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Diversity Was the Big Winner at Marvel Studios' SDCC Panel

Marvel Studios' Phase Three was its most diverse yet, having featured such blockbusters as Black Panther and Captain Marvel. Although some in the industry doubted their ability to succeed, Black Panther earned an extraordinary $1.34 billion and Captain Marvel took in $1.12 billion, crushing myths about the bankability of diversity. However, there were many areas in which representation was lacking, as the Marvel Cinematic Universe still primarily focused on the exploits of straight white men.

At the end of the day, Marvel and Disney care about money, and making a good product is the most sustainable way to ensure financial success. However, more diverse films also allow those companies to tap into larger markets and excite audiences in new ways, which may explain why Marvel's slate for the next several years, announced at Comic-Con International in San Diego, is the studio's most diverse yet.

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More Prominent Women

The MCU has always had female characters, but their roles never really matched those of their male counterparts. Following Warner Bros.' success with Wonder Woman, a trend toward female-led films began to emerge. The MCU followed suit, with Hope van Dyne sharing the title of Ant-Man and The Wasp before Captain Marvel smashed the glass ceiling and headlined her first solo movie. Black Widow is also getting her first solo film, although, admittedly, it's after she died in Avengers: Endgame and slightly less than a decade since her cinematic debut in 2010's Iron Man 2.

Phase Four promises to continue empowering women. Natalie Portman will, for example, reprise her role as Jane Foster for Thor: Love and Thunder, the fourth installment in that franchise. However, early details about Love and Thunder indicate she's done being saved by Chris Hemsworth's god of thunder. Instead, Foster  will follow the example of her comics counterpart and take up the mantle of the Mighty Thor. Exactly how that will happen is unclear, but an empowered Jane was seemingly enough to convince Portman, who reportedly had a falling out with Marvel over letting director Patty Jenkins go from Thor: The Dark World, to reprise her role.

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Outside of Portman, Brie Larson will return as Carol Danvers for Captain Marvel 2, and an adult Monica Rambeau -- who we'll talk about more in the next section -- will play a role on WandaVision. There are also a lot of strong female characters set to appear in Eternals, meaning the MCU seems to be embracing more women than ever in major roles.

More People of Color

Going into Comic-Con 2019, it was pretty clear Phase Four and beyond's Captain America would be black, as Steve Rogers passed on his iconic shield to Sam Wilson in Avengers: Endgame. The first Black Panther movie also made so much money at the box office that a sequel was certainly going to be greenlit. However, another black hero is coming: Blade, played by Academy Award-winning actor Mahershala Ali. Marvel looks to duplicate its previous success by bringing the popular vampire hunter into the fold, and casting an actor as high-profile as Ali shows the studio isn't taking any chances with the future.

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Returning to Monica Rambeau, Marvel's introduction of the character is not something to be taken lightly. In the comics, she's held such titles as Photon, Pulsar, Spectrum and Captain Marvel. The immensely powerful character opens up a lot of avenues for the MCU to explore while also introducing a black female superhero.

There's also Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings, which will feature a cast predominantly of Asian heritage, and Eternals will feature actors of various backgrounds, showing that it's not only roles for black actors that are being expanded.

LGBTQ Characters

Valkyrie Ragnarok Thor

After years of teases that came to nothing, or nearly nothing, Marvel Studios will finally introduce more explicitly LGBTQ characters. After the release of Thor: Ragnarok, Tessa Thompson confirmed Valkyrie's bisexuality. However, her orientation never factored into any of her appearances, leaving some fans with the sense they'd been queerbaited, the act of teasing an LGBTQ character only to never actually make that orientation explicit. Of course, showing a character's orientation was not a problem that affected Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Thor, Bruce Banner, Black Widow or numerous other characters, provided they were straight, that is.

Thompson confirmed at SDCC that Valkyrie "needs to find her new queen" in Love and Thor, and Feige has since confirmed Valkyrie will be depicted as queer. Exactly how Valkyrie's sexuality is addressed remains to be seen, but it's clear from what we know about Love and Thunder right now that it's important to the story.

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However, Valkyrie won't be the only queer character, and she might not even be the first. In that same interview, Feige said a character in the upcoming Eternals will be LGBTQ, seemingly confirming old reports and rumors. Although it's not clear who that will end up being, Marvel Studios doesn't seem to be shying away from showing openly gay characters, like it did in the past.

Heroes With Disabilities

Marvel Studios does have characters with disabilities, such as James Rhodes/War Machine and, to an extent, Stephen Strange. For the most part, these characters are played by actors who do not share the disabilities of those they play.

That's set to change with Lauren Ridloff, who will play Makkari in Eternals. Ridloff is deaf, and she actually signed about the positive impact getting the role has had on her following the announcement at SDCC. She'll play the MCUs first deaf hero and is herself deaf, which is definitely a good step toward bringing in more diverse heroes.

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The strides Marvel Studios has made are astonishing, and absolutely worth getting excited about, though there's always more room to improve, and there are groups who remain un- or under-represented by this slate that absolutely deserve to see themselves in the most successful cinematic franchise ever. The comics have a rich stable of diverse characters and taking advantage of them going forward will help give people the heroes they want to see on the big-screen.

However, diversity isn't enough. After all, people claim what they want is good storytelling, and diverse characters deserve attention and care so as to ensure the films we're getting are the best they can be. These new characters need to remain fully formed participants in the events of the MCU outside of their films, and Marvel Studios needs to take care to give these diverse heroes the same level of care and attention its given Captain America, Iron Man and Thor. Part of that means bringing in diverse voices capable of providing their own unique insight, which will mean better movies.

Marvel Studios has a genuine chance to change the way Hollywood as a whole operates when it comes to showcasing diversity, as these films will open up roles for underrepresented actors in ways never before seen. Diversity might, in the end, just end up being the biggest mark the MCU leaves on pop culture, provided the studio gives these heroes the amazing stories they deserve.

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