some of the most insanely overpowered beings in publication are women. The Phoenix, Scarlet Witch, Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers, Monica Rambeau), Thor (Jane Foster [Jane FosThor, lol]), Rogue, Storm, Hope, Mantis, Moondragon, Cassandra Nova, Selene (though we’re getting a bit ridiculously obscure). Now, Marvel may not use some of these characters as much as they should, but the publication as a whole is thrilled to set universe-shifting events around power-women.
So why aren’t the #TrueFans okay with these women?
Sure, there’s the significant component of racism, homophobia, and misogyny that has been plaguing the comic book industry for the last era of publication since the 1990s, but is that all there is to it? The way I've seen it play out on social media, if you hate attention given to women or not-white-people, you look the other way. Sure, racists may complain, but if they don’t want to see Creed, Get Out, or Straight Outta Compton, they don’t go see it. They don't rage about how dare these films exist like they did with Black Panther. Christian Groups didn’t picket Love, Simon en masse, they left the gays alone (for the most part) and went to theatres in droves to bloat the box office for their silly little Christian rock movie about the song my mom was obsessed with back in the day.
These 'fandom films' seem to receive special treatment from bigots: an entire chunk of the fandom takes up arms and goes to messages boards and harasses people who say they’re excited about the movie. Why does this kind of diversity in nerd culture flip the table? Hasn’t the express manifest of science fiction and fantasy been to allegorize tolerance by showing humans and aliens getting along? Like… all of Star Trek… and all of Lord of the Rings... and the vast majority of Stan Lee's Marvel. The messaging is getting ignored, clearly, but what’s getting in the way?
Nerd culture itself is a bit of a puzzle to think about. It’s quite a Socratic argument. Which way does it go? Do nerds flock to comic books because they are socially ostracized, or are they socially ostracized because they like comic books? Is science fiction the safety net catching the rejects, or is it the scarlet letter? I’m sure many would have different answers; and yet, rejection from the perceived hegemony and fiction fandoms seem to go hand in hand.
In fact, I would go as far to say it has turned into a badge of honour for many. As convention culture picked up, you can find no shortage of ‘casual’ fans and girls who are tested on their knowledge of the source material to see if they are actually fans or posers. Knowledge of the canonical source material is an indication of who cares the most about these characters and intellectual properties.
When you are in these kinds of insular worlds, where your whole world is your fandom, it’s only logical. When a studio announces they’re making a film of your beloved character, it is a matter of being rewarded for the time and dedication you have spent on these properties. It seems, on some level, that the movie is being made for you. So you feel you have every right to make demands for what the movie ought to be, given all the fan-fiction you have or haven’t written.
At its heart, all the backlash over Captain Marvel, and Black Panther, and The Last Jedi, and Mad Max: Fury Road are about ‘fans’ who only care about a property when it caters to exactly what they want it to be. I don’t think you can actually be a fan if you only care for 20% of it. Like: “I love cats. Except I can’t handle the scratching, and the feeding them, and the shedding, and how they sit on you, and how they need things, and the clawing, and the litterbox. But I love looking at them. Love cats.”
And that’s the apparent problem, isn’t it? Kathleen Kennedy saying ‘Star Wars is for girls now’ does seem as if your years of keeping the content alive and relevant is being exploited to reward other people for whom the property doesn’t matter as much as to you. What you don’t see, of course, is that Star Wars, and Marvel, and DC have been enjoyed by many other people than those who frequent your message boards and conventions. Comic book stores and game stores are intimidating to a lot of people — other nerds included. Not to mention girls. The introverted of us tend to worship at private altars, as it were.
I can see this as a little uncomfortable to those who feel they have had to suffer for their fandom. If these same jocks who bullied you in elementary school read just as much Spider-Man as you do, then how are you special? If everyone is a fan of Batman, then how can you gauge your identity as a Batman fan? Dear lord, if a girl can wreck you at Mortal Kombat, how can you gauge your masculinity if you can’t kick a ball really hard?
Well obviously, she’s pretty good… for a girl.
Which is why diversity meets backlash in comic books. Diversity is an explicit attempt to rope fresh faces into a fandom; the fandom becomes larger as a result. I feel that, on a subconscious level, the outrage that spurs up over diversity in fandoms is less about personal biases, and more like a members-only club opening its doors to the common folk. It’s less about demographics and more about the sheer volume of people who make the experience less… special.
Granted, this is coming from an individual of some privilege. I do believe that the driving reason is about exclusivity, I wouldn’t deny for a second that bigotry make up a significant component. The last thing I want to do is empathize with the kind of people who harass Star Wars actors (actresses) off of social media.
Instead, consider this an observation rooted in the societal pressure for an individual to be unique and special compared to everyone else. And what happens when your chosen just-be-yourself identity anchor becomes something shared by everyone. At the end of it all, the good news is — for us ‘casuals’ — that we don’t need the ‘true fans’.
In spite of all the protesting, crying, trolling, and boycotting, Captain Marvel is predicted to be the second solo-Marvel film to cross a billion dollars at the box office. Not only is that a success for the movie, but it’s also a success for our demands that Mr. Hollywood needs to start getting a little bit more inclusive.
And no matter how much of a stink the fans kick up, they’ve proven to us that they are not legion enough to swing a box office. After the success of Black Panther (for which there were also box office conspiracies) and now Captain Marvel, we’ve got a good case to go on for all kinds of super hero representation.
I, for one, am glad that comic book super heroes have become such a staple of our society. I adore that something I care about matters to other people — consider it a form of common ground. And now that we don’t have to listen to the venomous bigotry disguised as respect for the source material, I am (mostly) optimistic for the future of not only Marvel, but for the growing volume of all fandoms.