WARNING: The following article discusses Season 2 of Netflix and Marvel’s Jessica Jones, including major and minor spoilers.
Considering that it’s taken Marvel a decade to develop a female-fronted superhero movie, or even give audiences much in the way of camaraderie between the few female characters it does feature, Netflix’s Jessica Jones has done a great job at filling this gap in the Cinematic Marvel Universe.
The second season of the critically acclaimed series continues to build on the strong groundwork laid by the first; Krysten Ritter’s titular Jessica Jones and her adoptive sister, Rachael Taylor’s Trish Walker, continue to be central to the story and their relationship continues to be believably nuanced and rocky, eventually tested to breaking point. Themes of abuse and addiction are also deftly handled, and particularly timely is the sub-plot of ex-child star Trish’s past dealings with a predatory director.
The way Jessica Jones turns the investigative camera lens on trauma for its female characters is also particularly satisfying when compared to Black Widow’s stunted growth over in the MCU. Though a solo movie is rumored to finally be in the works for the assassin-turned-Avenger, almost ten years worth of not having a story to call her own has meant that, unlike most of the other “top tier” Avengers, we’ve only ever scratched the surface of Natasha’s deep-seated emotional scars.
Season 2 of Jessica Jones continues to also represent queer women exceptionally well (something even more lacking in the MCU) in the form of Carrie Ann Moss’ Jeri Hogarth, whose steely, alpha female characterization commands your respect but doesn’t give a damn about your sympathy. Hogarth could have all too easily been sidelined this season as an accessory to its straight female lead, but instead, the writers devoted one of the season’s most interesting subplots to her, and reinforced her status as one of the most powerfully complex and amoral women on TV right now.
It’s a shame, then, that for all Jessica Jones keeps doing right in terms of the representation of white and queer women, its feminism doesn’t extend to women of color.
It’s not that women of color are horribly represented on the show as much as we barely see enough notable ones to even properly judge how well they’re depicted at all. And, for a story set in a city as famously diverse as New York, this just doesn’t ring true at all. If we zoom out out of Jessica Jones and look at the extended Marvel cinematic and TV universes as a whole, characters of color have been consistently sidelined or pigeon-holed since the start.
Characters like Falcon, War Machine, Heimdall and Valkyrie essentially play sidekicks to the white stars, leaving Black Panther and Luke Cage to pick up all the slack in their own solo outings, which makes the pressure on those projects to succeed far greater. To borrow a phrase from Marc Bernadin, this is why successful films and TV shows that focus on characters of color and their experiences are still considered to be “unicorns” in Hollywood — illusive “anomalies” whose successes baffle an industry that still thinks it’s appropriate to make a movie about the Great Wall of China starring Matt Damon. That’s why, in terms of equal representation, seeing a woman, an African-American man and a disabled man making up three quarters of The Defenders strikes a more powerful image than that iconic 360-shot of the Avengers in their 2012 movie.
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