“I don’t understand how you could think that a certain type of person isn’t allowed to be a superhero.” —Brie Larson
I’ll never forget how powerful I felt walking out of the theater after watching Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman. Though I was already a longtime fan of heroes like Iron Man and Thor, watching other women save the world made me feel like I could do anything.
As a huge superhero movie fan, I want everyone to have the chance to feel the same way — yet, even though Marvel and DC are two of the biggest film franchises on the planet, a lot of their fans don’t get to see themselves in the characters or casting choices.
Here are 24 times Marvel and DC actors and directors called for better representation on screen and behind the camera:
Jessica Alba, who played Invisible Woman in Fantastic Four (2005), pointed out that she was “one of the few” non-white superheroes “back in the day,” but the MCU is “still quite Caucasian.”
She told Glamour UK, “[Fantastic Four] was before Marvel was sold to Disney…but it’s still quite…more of the same.”
When Ray Fisher joined Justice League as Cyborg — DC’s first Black superhero onscreen — he “became a partner in creating [the character]” — but that didn’t seem to last.
He told the Hollywood Reporter that after director Zack Snyder was replaced with Joss Whedon, he felt as if it became his responsibility “to explain some of the most basic points of what would be offensive to the Black community.”
Cyborg’s backstory, which showed “that his parents are two genius-level Black people,” was cut from the revised script. The actor alleged that, when he tried to offer notes, the new director cut him off because he didn’t “like taking notes from anybody — not even Robert Downey Jr.”
Ray also alleged that a producer told him he should play the character more like “Quasimodo” and less like “Frankenstein.” He said, “It was like he was assuming how Black people would respond rather than taking the advice from the only Black person — as far as I know — with any kind of creative impact on the project.”
WarnerMedia told the Hollywood Reporter that an investigation into the allegations that the actor and several others made led to “remedial action,” but their policy “is to not publicly disclose the findings or the results of an investigation.”
Championing more LGBTQ+ representation in the MCU, Tessa Thompson pitched the idea for a comics-based scene that would confirm Valkyrie’s bisexuality onscreen in Thor: Ragnarok. It was filmed but ultimately cut.
She told Rolling Stone, “There were things that we talked about that we allowed to exist in the characterization, but maybe not be explicit in the film. … There’s a great shot of me falling back from one of my sisters who’s just been slain. In my mind, that was my lover.”
However, Tessa remains focused on bringing better LGBTQ+ representation to Marvel. She told Variety, “The truth is these movies travel globally in such huge ways, and if you can represent people that are of color, if you can represent people with disabilities, if you can represent the LGBTQIA community inside of these films, it’s a pretty big deal.”
She continued, “I think it’s really important for everybody, but for young people especially, to be able to show up to those movies and see projections of themselves. … So I’m really excited that we’re able to continue to push the bounds of that and that I’m able to do that with Valkyrie. Because there’s so many cool queer characters in the comic books, and they should have a place on screen.”
While discussing LGBTQ+ representation in recent Marvel films, Thor: Love and Thunder director Taika Waititi said that “we need to keep bringing the subject up” because “it’s gonna be nice when one day we don’t have to say: ‘Oh, tell me about that scene where those two men held hands!'”
He also said that he regrets cutting the scene in Ragnarok that confirmed Valkyrie’s sexuality. He told iNews, “We should have just had [Valkyrie’s love interest] come out and kiss [Valkyrie] and then leave.”
He continued, “When you do Black Panther, you have a Black director, Black producer, a Black costume designer, a Black stunt choreographer. … And I’m like, that’s more racist than anything else.”
“If you only can hire the Black people for the Black movie, are you saying they’re not good enough when you have a mostly white cast?” he said.
However, now that he’s reached leading man status in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and the upcoming Captain America: New World Order, his “big push with Marvel is hire the best person for the job.”
He said, “Even if it means we’re going to get the best two women, we’re going to get the best two men. Fine. I’m cool with those numbers for the next 10 years. Because it starts to build a new generation of people who can put something on their résumé to get them other jobs. If we’ve got to divvy out as a percentage, divvy it out. And that’s something as leading men that we can go in and push for.”
Sharing the article containing Anthony’s comments, Gabriel Luna — who played Ghost Rider on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. — tweeted, “To think we were right on the launchpad with Ghost Rider and still couldn’t get it made.”
He continued, “An opportunity lost to have a Mexican-American lead in a world where films with Latino leads make up less than 3%.”
Tom Hiddleston called the Loki scene in which his titular character confirms his bisexuality a “small step” but said “there’s further to go.”
He told the Guardian, “I also hope Loki coming out as bisexual was meaningful to people who spotted it…it was definitely important to all of us.”
Lauren Ridloff, whose debut as Makkari in Marvel’s Eternals made her the first deaf superhero, is glad that “[her] two boys, who are also deaf, will grow up in a world where there are superheroes who are deaf” — but she faced a lot of logistical issues behind the scenes.
She told the New York Times, “When people learn they’ll be working with deaf actors, they think, ‘She needs an interpreter,’ but they often don’t realize they need to think in terms of resources and support, too.”
She also said, “I got to set believing that I had to show how easy I am to work with as a deaf person. I was concerned about seeming too fragile. But after working with others, I realized everyone has their own unique set of challenges, and that I need to think about what I need to deliver as an actor, and don’t apologize for it.”
She continued, “Hollywood is finally figuring out why it’s so important to have representation, and now it’s more about how. That’s the part that’s more tricky. We need to have deaf writers and creative talent involved in the process of planning film projects from the beginning.”
“When you have deaf experts within and on the stage, from the crew to makeup artists, it feels like that naturally leads to more authentic representation onscreen,” she said.
Natalie Portman reportedly only agreed to be in Thor: The Dark World because having Patty Jenkins in the director’s chair would open the door for women directors to take on similar projects.
However, when Patty decided to part ways with Marvel, Natalie was still contractually obligated to fulfill her role as Dr. Jane Foster.
The director told Vanity Fair, “I did not believe that I could make a good movie out of the script that they were planning on doing. I think it would have been a huge deal — it would have looked like it was my fault. It would’ve looked like, ‘Oh my God, this woman directed it, and she missed all these things.'”
However, Natalie returned for Thor: Love and Thunder, in which her character transformed into Mighty Thor — a kind of representation she said is important for children of all genders.
She told The Kelly Clarkson Show, “I think people usually say how great it is for the girls, but it’s really important for the boys. … For boys to get to see women in those kinds of characters and in those kinds of personalities, it just expands opportunity for how we all see each other.”
Kit Harington called out the lack of LGBTQ+ representation in Marvel movies back in 2018. He told Variety, “There’s a big problem with masculinity and homosexuality that they can’t somehow go hand in hand. … That we can’t have someone in a Marvel movie who’s gay in real life and plays some superhero. I mean, when is that going to happen?”
Then, in 2021, he made his MCU debut in Eternals alongside Brian Tyree Henry’s Phastos — the first openly gay Marvel superhero — which Kit said was a “big reason” he joined the film in the first place.
He told Out, “I’m incredibly proud and happy. I’ve said before, I don’t know why we haven’t got LGBTQ+ representation in superhero movies, and in this one we do, and that’s just so important. I think it is such a moment, and all I can hope is that this is the start of many, many more.”
For Brian Tyree Henry, the character of Phastos was even more meaningful. He told Variety, “I remember when I was coming to this project that I, Brian, had kind of lost faith in humanity, just looking at all the things that we’ve been through and just what the images of Black men were and how we’re being portrayed and how the power was taken from us, the lack of power or feeling powerful…what I really loved the most about Phastos is that through all of that — him being eternal, him never being able to die — he still chose love.”
He continued, “He still decided to have a family, even though he may have to watch them perish. He still tried to find a way to bring heart and love to everything he did, even though his genius was used against him. It just really resonated a lot with how I felt my place in society was. How we can be kings and queens, and at the same time, they’ll take our pedestal and take our superpowers from us like that. So what I love the most about Eternals is that Chloé [Zhao] and [producer] Nate [Moore] just re-instilled that power back in me again.”
He also praised director Chloé Zhao for not giving him weight loss requirements for the role. He said, “To be a Black man, to have someone look at you and say, ‘We want you exactly the way you are,’ is unlike anything that I’ve ever felt. It just triggered me to be an 11-year-old kid who is watching these superhero movies, and not ever seeing anyone like me reflected.”
“And how I would take these posters and put them in my locker, and just hope that one day there will be somebody representing me, in the way you know that I am. And I truly believe that that moment started when I sat down with Chloé. It’s unlike any feeling I’ve ever experienced,” he said.
When Gemma Chan auditioned for the role of Minn-Erva in Captain Marvel, she “didn’t think that they would necessarily want [her] to be in it” because of Hollywood’s long history of predominantly casting white actors in roles where a character’s race or ethnicity isn’t specified.
She told BuzzFeed News, “I think it’s something I have to work on and challenge within myself. I think you internalize a lot of that, in various different ways. Whether we’re talking about possible parts, but even just believing whatever it is. That’s why representation is so important, to challenge your own ideas about what you think you can do.”
Gemma went on to star as Sersi in Eternals.
Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios, expressed his regret over whitewashing the Ancient One by casting Tilda Swinton in the Doctor Strange role and said that the backlash was a “wake-up call.”
He told Men’s Health, “We thought we were being so smart, and so cutting-edge. We’re not going to do the cliché of the wizened, old, wise Asian man. But it was a wake-up call to say, ‘Well, wait a minute, is there any other way to figure it out? Is there any other way to both not fall into the cliché and cast an Asian actor?’ And the answer to that, of course, is yes.”
Moon Knight director Mohamed Diab criticized DC’s Black Adam for the way it handled its Middle Eastern setting.
He added, “But it’s not a full mistake since it’s based on an iteration of the comics that doesn’t mention Egypt.”
The director prioritized the representation of Egyptian people behind the scenes on Moon Knight, which was largely set in Egypt. He said, “I wanted to showcase Egyptian talents as much as I could. Every culture should be represented by its people, so I hired actors, an editor, a costume designer, an art director, and a composer who are all Egyptian.”
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse actor Kimiko Glenn — who voiced Peni Parker — said it was “about time” for a superhero movie that took an “organic” approach to creating a diverse cast.
She told BuzzFeed News’ AM to DM, “There are some projects that try and include people, and you know that they’re trying, but [Into the Spider-Verse] felt very organic and you just kind of fall into the story and you realize that you’re connecting with these characters on a deeper level.”
Amandla Stenberg was up for the role of Shuri in Black Panther, but they decided to walk away from the audition process. They told CBC Arts, “It wasn’t appropriate for me to go after that role. Black Panther is one of the only films that we have that has darker-skinned representation. That’s what was so beautiful about it.”
They also said, “I have no regrets. I recognize 100 percent that there are spaces that I should not take up.”
Of course, good representation isn’t a numbers game; it’s about having well-rounded, well-developed characters. Scarlett Johansson highlighted why this is important when she described the way Iron Man 2 — her MCU debut film — treated Black Widow like “a piece of ass.”
She told Collider, “Obviously, 10 years have passed, and things have happened, and I have a much different, more evolved understanding of myself. … All of that is related to that move away from the kind of hyper-sexualization of this character.”
She continued, “Now people, young girls, are getting a much more positive message, but it’s been incredible to be a part of that shift and be able to come out the other side and be a part of that old story, but also progress. Evolve. I think it’s pretty cool.”
After winning her Oscar, Halle Berry took the lead in Catwoman because she thought it make a positive impact on the kind of roles other Black actors were offered — but soon enough, “the story didn’t feel quite right.”
She told Variety, “I remember having that argument: ‘Why can’t Catwoman save the world like Batman and Superman do? Why is she just saving women from a face cream that cracks their face off?'”
“But I was just the actor for hire. I wasn’t the director. I had very little say over that,” she said.
Addressing the importance of having Asian and Asian American representation in both the cast and crew for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Simu Liu highlighted how critical the open communication among everyone involved with the production was in shaping the story.
He told NBC, “There’s no need to panic or pretend like you know the answer when you don’t, because you’ve got such a wonderful cast of actors and actresses and also incredibly talented directors and screenwriters that are all able to contribute, if you would just give them the opportunity, and I think on this movie we absolutely got that opportunity.”
He also said, “To have the humility, to kind of defer and to say, ‘We don’t necessarily know the answer, and we need you to help us,’ I think that was so critically important in us being able to provide our thoughts, our perspectives on the story.”
For example, Meng’er Zhang‘s character Xialing was supposed to have “a little red color extension underneath [her] natural black hair,” but after the actor read an article about “how Asian female captures in Hollywood films always have some color in their hair to show that they’re rebels, they can fight, they’re tough,” she “didn’t want [her] character to follow that trend.”
She told Geek Culture, “I called our director Destin [Daniel Cretton], asked him if we could take that out, and the second day, we took that out.”
“The whole production was so supportive, and they really care. Asian representation is so important, and I take it as a responsibility seriously,” she said.
In the past, however, Marvel altered a character to take the movie in a less diverse direction. An early draft of the Iron Man 3 script included a female villain, but “Marvel corporate” forced director Shane Black to rewrite the script with a male villain.
He told Uproxx, “We had finished the script, and we were given a no-holds-barred memo saying that cannot stand and we’ve changed our minds because, after consulting, we’ve decided that toy won’t sell as well if it’s a female.”
He continued, “In the earlier draft, the woman was essentially Killian — and they didn’t want a female Killian, they wanted a male Killian. I liked the idea, like Remington Steele, you think it’s the man, but at the end, the woman has been running the whole show. They just said, ‘no way.'”
And finally, Brie Larson said that, while she’s happy to play a major role in the push for more diverse roles, she thinks the MCU still has a long way to go — especially when it comes to the representation of LGBTQ+ characters.
She told Variety’s The Big Ticket podcast, “I don’t understand how you could think that a certain type of person isn’t allowed to be a superhero. So to me it’s like, we gotta move faster. But I’m always wanting to move faster with this stuff.”
She continued, “It wasn’t enough for me to just look strong on a poster. … I feel like I can’t at the end of the day go to sleep at night if I didn’t do everything that I possibly could [to empower others].”