Media Consumers for Entertainment Equality


On Marvel, Mandarin, and Marginalization

August 7, 2012

At ComicCon 2012, Marvel Studios announced that Sir Ben Kingsley will be playing a version of The Mandarin, Tony Stark’s traditional yellow peril arch-nemesis, in Iron Man 3. The announcement was a sudden about-turn from previous statements the Iron Man directors have made about the Fu Manchu-inspired villain.

“There are certain fears and certain strengths the character evokes that are applicable, but of course you have to completely remove any of that short sighted cultural ignorance that leads to any sort of bigotry in the storytelling. That isn’t to say those fears and shortcomings of Iron Man as relating to that character aren’t relevant…He was based in China which was then mysterious because it was Red China. Today China is mysterious in other ways because it’s Global China.”Jon Favreau, director of Iron Man and Iron Man 2 to CHUD in 2006

“You have to do The Mandarin. The problem with The Mandarin is, the way it’s depicted in the comic books, you don’t want to see that.”Jon Favreau, director of Iron Man and Iron Man 2 to MTV in 2010

“The Mandarin is a racist caricature.”Iron Man 3 director Shane Black at Long Beach ComicCon, October 2011

Kingsley’s casting has made some waves; he is a British actor of partial South Asian descent while the Mandarin was originally of Chinese descent in the comics. It’s complicated by the fact that the Chinese government is virtually co-financing and co-producing Iron 3 through DMG film group; China likely had a say in the depiction of The Mandarin in Iron Man 3. [A stamp of approval from the Chinese government doesn’t mean much given Asian Americans who live in the United States as a minority group are arguably more strongly affected by sinophobia and stereotypes than the people of China or the Chinese government. (eg. Han Chinese people living in China have access to unlimited representation of themselves in their domestic entertainment industries; Asian Americans do not.)]

Does the casting of Kingsley serve to perpetuate the stereotype that all Asian ethnic groups are interchangeable? Or does it simply cement Marvel Studios’ decision to shift the stereotypical bad guys of the comics from “yellow peril” to “Middle Eastern/South Asian terrorism”? (The first Iron Man film had the Ten Rings bad guy Raza, played by South Asian American actor Faran Tahir.) Rather than debating among ourselves about which Asian American or Asian actor should have the sad privilege to continue the legacy of the reviled Fu Manchu-esque Mandarin, or hand wringing about how Asian Americans don’t have much say in how to reinvent or salvage unforgivable stereotypes that have caused great harm to our communities, there are more pertinent questions we need to lob at Marvel.

Questions like: How did we end up with The Mandarin in a Marvel Studios movie before any Asian American lead heroes?

Or even just: Why isn’t Marvel really utilizing its pantheon of women heroes or characters of color?

Marvel Studios: A Current Lack of Diversity

The image above was created from gathering all of the significant named characters from released Marvel Studios movies as documented on the Marvel Movies wikia.

It’s pretty sad. As you can see, only 22% of the characters are women and half of them are love interests. There are over twice as many supporting characters who are men than women (and none of them function as love interests like the women do.) 84% of the characters are white.

  • 60% of the characters are white men, including all the main characters
  • 77%of the characters are men
  • 76% of the men are white
  • 81% of the characters (both genders) are white
  • All of the women are white
  • Allof the characters of color are men
  • None of the characters are women of color

Out of all the films, Thor probably does the best in introducing diverse side characters. Natalie Portman and Kat Denning’s characters pass the Bechdel test within the first five minutes, and some of the Asgardians are played by people of color including Idris Elba’s Heimdall and Tadanobu Asano’s Hogun. Four white women characters are introduced instead of the other films’ average of one or two. But even then, there’s no question that the main characters of the film are Thor and his brother Loki. (And Thor was set in New Mexico but had no Latino or Native American characters…)

Marvel is working off of decades of existing properties that for years solely focused on white men and a the demographic market of white men. So it makes sense that many of the films would have an abundance of white male characters. Beyond ratios, what doesn’t make sense is that even in the comics there is also an abundance of characters of color, etc. that they are ignoring or underutilizing. There are already five completed films where the titular character is a white man, with more to come. There are no films in the works where the titular character is a person of color or a woman.

Coming to a Theater Near You: Marvel’s Upcoming Slate of Movies

Things were looking up in 2009 when Marvel announced that it was going to adapt its teen book, Runaways, into a movie. This series featured a group of super teens featuring more girls than guys. (Contrast that to the Avengers where there was only one woman on the entire team.) It would have been the first Marvel film to have a black lead (Alex Wilder) and Asian American lead (Nico Minoru), and the first Marvel film to feature a gay character (Karolina Dean), and also the first Marvel film to feature an interracial relationship.

Then, Racebending caught wind of the casting breakdown for the Asian American character and learned from production insiders that there was a chance the Asian American character would be whitewashed. The Asian American community rallied and things looked up when Marvel committed to casting an Asian American in the lead role. But the Runaways project has since been shelved. And it’s not going to be made for the time being, if at all, based on the line up announced last weekend.

Eponis, a fan on tumblr, pokes fun at the upcoming slate of Marvel movies

At ComicCon 2012, Marvel Studios announced its next big slate of androcentric superhero movies: Iron Man 3, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Thor: The Dark World, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Ant-Man. While some male characters of color and white women characters will likely appear in these films–Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, the main characters’ love interests, etc.–the titular characters in all but one of these films are white men. (Guardians of the Galaxy is the only ensemble film, but the Guardians team is also led by a white man, NASA astronaut Peter Quill.)

Even though there are several women on the Guardians of the Galaxy team, the concept art only features one woman, Gamora.

The women left out include Mantis, Phyla-Vell and Moondragon. In the comics, Mantis is a member of the Avengers, which would bridge the two teams. She would be the first Asian superhero in a Marvel film. Phyla-Vell and Moondragon are popular with fans of Guardians of the Galaxy and would be Marvel’s first lesbian and bisexual movie superheroes, repsectively.

Marvel’s chance at adding more than just straight white women to their films…missing from the concept art. Will they play a role in the film? I hope so. Because this idea that Marvel will have lead characters who are walking trees and talking raccoons with space guns…before lead characters who are women of color or LGBTQ…is kind of astounding.

Women made up at least 40% of the audience of The Avengers, yet only one out of the six Avengers–Black Widow–was a woman. Women also made up 40% of attendees at this year’s ComicCon. Why, given the scarcity of female heroic leads in the existing Marvel films, did Marvel choose to announce the addition of several more male characters but only one new female character?

Marvel’s Response to Fan Feedback on Diversity

“If you’re a Marvel reader and truly feel we’re sexist, then why are you reading our books? Now, perhaps you’re not a Marvel reader, then if that’s the case, I’m not quite sure what you’re criticizing if you don’t read our books?”Marvel editor in chief and chief creative officer Joe Quesada, 2009, in response to a woman reader expressing concerns about sexism in Marvel comics.

For years now, Marvel fans have been advocating for more diversity in comics and films. The response has been very disappointing.

“Since our core customer has always been guys, we need to be very careful when we introduce female product so that we don’t alienate our core. What we have found through testing is that we haven’t alienated them, which gives us the OK to move forward with female product.”Paul Gitter, President of Marvel Consumer Products, in 2009, regarding a line of “female apparel and cosmetics” featuring slogans such as “My boyfriend is a super-hero” and “I heart boys.” Essentially, Marvel sought permission from male fans before catering heavily stereotypical merchandise to female fans.

In a chat afterwards, Joe told me that he’d love to make a tentpole [Marvel] movie with a female lead, but that he really doesn’t think there is an actress right now who could carry it, or a character that would work either.Ain’t it Cool News blogger Adrian Hieatt, on his conversation with Joe Quesada at the 2012 KAPOW! Comic Convention.

Yes, studio is doing better on the diversity front than DC Comics–which, frankly, missed a ton of opportunities for actors of color with The Dark Knight series and The Green Lantern movie– and many other Hollywood studios. Still, because Marvel is so successful, it is also uniquely positioned to do better than average when it comes to Hollywood diversity. I know that Marvel Studio’s sole business plan isn’t to feature characters who look like me or my friends or the people who live in my community. They have no responsibility or obligation to feature characters of color as prominently as they feature white characters. No obligation to feature women, or characters with disabilities, or LGBTQ characters as prominently as they feature characters from over-represented groups. But it doesn’t help anyone when Marvel execs shut down fan concerns about diversity.

“One of the things we have to deal with first are the icons. If we don’t do those first, other characters regardless of race or ethnicity, will fail.”Marvel chief creative officer Joe Quesada at ComicCon 2011, in response to a fan’s request for a Luke Cage movie. Because Antman and Rocket Raccoon are so iconic.

“He has a lot of the same characteristics of a Captain America: great character, good values. But it’s a little more difficult, maybe, creating [a world like Wakanda]. It’s always easier basing it here. For instance, Iron Man 3 is rooted right here in Los Angeles and New York. When you bring in other worlds, you’re always faced with those difficulties.” Louis D’Esposito, Marvel Studios co-president, July 2012, on why Marvel can’t make a movie based on the Black Panther. Because Africa is another world? And Asgard isn’t?

Whenever we write about the lack of diversity in Marvel movies we get responses from people noting the presence of Nick Fury, Heimdall, War Machine, and now Falcon, as if a few men of color–sprinkled across an entire milieu of white male heroes–can somehow represent the vast diversity of people of color. As if a few women fighters and straight women love interests–all portrayed by white actresses–can somehow reflect the vast diversity of women.

It’s just sad that Marvel has been so profitable in its movie enterprise but still doesn’t think a film about a white woman or person of color will sell. Also at ComicCon, Marvel announced their new children’s animated series, Avengers Assemble.

It’s just more of the same. One white woman. One man of color. There are more than twice as many white male characters, and all of these white guys are depicted in the forefront in this logo, with Black Widow and Falcon poking out in the back.

Marvel has opportunities to introduce diverse characters in its films; the studio just isn’t taking them. The Avengers superhero team, while heavily skewed to white male members, has also had several women members, members of color, and even women of color on the team–like Mantis! The Guardians of the Galaxy team also features several women superheroes.

When characters of color like War Machine are included, they do not cross over to other films. (When New York City was under siege in The Avengers, why didn’t anyone think to call in Rhodey?) Any story revolving around SHIELD could have easily inserted Chinese American hero Jimmy Woo, Agent of SHIELD; instead, fans were introduced to a new character, SHIELD agent Phil Coulson. While Phil Coulson proved to be a fan favorite, this new character was again portrayed by a white actor. Marvel also had the opportunity to cast a Latina actress to depict Maria Hill, which would have broken the streak of half a dozen movies with no women of color or Latino characters. It’s mind boggling that a film like The Avengers, set in the metropolitan United States, featured a ton of white guys, two women, and one black guy. The only hope for saving the world from alien invaders was a team that barely represented it.

There is a more prominent Asian Asgardian in the Marvel movies than any Asian American character, and he barely had any lines. A significant role for an Asian American hero in Marvel films would greatly mitigate the racist legacy and impact of the decision to include the Mandarin in Iron Man 3.

I’m not advocating for forced quotas, but I also think that the “source material” defense is bogus. Marvel clearly has no qualms adapting the source material during film development, including in Avengers team composition. I just wish my dollar was worth the same amount in representation from Marvel as those of my straight white male friends. The excuses are tired and outdated. It’s possible to be a True Believer and advocate for more diversity at the same time. Marvel is a studio that tells amazingly creative stories. I know Marvel can do better.

Categories: blog, Featured, History and Concepts, Runaways

About the Author

Marissa Lee is one of the co-founders of Racebending.com

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  • Charles

    Y’all are full of crap, it’s not about race it’s about acting skill and Ben Kingsley is an amazing actor and as for “the lack of diversity in Marvel” among the newer characters there are plenty of heroes/allies of non-white origin, it’s just a sign of the times, most of those story lines started in the comic books before the 80’s, Captain America #1 came out in 1941 and the movies are trying to stay relatively true to the source. Your problem is that you look for a problem of race/gender biased agenda when there isn’t one. You can’t base today’s values off of stories that of which the earliest came out in the forties.
    All the movies do is hilight a change in times, they reflect a story line that is old, times change, it isn’t hollywood being biased, it’s hollywood staying close to the original story.

    • J.L.

      So there aren’t any amazing Asian/Asian-American actors then? I think you answered you question by stating that there isn’t a race/gender based agenda then stating that movies highlight the change. Also for the heroes of non-white origin, do many of them have their own series or are the main characters in a group or are team leaders? I can tell you that half the time they’re used as supporting characters. Also, besides Captain America, most films featuring Marvel characters will have to be based in the present or future henceforth having to reflect the values we have today.

    • Using the “source material” apology is bullshit. If they really wanted to use source material, they could’ve easily used more female or poc heroes like wasp. The fact that THEY DECIDED NOT TO is not nitpicking, it’s a fact that double standard is used here

      • Anonymous

        They didn’t used Wasp because Wasp and Pyn haven’t been introduced yet. They probably want to introduce her and Hank Pym in the Ant-Man movie.

        • In the Ant-Man movie

          It’s very likely that she’ll be playing the love-interest, supporting super hero, much like the way Catwoman was portrayed in TDKR. Why can’t we have a movie headlined by a female superhero. Why Ant-Man the Movie? Why not Wasp the Movie?

    • oj

      Did you read the article?

    • Since when has Hollywood cared about staying close to the original story?

      And only in the case of the first Captain America movie is it trying to capture the essence of the past, specifically because the character’s origin is so grounded in the Second World War that it can’t be altered. (Yet the movie still could’ve featured more POC.)

      The rest of the heroes have been introduced in stories set in modern times, based on the characters as they are NOW in the books, after having evolved hundreds of times. There is no trying to ‘reflect a story that is old’. They are reflecting stories produced in the last decade.

      Not to mention, the article mentions so many females, PoC and LGBTQ individuals from the comic who existed then and existed now who could be featured in film but just aren’t for no genuine reason.

      Pardon me, but I think you’re the one who’s full of crap.

  • I think I accidentally posted my last reply just before I finished, but its still awaiting moderation. I was in the middle of saying to Charles- if you sold an American film property to be remade to a country with a largely non white population, then the remake’s cast would be entirely non white. No one would really dispute that. But America is the melting pot country that has actively treated POC actors poorly in the past, so they for those two reasons Hollywood doesn’t get cut that kind of slack.

    As for the “acting ability” thing- Chow Yun Fat has never phoned in a performance that I know of. Kingsley has. He was in the Thunderbirds movie for Christ’s sake.

  • TJ

    Not a very good analysis…and I wouldn’t bash Marvel. You seem to do this when the movies are doing well. If they weren’t doing so well, you wouldn’t be so adamant. Marvel has had the strongest history of having more diverse races as main characters that have sold well in their own series than any other company. Unlike most companies that keep their characters in stereotypes and don’t change with the times, Marvel has. You show the Mandrin from the 60s, what about now? He doesn’t even look like that.

    Marvel had also done characters who weren’t white in major movies. You seem to forget the the first successful Marvel movies was the Blade trilogy, which the main character was Black AND a Marvel character. Those movies came out before the others and set the high standard Marvel has in the other movies.

    Also, don’t look at Marvel, look at Hollywood who still believes the idea, “Minority Movies don’t bring in Majoirty Money.” There have been more movies that have strong main minority charaters (The Book of Eli comes to mind) but the images of blacks, asians, mexicans, etc stem all the way from the decade of 1910. Hard to break that mindset.

    With YouTube and video…you can make your own movies that break the idea…set a new trend for the future that way instead of this incomplete article’

    • Pinoy9

      Yes, it can be said Marvel did some strides in diversity – but it’s still very low to the point where it’s a drop in the bucket. As for Mandrin, if he doesn’t look like that, then what should he look like? Is it better for Mandrin to be a white-washed version?

      Also, the Blade trilogy was the ONLY trilogy that featured a minority male lead? AFTER that, there is nothing. To me, it feels like tokenism because it has the mindset of saying “Okay, we have that ONE black guy, lets make the rest white males.”

      And how can Hollywood follow if Marvel doesn’t LEAD? And wouldn’t Marvel do well on bashing the images of blacks, asians, mexicans back from 1910 by creating characters that are more in-depth and in MAIN roles? It’s not JUST Hollywood, Marvel has to share alot of the blame too.

      And why is it the sole responsibility of the youtube community to make minority characters? Are you saying that minority main roles will be confined to youtube? Marvel has to step up MORE and CREATE MORE!

      I question your post and its intentions.

    • Criticism is given where it’s needed. It’s not ‘bashing’ if historical and social evidence are presented. It’s not “YOU SUCK!”, it’s “Hey, what you’re doing is ethically wrong and has long-term negative effects. Please stop.” There’s a difference. A huge one, in fact.

      There’s no reason to look elsewhere when the problem is everywhere.

      Also, your ‘make your own movies!’ argument is a pretty weak one.

      ‘Don’t like the new law? Make your own Congress!’

      ‘Don’t like the manufacturer? Make your own car!’

      ‘Don’t like the insurance? Make your own health bill!’

      This argument only serves to shift blame to the victims of a bad system, rather than the system itself. Guess nobody should critique anything when they COULD just gather up millions of dollars and do everything themselves, huh? Maybe I should establish, market and fund my own movie studio next time I feel like criticizing Michael Bay or the Hunger Games’ casting call.

  • Sandra

    Damn I gotta say ditto to the guy below me, that pretty much sums it up.

  • Great article, as usual, Marissa. But one correction: James Rhodes is called War Machine, not “Warhammer”.

    Mm, and man, what I wouldn’t give for a Runaways film. Or another Vaughn product like Y: The Last Man, which although the lead is a white male, has TWO WoC main characters (Agent 355 and Dr. Allison Mann) – who are both queer, too. Marvel couldn’t make any argument for why YTLM wouldn’t sell to their “core audience”.

    • Yes, you’re right, whoops. I’d edited the article to change it to War Machine.

  • c_cuate

    Well, Marvel has made a lot of changes on their comics, I feel that they “try” to do their best, we have characters like Luke Cage leading the New Avengers, Nick Fury is now afroamerican in the 616 universe, and we have an afroamerican kid as Spider-man, they also have also homosexual heroes, sadly the most recognized heroes are white men, I think we need more time to have movies about minority characters like Black Panther, Luke Cage, Amadeus Cho, Hazmat or even Wiccan.

  • If I had a nickel for every time someone used the ‘If you don’t like it then why are you watching/reading/listening to it’ line, I’d be rich enough to fund my own diverse media. You guys can’t even be creative with your ear-plugging and nose-thumbing.

    Also, laughing forever at the ‘Wakanda is too difficult but Norse Mythology is no problem’ excuse.

  • Anonymous

    War Machine not War Hammer.

    About Avengers

    1) Not including Rhodey could have been done for a multitude of reasons, but primary I guess because the studio didn’t want to exercise one of the multiple movie deal options on Avengers and instead use it for IM3. Perlmutter runs a tight ship when it comes to budget and if there ever is an IM4 you wouldn’t have to renegotiate with most of the cast.

    2) Coulson was included because along with Fury he was a common link in all the movies. The role was only expanded when IM became a hit, Marvel no longer relied on Merril Lynch for financing and decided to make the rest of the big 3 and link them together for the Avengers. No one envisioned that the role would be expanded when IM was made.

    3) Afaik Maria Hill is not Hispanic/ Latina. Don’t know if “racebending” goes only in one direction.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t know about in comics, but Maria Hill is Latina in the Avengers cartoon; that’s where I know her from. That’s where a lot of people might recognize her from.

  • Anonymous

    The Chen Lu thing is mainly a rumor and hasn’t been confirmed.

  • Anonymous

    Wasn’t there a rumor making the rounds that Marvel/Disney was going to do an animated movie based on the Big Hero 6? Their Japanese super hero team.

    • happyappa

      2 questions: Will it be a direct-to-dvd release? and why can’t it be a live-action film with Japanese actors? It’s a step in the right direction, but I want to see it on the scale of these other movies mentioned in the article.

      I read that Stan Lee was going to do a comic about a Chinese superhero called The Annihilator, but he said it was for the Chinese government. This still disappoints me, because as Marissa Lee stated, “Han Chinese people living in China have access to unlimited
      representation of themselves in their domestic entertainment industries;
      Asian Americans do not.”

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  • Anonymous

    Phyla-Vell is probably a bit complicated since her back story is a bit confusing and they probably want to introduce Mar-Vell and the Kree first.

    Plus they probably want to introduce Mar-vell before they introduce his daughter Phyla-Vell.

    Moondragon would be easy to have in the movie though, since her father Drax is already in the film’s team.

  • Jeffer

    Morena Baccarin is a white Brazilian, and not a person of color.

  • Seriously, what is up with the people giving this comment a thumbs down? This person is obviously being sarcastic.

  • happyappa

    But we can’t just give up. We can’t ignore it, we have to fight to be represented. Just look out, if America gains the rights to Kamen Rider, it will turn into WhiteMan Rider or YellowFace Rider. Since White people “can play any character”, they’ll say they are more Asian than the Asians. Don’t forget YellowPeril enemies and token sidekicks! Yes, I am extremely bitter, and I don’t want any of my role models that I look up to (in Asian media) screwed up like every other movie or tv show remake where source material is Asian.

  • im not gonna visit a website that employs something as stupid as the bechdel test to try and prove a point, the test is moronic cuz it doesnt take into account the story setting or the situation. this, ironically, is a petty racist site.

  • crazy Mmer

    checkout Marc Zicree’s Space Command – all entirely kickstarter funded.

  • crazy MMer

    *yawn* another white guy using his white privilege to lecture the minorities. nothing new here.

    • Really? How am I wrong? Did I not make it clear that I am sympathetic and largely in agreement even if I disagree with how Marissa came to some of her conclusions?

      To boil down everything I said about how characters are chosen and how I think movies I made in a way I wish I had in my initial post instead of yammering on: During the many years X-Men was in development and many scripts, there was never a time when Storm and Jean Grey were not in the movie.

      But it is also terrible that most of the time that is not the case that there aren’t obvious choices like Storm and Jean and adaptations from a shitty industry such as the comic industry, which exists in a state of perpetual arrested development, are going to reflect that. Really, I agreed with a lot of Marissa said about the state of things, just offering “Actually, I think this is why some of those things are the way they are. But the end result still sucks, I agree.” I really like racebending, and I want to be involved in conversation because I want to educate myself about these issues and get other perspectives. And you can’t really get that by simply nodding in agreement.

      I’m no apologist for Marvel Studios; I may have used the argument about Storm and Jean, but the fact that they were in the movie just means race and gender was incidental in their inclusion because they’re popular characters.

      I admit, I can’t relate to seeing so few people in media who look like me, let alone positive depictions of such. I would like it if you gave examples of what you took issue with that I said. But I don’t think I was lecturing from a place of white privilege; I was
      talking more from the POV of someone who thinks he knows a lot about
      the process of making movies when discussing why certain characters are
      chosen- which is ironic, because you could argue that I would know even
      less about that from experience; unless you count listening to endless DVD commentaries and reading endless interviews with filmmakers.

      BTW- I googled your username to see if I should respond to you, because I couldn’t tell from one sentence if it would be worth it. I found that You Offend Me You Offend My Family blog and really enjoyed it, so thanks for that.

      • crazy MMer

        just look at your previous comment: something like 3/4 was dedicated to defending the decisions of marginalizing and benching ethnic characters.

        saying how you think something should turn out doesn’t make the reality that it’s done and there’s nary any color except white in the movies.

        • I didn’t intend it that way. The basic gist of what I was trying to say is that Marvel and DC are in a state of arrested development, clinging more fervently to the status quo than ever before in an industry known (and now mocked) for it. That’s why any given Avengers lineup at any one time will feature Cap, Thor, IM, and Hulk with the rest having some more variety. But in a comic when they can shift focus from issue to issue they can have twelve members and have more variety and give each character their time in the sun. The movies don’t have that luxury. They’re expected to keep the team small and manageable. Even as I say this, I acknowledge and find it unfortunate that Marvel Comics has not elevated enough minority characters to win the popularity contest that is inclusion in a movie.

          That said, these movies earn a ton of bank now and t

          • crazy MMer

            I’m glad you brought up the most overused excuse in haolewood: they aren’t willing to risk spending money on minorities when the market isn’t there.

            nobody blamed the white actors when John Carter flopped, but everybody was about “the concept” when “Think like a man” took over the top spot over John Carter.

            and obviously Tyler Perry is a billionaire should tell you something about black purchasing power, along with Latinos and Asians.

            and look at youtube and the nubmer of Asians on there.

            bottom line is there’s no excuses anymore.

            you can claim to be non-racist all you want, but to intentionally exclude minorities and say it’s the market is just disingenuous.

          • Oh, man, that John Carter thing you shared scratches the surface of the justifications studios and producers offer when a movie flops- they can be mind boggling, like the head of WB saying in 2007 that they were going to shelf movies with a female lead because a few had flopped or saying that Green Lantern failed because it wasn’t dark or gritty enough.

            I only hesitate to just flat out say studios are racist and that’s the problem because it doesn’t do justice to how broad and all-encompassing their stupidity can be. But I guess there’s really no other choice if they’re so uncaring about the effects. I think its time for them to stop counting on Joe Bob the Racist from Alabama’s $9.50 and move on if they think it really is simply “the market” and put their money where their mouth is and prove that they’re not afraid of movies with minority leads. Its another way to let those people know the world has left them behind instead of treating them like they’re a valued demographic. And besides, I know plenty of good ‘ol boys who love the Blade movies.

          • crazy MMer

            like I said before: if they cared more about Joe Bob than people of color by NOT INCLUDING ANY ETHNIC ACTORS and where Asia’s market is the 2nd largest one to haolewood: then I’m not going to be giving the racist studios my money for sure.

            even George Lucas has called out haolewood studios for being racist.

            there’s no excuses. I can buy that “never attribute malice to something that can be explained by stupidity” but to repeat the same old tired BS excuses means they think we’re stupid and not them.

  • Kirke

    I think it’s a mistake to assume female audience wants to see female leads. While I’m a comic geek, all of my non-fandom RL female friends only cared about hot guys. When I asked them about Black Widow, they either didn’t care about her at all or just said she was there to be an eye candy for the male audience. Some of them sounded annoyed she was even there! Interpret it as you wish but I bet none of these women would go to see a film with female leads.

    As for the lack of PoC and LGBTQ representation, that doesn’t surprise me. I’m crossing my fingers Falcon really is in CA, since he’s my favourite PoC Marvel character and I do hope Moondragon shows up in Guardians.

    • Anonymous

      Black Widow in Avengers was awesome. Before that, eh. I could agree that she was mostly being eye candy, but it was part of her cover @ stark inc.

  • That’d be fuckin’ epic

  • Some Guy

    Wow, it’s almost like white males are a MAJORITY! Go figure!

    • happyappa

      Huh? So we should ignore pocs and females? Or even better, be racist about it and do [color]face?

    • crazy MMer

      the key word that hasn’t been taught in failing US schools is PLURALITY.

  • happyappa

    “Hell, this goes further than Hollywood, and we all know how many problems that establishment has.”

    Reply to your last paragraph, you just said before that we have to create alternatives to make it go away… there are already plenty. It isn’t as easy as that, but better than giving up to “it’s never going to happen”.

  • Unknown

    Um, the Mandarin is being played by a WHITE man. And no one start with that “part Indian” one drop rule bs. He is a white man and plays white characters. You think they would ever let him play Georges Melies or Itzak Stern or even Bloodrayne’s father if he looked like Dev Patel?

    • Jump

      1st off, he’s “half” white and “half” Indian. 2nd, who r you to decide which race he is and isnt?

      i mean, if this was a case of Jessica Alba playing a mexican when she blatantly stated “i never conisidered myself mexican” even though she’s half mexican. then yeah, theres a problem here. but to my knowledge he’s never said anything like that. so untill he says otherwise, dude is indian.

      and have you ever thought him playing white characters is simply because “most” characters are white? i mean, The Rock only plays black characters so does that make him less Somoan or are their simply a shortage of Somoan to play in hollywood?

      my problem when they announced him for Mandarin was the fact that he looks as close to a chinese man as i do to an indian man. but apparently the chineese producers didnt want the character to be chinese so i cant really complain about that.

      • happyappa

        It’s weird that you said almost all of the stuff I did in my reply, and your reply wasn’t up yet or I would’ve agreed with most of it!

        “so untill he says otherwise, dude is indian.”
        But aren’t you doing the same thing as the “Unknown” commenter? We don’t know how he identifies himself.

        “but apparently the chineese producers didnt want the character to be chinese so i cant really complain about that.”

        Why did they even bother using Mandarin then? The directors of the Iron Man movies (as quoted in the article) thought the character was problematic (racist) too.

      • Unknown

        Someone who looks at the picture posted above and sees a white man looking back at me, that’s who. Also someone who doesn’t cling to the archaic one drop rule.
        “and have you ever thought him playing white characters is simply because “most” characters are white?”
        Huh? That makes absolutely no sense. Like I said, actors who actually look Indian (or any nonwhite actor really) would never be considered for the parts he plays.

        • happyappa

          “That makes absolutely no sense. Like I said, actors who actually
          look Indian (or any nonwhite actor really) would never be considered for
          the parts he plays.”

          Are you forgetting they cast a “white” man as YOU say, as a person of Chinese descent (the Mandarin)? Or do you think Mandarin looks white? lol. Do you think [color]face is an illusion too?

          • Unknown

            Yes, that’s exactly my point. This case is just as much whitewashing because a Chinese character is being played by a white man,.

    • happyappa

      Ben Kingsley is NOT White. He is half White, half Indian. I’d say he is perceived as White, not that he is White. Yes, it’s true that he mostly plays White characters, which makes more people perceive him that way. Then again, when most roles are written for White males…

      “You think they would ever let him play Georges Melies or Itzak Stern or even Bloodrayne’s father if he looked like Dev Patel?”

      And they let Kingsley play a Chinese man when he is not Chinese.

      • Unknown

        Yes he is white. Race is a social construct based on what you look like and how society sees you. Kingsley looks white and is seen by society as white.

        • happyappa

          He is perceived as a white actor, but he is not white. His biological father is Indian. I think you’re ignoring a little thing called genetics lol. And until he says how he identifies himself, I will not say he is either Indian or White.

          So I guess everything depends on how other people think of you, and not how you think of yourself — I’m pretty sure you just disrespected many biracial people (who you feel need to be categorized by your standards into one racial category) by saying that whatever they look like is the race they are.

          • Unknown

            Yes i ignored it, because it has no bearing on race. It is purely social, biology has nothing to do with it.
            Just about every African-American has white in them. Are they seen as and treated like white people?

          • happyappa

            I don’t understand you. You say that race is an illusion, and people should ignore their DNA, but then you state that “just about every African-American has white in them”. First of all, did you do a DNA test on all of them to find that out? You admit they have “white genes” in them for lack of a better term – something you can’t see, you’d need a DNA test for that.

            Then, are you saying that a white person who looks black is more black than a black person? Sounds like whitewashing or [color]face in the movies.

            We agree that some biracial actors are perceived as White. We seem to agree that whitewashing is bad, but I can’t and won’t agree with you when you say race doesn’t exist. I am done, but it was interesting hearing your viewpoints.

          • Unknown

            Race DOES exist, I have not said and will never say otherwise. But it is determined by appearance, NOT genes. Which was my point above: African-Americans (as in slave descendants; no I didn’t do a DNA test, but I do know how prevalent rape was) are not thought of as white and not treated as white because they do not look white. That they have white blood in them makes no difference.
            And same for the other way around. Someone like Rebecca Hall is white. If she were to be cast as Rosa Parks, you can bet that people would be furious. And rightly so. She does not face the discrimination that actresses who do look black regularly face.

          • happyappa

            Okay, I will comment to clarify. Race does exist, and race determined by genetics matters. You acknowledged this by stating that black people have white DNA to make a point.

          • happyappa

            See my response to eejie which continues this comment.

          • Unknown

            No, the point I made was that DNA does not matter.

          • eejie

            I think what Unknown is trying to say, which was touched at the end of their post, was that generally the color of your skin and your features are what people who don’t know you use to determine your race. I am multi-racial but when people look at me, whether I want them to or not, will see a black person. So I will experience the institutional racism that any black person faces even though I have white ancestors. An actor that looks white will generally be treated as a white person in casting. They will not experience the issues that another multi-racial person who looks more like a minority will face.
            Unknown was right when they said race is a social construct. Your lineage or background do have effects on your appearance and so often the two are conflated. But biologically white is not a race it is made up of many different feature sets and backgrounds. White is a social construct though and can apply to anyone who fits a particular description, regardless of actual biological makeup or background.
            So when a white looking actor gets a roll, people of color will not see this actor and feel they are represented because this actor does not share their experience nor have a similar appearance.

          • happyappa

            “An actor that looks white will generally be treated as a white person in
            casting. They will not experience the issues that another multi-racial
            person who looks more like a minority will face.”

            I *do* agree with that. I also think biracial or multiracial people should have a say on how they identify, and not let someone else label them. But what Unknown is saying is that race is not determined by genetics. His argument is that (as an example) a white person who looks black, is as black as an actual black person. He should also tell Henry Gates Jr. that his show is a sham. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/finding-your-roots/

            So is this how it should be?

            Henry Gates Jr: Dude, you’re not Chinese, you look Mexican to me, so you are Mexican. Let’s forget genetics!

            I swear this is my last comment on this topic! 😛

          • Unknown

            A “white person who looks black”? Who would be an example of that?
            I have no idea what you’re trying to get at with Dr. Gates.

          • Unknown

            Yes, this is very much what I’m trying to say. Thank you for articulating it better.

    • happyappa

      Sorry, I should correct myself, I think Mandarin is half Chinese. Does not change the fact that a non-Chinese is playing the character.

    • Anonymous

      Well, there goes the whole “First Black President” thing…

  • crazy MMer

    Natalie Portman is Asian like how Charlize Theron is African.

  • happyappa

    -“i’d much rather see a minority cast as the villain then the hero,”
    As a minority, I’m frankly sick of seeing minorities as villains, and I’m sick of seeing yellow peril. Unless you think that yellow peril is somehow rich and memorable?

    -“and not to nitpick or no shyt like that but i do wanna put it out there
    that Natalie Portman (my fav. actress) was born in israel and her father
    is israeli which would make her asian wouldn’t it?”
    She is perceived as a White actress. Another example is Cameron Diaz.

    -“also, Tony Stark is half latino and Thanos was played by a black dude.. ”
    Not familiar enough with Iron Man, but I read that in Ultimate Iron Man he is Antonio Stark? So I guess they decided to go with the Rich White man route… Again, not familiar, but apparently Thanos only appeared for a few seconds during the credits of the film. Are you comparing this to all of the white guys who get their own movies?

    I do agree with most of the stuff you said after “End of Defense” though

  • DJ Mister Vee

    BLADE is proof that a Marvel character of color can be a box-office hit. Seems that Marvel forgot about that one! How quickly they forget. Not to mention, he is a second-stringer in the comic-world and nowhere near as popular as the Avengers or Spider Man. But still capable of selling tickets!

    • Blade arguably started the comic book movie rennaissance. He sort of tested the waters, then X-Men came out as a film with an actual fan base and recognized title and finally Spider-Man shattered records. The rest as they say is history but I think those 3 movies more than any other restored Hollywood’s faith in superheroes as a genre when the Batman sequels ran it into the ground.

  • Cold Hard Truth

    Why are all the heroes white guys?
    Because all the popular heroes in comics are white guys!
    Why are the white heroes more popular?
    Because most comic readers are white kids!

    There’s nothing racist here… it’s supply and demand.
    Black kids just don’t buy as many comics as white kids.
    Comics with black heroes get canceled due to LACK OF SALES.

    • happyappa

      Where is the proof that black kids don’t buy as many comics as white kids? Where is the proof that white kids don’t want to read about poc superheroes?

      Anyway, I’m sure white privilege is grateful for you.

    • happyappa

      is the proof that black kids don’t buy as many comics as white kids?
      Where is the proof that white kids don’t want to read about poc

      Anyway, I’m sure white privilege is grateful for you.

      “Comics with black heroes get canceled due to LACK OF SALES.”
      So blame the lack of sales on blackness? When it’s a white hero, it’s never his/her race that is blamed for lack of sales!

      • crazy MMer

        the guys’ right: the problem is that minorities will buy and support comics/movies with white protagonists but whites won’t buy and support comics/movies with PoC characters.

        the solution then is for PoC to stop supporting media that’s only white and excludes PoC. vote with your money.

        • happyappa

          White people won’t buy and support comics/movies with poc characters? That sounds like Hollywood’s justification for not casting any pocs.

          Another generalization is saying minorities buy/support comics/movies with white protagonists. Not all do, but maybe some do because there are no alternatives.

          I do agree that people need to stop supporting it. We also have to say why we don’t support it (saw that in the Racebending comic con panel)

  • Just leaving a message for you guys to keep up the good work. Reading through the majority of comments here is difficult and a little painful. Your article was well written and well thought out. And reading Joe Quesada’s comments reminded my why I stopped purchasing Marvel comics. My blood started boiling on the first one. While I know Joss Whedon has his own issues when it comes to race, I’m hoping that his recent contract signing will at least help to keep some of the women in the upcoming Guardians movie. But I guess we’ll have to wait and see on that.

  • Kaye

    This site is interesting but really US-centric. It’s important to look at representation more globally and note solely through a US view, especially when dealing with non-US actors.

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  • Anonymous

    The character table doesn’t include the other Hulk movies, nor the Spiderman movies. The percentages wouldn’t change, but there would be more straight white men in Marvel segregationist lines, even more for the show.
    It’s sad and irritating how a company of the size of Marvel is just as narrow-minded and puerile as boys when afraid of “girl cooties”.

    • Rick

      The Spiderman movies are not included because the movie rights for that lie with Columbia Pictures and as such are not “really” Marvel films.

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  • Disagree, white privilege and the western beauty ideal is ubiquitous in Asia and in 3rd world nations throughout the globe. The premise is an inferiority/superiority complex based on race.

    • lacedupliss

      Beauty ideals have more to do with classism rather than race (or perceived race). For example, tans in Western culture are synonymous with wealth as this indicates one’s ability to spend vacations in expensive resorts or tropical holiday locations. Likewise pale skin in Asia demonstrates wealth, those with tanned skin likely spent more time labouring in the sun (peasants). Wealthy is the ideal in any nation. Western & Asian beauty ideals are very different, this has nothing to do with inferiority/superiority complexes. It sounds like you are projecting.

    • lacedupliss

      For instance; someone from South Korea may consider a pale skinned European attractive because they conform to their ideal of beauty not because they are Caucasian. But they may not view the same Caucasian with a tan attractive.
      Also, double lid surgery is not an attempt to look more Western. Double lids are not exclusive to Westerners. Neither are single lids exclusive to East Asians.
      I know Europeans who lack double eyelids. I also have Chinese friends who have do have natural double eyelids.

  • For what it’s worth, Falcon is supposed to be the main protagonist in the new Avengers toon. I never really liked the character but the fact that they’re using him as the relatable new guy through whose eyes you explore the marvel universe intrigues me.

  • LOLZ

  • YC

    Bit of a late response here, but I think a huge reason why the Mandarin isn’t going to be asian is because of the Chinese government obsession with maintaining a good image to the world. If you didn’t know, China censored part of Pirates of the Caribbean 3 because Chow yun fat’s portrayal of Chinese people was bad. And they also wanted to censor the beginning of the Dark Knight because of the evil Chinese buisness man, which led to the movie not being realsed in China at all. There would’ve been no way in hell for Marvel to film the movie in China if the main villain was going to be Chinese.

    • Eggsn Bakon

      Understood. SE Asian mentality is Asians should be good guys/gals and we did get tired of seeing Asian actors always portraying the bad guys/gals/sluts of evil warriors. However, SE Asia isn’t the only audience for the movie. And they can easily create an Asian good guy/gal to combat the Asian big bad Mandarin. There are ways around it, Hollywood just don’t want to spend time being creative…

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  • I am in full agreement with every salient point addressed in the article. So that now that’s out of the way…

    Marissa, I beg you – nay, humbly entreat you – please. Stop misusing “it’s”.

    Heil Grammar.

    • Verily, the grammar errors have been vanquished.

  • Cait

    Joe Q’s a JERK. Of course I’m not reading Marvel stuff anymore – I got sick of the boys club attitude 10 years ago and give my money to IDW instead!


  • Anonymous

    I never liked the Mandarin because he started off as a yellow peril racist caricature ala Fu Manchu, and Ming the Merciless. Today he has become modernized as the Eastern competitive threat to American business and industrialism.

    When I heard that the Mandarin’s race was going to be bent, I admit I was actually somewhat relieved. Then upon hearing about China’s input into the production, and who was playing the part I grew some new concerns.

    Ben Kingsley is of South Asian/Indo-Aryan descent. The Ten Rings terrorist organization that the Mandarin commands from Iron Man 1 was Central Asian.

    I’m afraid that the PRC will use this movie to demonize the Turkic and Muslim people of Western China such as the Uyghur, Tatar, and Hui. These are people who have been actively seeking more autonomy and independence as the state government has increased police and military activity in their regions.

    I fear that the yellow peril and sinophobia will be replaced with the brown peril and islamophobia.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, you hit the nail right on the head. Mandarin hits the zeitgeist, he’s a vaguely Middle Eastern like character who is somewhat like Osama bin Laden, he might be Arab or South Asian. But he seems to have a strange Chinese accent too. What he represents, to me, is the Orient. This vague figure, a mix of Arab, Persian, Indian and Chinese cultures to create this individual who poses a threat to American civilization.

    That’s what the Ten Rings was too, right? A multinational and multicultural terrorist group with people from seemingly all across Asia. And, Tony Stark represents the progressive, technologically advanced West, who single handedly defeats them. Isn’t there a line when Obediah says, “technology, it has always been the weakness in this part of the world”, in reference to Asia? I was shocked. Was he making a jest about colonialism? Or the stereotype of the greedy Asian and how he is always looking for something valuable?

    This pains me to write, because I am a HUGE comic book nerd…but, I call it like I see it.

  • Terry Von

    They really should have done that, actually! #missedopportunity!

  • I feel the need to point out that two of these quotes come from Joe Quesada. Quesada is not beloved by many Marvel fans that I know. He’s perpetually stuck in the 1960’s Marvel world. Dude needs to get his head out of the Silver Age.

    Also, is anyone going to comment on the handling of the Mandarin in IM3 now that almost everyone (feasibly) has seen it? I’m curious as to how the community reacted. (I really liked it. I wasn’t expecting that angle at all.)

    And I want to say, for any Marvel exec that might read this: I’ll be one of the first to throw money at a Black Panther or Luke Cage film. Both are characters that I want to see in the MCU, and they both have fanbases with money to be tapped into (and that’s all the head of Marvel cares about, in the end.) Marvel’s management is stingy and old-fashioned, but that’s just the few old guys holding the reins of the company. Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue DeConnick have certainly proved that the writers at least care about diversity in terms of representation of sexes, LGBTQ folk, and people of color. (For the record, everyone should read Future Foundation. I never thought I’d be recommending that, but seriously!)

    And while it’s a drop in the bucket, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is looking promising – they’ve cast Ming-Na Wen as a badass Black Widow replacement and have an African American civilian superhero included in the full-length promo. Yeah, it’s just a TV show, but we’ve seen how TV shows can rally fanbases (see: CBS’s Elementary) and who knows what could come of it? A Heroes for Hire show? A Runaways TV series – something Smallville-esque? (Don’t get me started on DC.) I refuse to be discouraged when it comes to the superhero genre – that world is unlimited, and I refuse to believe that the same is not true of our own world.

    (Sorry for the long essay, I just like to talk a lot. Love you all!)

    • SnapIntoASlimJim

      “Also, is anyone going to comment on the handling of the Mandarin in IM3
      now that almost everyone (feasibly) has seen it? I’m curious as to how
      the community reacted. (I really liked it. I wasn’t expecting that angle
      at all.)”

      And what was the end result of that “angle”? White people got opportunities and nonwhites got screwed over.

      There’s nothing to like about it.

      • I wouldn’t say that. That twist was a nice commentary on America’s “us versus them” fear of foreign enemies. Not only did Marvel dodge a bullet (of either bringing back the Yellow Fear character or bringing Arab Fear back into it and casting an American Industrialist as the hero) but Shane Black and the IM3 crew pointed out that we make our own enemies. True, this was not a shining example of POC getting more roles (at least Rhodes was awesome in his. Don’t lie, Don Cheadle rocked as Rhodey) but at least we didn’t get another Fu Manchu. And weren’t we all worried about that when the Mandarin was announced as the villain of the piece?

        Take what victories we can, otherwise we’ll be blinded by all our failures. It’s not healthy to wallow. It dulls our response to the real atrocities, and it kills hope. (I’m not looking for an argument.)

        P.S. I also wish that the Chinese additions to the film weren’t so pointless, otherwise that would have been great exposure for the actors cast for those bits.

        • SnapIntoASlimJim

          Marvel dodged no bullet. Marvel and Shane Black lied about the “racist caricature” of the Mandarin.

          Want to know why I know that?

          Because The Mandarin is still in the comics. He was reinvented years ago and isn’t what he was decades ago. This shows just how far they will go to whitewash a character. People have to be hip to this stuff instead of just buying anything they throw at them.

          This whole “comment on America’s war on terror” is bogus. They had two previous white villains they didn’t feel the need to do that with but they decide to pick the one major nonwhite character to play all these stupid games with. Again, whites got opportunities while nonwhites got screwed. No victory.

    • stevenapplebaum

      I actually finally saw the film a couple days ago and, while I am still processing it, I will say that the twist made for a wonderful subversion of everyone’s fears. It played on the Hollywood traditions of whitewashing, [race]face and “yellow-peril” in much the same way that Robert Downey, Jr.’s character in Tropic Thunder did (sans the third).

      That being said, I feel like they could have easily adapted the Mandarin in a way that would not be construed as a caricature. The fact that they avoided the issue altogether took guts, but removes the possibility of the character being a major player later in the series.

  • defiant1701

    Tony would bang her.

    • Ami_Angelwings

      That assumes she wants to sleep with him though.

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  • jsmith0552

    Well, we’ve seen Agents of Shield, and things look pretty much. . . same as it ever was. The one minority quota seems to be in effect, though we do get two women. Folks this situation isn’t going to change unless some totally new players come into the media field with some new ideas; thing is I don’t know if even that will work because let’s face it; the demographic this genre caters too, probably wouldn’t support the action no matter how well done it was.

    Let’s be real, these are the fanboys who gnash their teeth at the idea of having just a tad more diversity in video games. These are the guys that will tell you with a straight face that race doesn’t matter and in the next breath tell you that the representation of ethnic groups in films is on par with their percentages in the census so what do we have to whine about? These are the people who cry out that multi-culturalism is ruining the true spirit of many adaptations, yet don’t say a word when new white characters are written into a story, or minority characters are whitewashed or eliminated from stories in which they originally had major roles (Walking Dead, I’m looking squarely at you). No the studios probably have their core audience figured out pretty well.

  • Bedknobs_and_Boomsticks

    It’s all just mainstream comics BS, anyway. You are better off supporting indie creators, where diversity may be found.