Women of Color in Superhero Films

Have you heard the exciting news? Female superheroes are finally getting their opportunity to shine. After scores of films centered on white, male superheroes, Marvel has decided it’s time to come out with a female-lead super hero movie! It will feature Ms. Marvel, to be called Captain Marvel in the film (a title I personally commend). Female superheroes have proved their success; The Netflix original series, Jessica Jones, was fantastic and wildly popular when it came out in the winter of 2015 and DC Comics Wonder Woman is getting her own live-action film. Now, Marvel is stepping up it’s game. This is great news, but the superhero world still has far to go. 

I am frustrated. I love comic books. I love super-hero stories. They aren’t just colorful pages full of action-packed scenes; comics make thought-provoking political and social commentary through wild scenarios (like Marvel’s Civil War, and not the movie which I haven’t seen, but the actual comic book). Nothing portrays the wonderful diversity and lessons that comics have to offer like the new Ms. Marvel series, by the wonderfully talented G. Willow Wilson, following Kamala Khan, a Muslim, Pakastani-American teen from New Jersey.

I stumbled upon the first installment of Marvel’s Ms. Marvel comic while sifting through some free books in my friend’s lobby. I immediately took it. The selling point? Right on the cover, a direct quote from the trusted Comics Alliance, saying that it just might be the “most important comic book of 2014.” At this point, it was already 2016 and I was like, “How did I miss this? Girl, step up your game!”


Nothing makes me happier than super-hero books, TV shows, and movies centered on a woman (or multiple women), especially if she’s a woman of color. The fact that Kamala Khan is a first-generation, Muslim teenage girl (all odds working against her in the United States) is awesome. What’s even more awesome is that Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal was the top-selling graphic novel of October 2014 (the month it came out).  It was also ranked as number two on the New York Times Best Sellers list for paperback graphic novels and won the Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity. Wilson and Kamala Khan killed it in the comic-graphic-novel world. 

While I am glad the Marvel-movie crew is finally coming to their senses, I am disappointed that they are using the original Ms. Marvel character: the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Carol Danvers. Despite the immense success of Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel, Marvel is playing it safe by choosing Carol Danvers as their first female-based super-hero film. There are rumors that the talented Brie Larson may appear as Ms. Marvel, and while she wholly deserves such greatness as starring as a Marvel superhero, would it be too much to have the character be diverse and a woman? 

Carol Danvers. Image courtesy of Comic Vine.

Women and people of color have always been in the background of their white, male, superhero counterparts. Think about The Avengers or X-Men. The Avengers has the Black Widow as their token female superhero, while the black superheroes of The Avengers- Falcon, War Machine, and Black Panther- have been subject to more and more screen time. Shall I point out that they’re all men?

In all of the X-Men films, there is at least one non-white superhero and scores of women (Storm is black and a woman, woohoo!). Mystique and Jean Grey/Pheonix, who is arguably one of the most powerful mutants, both get a lot of screen time. But at the center of these films are white men. Either Professor X, Magneto, or Wolverine (or all of them) in each of the X-Men movies. And in The Avengers, Captain America, the Hulk, and Iron Man basically run the show. The women and heroes of color are there, but they aren’t at the center, especially not the female women of color. 

The reality of female superhero outfits: Kamala has the power to shape-shift. In the beginning, she chooses to look like Carol Danvers but realizes it’s not as great as it seems. Image from ‘Ms. Marvel Vol. 1’. 

I will end with an assertion as to why I love Kamala Khan so much. She is so real. She is like the Spider-Man of teenage girls: confused by her hormones and her powers, proud and embarrassed of her family, and struggling between right and wrong. She wants to be someone else but also loves herself and her family. She is like me, and likely you as well.

Kamala is proud, powerful, and sassy. Image from ‘Ms. Marvel Vol. 1’.

Latonya Pennington of The Mary Sue wrote an on point article about Kamala Khan, “Why Other Superhero Comics Should be Like Kamala Khan’s Ms. Marvel”. In it, she commented on the greatness of Willow’s work:

“…you have a story about a Pakastani-American teenager learning to deal with her superpowers and issues like assimilation, female agency, and gentrification. These stories are entertaining and thought-provoking, making you see yourself and the world differently. This diversity reflects reality and is something other superhero comics should aspire to.” 

And with that I will say, superhero movies should also aspire to such realism and diversity. Kamala Khan, the girl who has proved her popularity, should be the star of next great Marvel film!

Featured image courtesy of the AV Club.