Why Representation in Marvel’s TV Shows Makes them Better than their Movies
Marvel has expanded its franchise a lot since the debut of “Iron Man” in 2008. It now has 14 films and 6 TV shows all based in the same cinematic universe, with many more coming. While the movies get a lot of praise and attention, I believe Marvel’s best work is actually being done on their six TV shows.
So far, all of Marvel’s films have been led by typical white, hegemonic male heroes. Hegemonic masculinity is the dominant form of masculinity and is contracted in relation to subordinated masculinities and women. Even when they do occasionally have a woman in the movies who exists as more than just the love interest to the main hero, she still comes in second to her male counterparts. Black Widow has been part of the movies since “Iron Man 2” and is a part of the original Avengers team, and still she has yet to star in her own movie. It does a great job at highlighting the structural gender inequality in our society, but I do not think that is intentional.
However, three of Marvel’s six TV shows are led by women. Peggy Carter leads “Agent Carter”, Jessica Jones is the titular character of her show, and Daisy Johnson is the standout and superhero on her team ensemble show. Each of them tells a unique story about very different women, which does not revolve around a male love interest, while also getting to kick ass.
Of the three remaining shows featuring male leads, “Luke Cage” is led by a Black man and “Daredevil” is led by a blind man. These are different heroes and stories than the movie universe is telling. The only show which features a typical hegemonic hero is “Iron Fist”, which has received terrible reviews by both fans and critics.
ABC’s “Marvel’s Agents of Shield” is telling some of the very best stories in the Marvel Cinematic Universe right now. One of the arcs they have been telling is the story of the Inhumans, a group which is an analogy for oppressed minorities and a metaphor for alienation much like the X-Men.
The X-Men movies which are supposed to show the oppression various marginalized groups face over things they cannot control, it suffers from heteronormativity and an almost entirely white cast. Unlike the X-men, however, the characters telling the stories of the Inhumans are largely played by members of marginalized groups in society, not just straight white people. This gives the story being told more meaning and does not appropriate the experiences of marginalized groups.
In my video essay, I go into more detail and show you some of the ways in which the Marvel TV shows are succeeding where the movies are failing.