Representation in the MCU: Phase Four
Writer: Veronica Yung
Editor: Renata Carlos Daou
Graphic Designer: Maulina Gheananta
1. Makkari - The Eternals
The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s fourth phase, which is its fourth group of movies released, has brought significant representation of deaf or hard of hearing people, with the first deaf character represented being Makkari in ‘The Eternals.’ Played by the deaf Mexican and African-American actress Lauren Ridloff, Makkari is one of the 10 Eternals sent to Earth, with superspeed powers. According to Delbert Whetter, the vice chair of RespectAbility’s board of directors, the fact that Makkari’s disability is not a part of the plot or her defining trait is a strength of the movie.
2. Hawkeye - Hawkeye
The comics have almost always portrayed Clint Barton, who is known as the archer Hawkeye, as having some form of hearing loss. ‘Hawkeye' is the first time the MCU has touched on the subject, as Clint Barton wears a hearing aid and the movie features quick flashbacks of every moment Barton has been close to a loud explosion, which resulted in his hearing loss. His late-in- life hearing loss is humorously portrayed in an interaction with Maya, a deaf Native-American character, as he signs ‘More cookie please, thank you.’ Barton is played by Jeremy Renner, who has revealed he is also hard of hearing.
As previously mentioned, Maya who is played by Alaqua Cox, is deaf, Native American, and also has a prosthetic limb. Marvel Studios has announced that Maya will have her own Disney+ show, ‘Echo,’ based on her superhero alter-ego in the comics. Her power is her ability to mimic actions and read body language, which she developed growing up in a hearing world that did not accommodate her needs.
Hawkeye’s production team included deaf consultants and interpreters who created new ASL words to refer to things in the MCU, such as characters like Black Widow.
1. Phastos - The Eternals
The Eternals featured the first explicitly gay character in the MCU. Played by Brian Tyree Henry, the movie portrays Phastos as having a family with his husband Ben, played by Haaz Sleiman, and a son. Having such a large franchise feature a same-sex family normalizes it and is a significant step in representation because it can be seen by such a large audience. Similarly to Makkari, being gay is not his defining feature or a major plot point as the movie focuses on his inventions that benefitted mankind.
2. America Chavez - Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
America Chavez is a character in the upcoming Doctor Strange movie played by the Mexican-American actress Xochitl Gomez. The character of America Chavez is a lesbian in the Young Avengers comics, but there is no confirmation on her sexuality in the MCU films. However, one of the trailers features America wearing a pride flag pin on her jacket.
3. Valkyrie - Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Endgame
Valkyrie is a character that has appeared in Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Endgame and will appear in the upcoming installment in the Thor series. The character is canonically bisexual in the comics and there was a scene cut from Ragnarok that would have explicitly confirmed this. Tessa Thompson, who plays Valkyrie, has stated in 2019 that as the new King of Asgard, ‘she needs to find her queen.’ Producer Kevin Feige has confirmed that this storyline will be followed through, although it is unclear whether it will be a major plotpoint.
East Asian Representation in Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Shang Chi, which was released in 2021, features the first predominantly Asian cast in a superhero film as well as the MCU’s first Asian superhero. The cast included large names in the American, Hong Kong and Chinese film industries including Awkwafina, Tony Leung, Fala Chen, and Michelle Yeoh. Shang Chi was played by the Chinese-Canadian actor Simi Liu and his sister, Xu Xialing, was played by the mainstream film newcomer, Meng’er Zhang.
Beyond representation in the cast, the film uses many Chinese cultural references including the idea of devotion to elders, the gender disparity in traditional Chinese families and features a lot of dialogue in mandarin.
The Eternals and upcoming films
Many of the 10 Eternals are played by BIPOC actors. The cast includes:
Gemma Chan (British-Chinese)
Salma Hayek (Mexican)
Kumail Najiani (Pakistani-American)
Don Lee (Korean American)
Bryan Tyree Henry (African-American)
Lauren Ridloff (Mexican and African-American)
Not much is known about the Captain Marvel sequel, The Marvels, but ⅔ of their leading heroes will be played by BIPOC women. Monica Rambeau (initially introduced in the first film) will be played by Teyonah Harris, who first played the role in the Disney+ series, WandaVision. Kamala Khan is played by the Pakistani-Canadian actress, Iman Vellani and will be introduced in the upcoming series, Ms. Marvel.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is the sequel to the first MCU film with a BIPOC lead, and will continue to feature a predominantly Black cast.
The Marvels and Black Widow are the only 2 films that have titular female characters. However, this is still a step up from previous phases. Black Widow (2021) finally gave us a Natasha Romanoff solo film after being the only female superhero in the MCU for almost a decade.
Although there aren’t many titular female characters, women in the ensemble are playing more significant roles. Every movie features female characters who take part in the action, and The Eternals features an even split between male and female superheroes.
Behind the Scenes
There has been a significant increase in behind the scenes representation in the MCU’s fourth phase.
Black Widow, The Eternals, and The Marvels have all been directed by women. Black Widow is directed by Cate Shortland. The Eternals is directed by Chloe Zhao, known for the critically acclaimed film, Nomadland, which gained her a Golden Globe and an Oscar for best director She was the first Asian to be given these awards. The Marvels is directed by Nia Dacosta, who is African American and is also written by Megan McDonnell, who was on the WandaVision writing team.
There’s also Thor: Love and Thunder, which was directed by Taika Waititi who is Maori and Russian Jewish. The returning directors and writers of Black Panther (Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole) are both Black.
In addition, Shang-Chi’s soundtrack album was produced by 88rising, which is the leading record label for Asian and Asian-American artists.