Blue headed Nebula, grimacing as she runs towards camera

Endgame and the Specter of Representation

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  • There’s a better version of the woman rising scene, you know the one — where all the women inexplicably join together on the battlefield to help transport the Infinity Gauntlet. It’s the kind of moment you can tell a male screenwriter wrote before stopping, looking off into the middle distance and whispering “girl power.” But then, in a lot of ways, that scene is emblematic of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole – ignoring and sidelining the work of women in the series, only to hold them up near the end going “see! We’ve got ladies here!” So maybe there is a better version of the woman rising scene, but it’s not the scene we got. Because the scene we got is the one that Marvel deserves.

    There’s been a lot of good writing on Avengers: Endgame. It’s not a surprise really. The movie will probably be the most seen of the year – a remarkable feat for a movie that practically demands you study up before sitting and watching it for nearly three hours. It is perhaps more remarkable in the wake of the absurd anti-spoiler culture that has arisen around this movie, the kind of thing that allows for exuberant posts about a pizza delivery worker getting beaten up by a coworker for spoiling Endgame. How do you write about something that you’re not permitted to talk about?

    Whatever.

    The greatest casualty of this 10 year cycle of movies is the ability to identify and criticize pandering, which is a shame since Endgame is such an excellent example of fan service being used to wash the sins of a deeply mediocre film that continues a long standing choice on the part of Marvel to ignore and marginalize its female characters.

    There are women included in this finale, of course. But their stories are so tertiary to the plot of the movie — Hawkeye’s wife is a voice at the end of the phone line, Okoye is a hologram, and in one memorable scene they wait so long to reveal that Pepper is the mother of Tony Starks’ child that I literally assumed that they were hiding the identity of said woman because it was going to be a big reveal. It’s not. It’s Pepper. Women are everywhere in this movie, they’re practically holding up the sky while the men around them fall apart. But women aren’t allowed to fall apart.

    The exception to this is Natasha Romanoff. I’ve talked before about how much I hate that they change her hair so much throughout the series, but this is perhaps the only time that they give her hair an actual story. In the initial part of the film it’s a bright, hot blonde — practically white hair. Then after carrying the rest of the world on her shoulders while the men emote, her hair is its natural red, but tipped in blonde like a woman who hasn’t had a chance to actually hit the salon in years. It’s probably the closest that we get to character development for her throughout the series, which makes sense because she senselessly dies during the course of the movie. Cause of course our initial female Avenger will have to ritualistically commit suicide so that a kind of racist white boy murderer survives.

    Speaking of racism, where the fuck is Shuri? There are a series of sequences where the smartest characters in the series — Tony Stark, Bruce Banner and Rocket Raccoon — work together to solve the time travel crisis. Naturally, Shuri isn’t there. Because even though she’s the smartest character on Earth — and this is honestly canon — she designs the Black Panther armor as a teenager, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner have advanced degrees from prestigious universities and still only managed to hit their biggest technological achievements as middle aged men in crisis — she is gone. Snapped. But what’s important to realize is that no action takes place in isolation in a film franchise — someone made the choice to have her snapped rather than actually include a female character of color in the greatest meeting of scientific minds to happen in the entire series. She was sidelined, so we could just have three dudes solve the problem.

    What does representation look like in a movie where 20+ movies had no women writers or directors? What does it look like when you can make twenty movies and just never bother to tell the stories of non-white people, or LGBT folks, or almost anyone who isn’t a middle aged white guy? In Endgame it looks like a director cameo where a character gets to mention that he’s gay to a support group leader Steve Rogers and…that’s it. That’s the first LGBT inclusion in 22 movies. That’s not good news, that’s a disaster — they shouldn’t have advertised that, they should’ve hoped that no one noticed that the first LGBT character in twenty-two movies was a blink and you miss it cameo.

    So what would it look like, if they actually gave a shit? If they were committed to LGBT representation in any form rather than just showing up and hoping to get credit for their appearance?

    Maybe it would look something like this. It’s Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, waking up from bed to a communicator sounding. She rolls to catch the call. Maybe it’s a hologram of Okoye, or just a distant voice. “Now?” she says, even as she gets up to put some pants on. A decidedly feminine voice comes from the bed, a rumpled head of hair. It would probably be some form of stunt casting here — a big name actress who hasn’t already been in the movies, maybe. A Charlize Theron, or Lucy Liu, or Janelle Monae. A ‘come back to bed” moment. But it’s not to be. Valkyrie has to smirk, fully suited up and say “Sorry babe, gotta save the world. Can I borrow the horse?” Cue scene of Valkyrie bursting out of a barn astride a Pegasus as she heads off to join the fight against Thanos.

    But it wouldn’t ultimately matter, because Marvel hasn’t committed to any real diversity behind the screen — so any diversity on the screen is just a bandaid for the problem. And I guess the only perk I found to this movie is that it got me to write the above fanfiction, my first in actual years.

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