Warning: Don’t read ahead if you want to avoid spoilers!
Just two weeks after its theatrical release on April 26, Avengers: Endgame surpassed Titanic to become the second-highest grossing movie of all time, raking in $2.27 billion in that short timespan. However, that impressive number has been accompanied by plenty of criticism about everything from the feasibility of the plot’s central time heist theme to the ultimate fate of some of the film’s main characters.
A large amount of feedback is centered on the role of women in the film and the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in general. Specifically, many critics have expressed disappointment in what they feel is a lack of inclusivity towards the women of Endgame. Some claim that a particular moment in the film’s climactic final battle, where a number of female heroes assemble to support Captain Marvel, feels forced and even a little trite. The scene, in which the powerful Captain Marvel must get across an expansive battlefield, brings together most of the women featured in the MCU — many of whom have few to no lines in the film.
Everyone from Hope Van Dyne and Valkyrie to Okoye and Nebula backed up Captain Marvel in that epic scene, yet in many fans’ eyes, the scene itself isn’t enough to promote female empowerment. On the other hand, one could argue that, without the female Avengers, the mission to recover the infinity stones and reverse Thanos’ snap would have ultimately failed.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, people have become reluctant to discuss issues related to gender inequality, so hearing discourse on the issue of representation in this landmark movie is positive. But is the feminist-centered criticism of that scene, and Endgame as a whole, justified? Let’s take a look at both sides of the debate:
The Avengers aren’t really a diverse bunch as a whole, continuing the trend of poor minority representation in the entertainment industry. The team is primarily comprised of white, heterosexual males, most notably Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor.
Until Nebula became part of the team in Endgame, the Avengers had only two female members: Black Widow and Scarlet Witch, and one of them disappeared with half of the planet’s population at the culmination of Avengers: Infinity War. Further, there are no POC within the team, although the Avengers sometimes receive support from their African-American counterparts like Falcon and Black Panther.
The lack of inclusivity is problematic, but Endgame is just a small part of the overall minority representation issue. In fact, the film’s lack of strong females in positions of power mirrors that of society as a whole. While women are just as likely as men to seek high-level positions, they are overwhelmingly passed over in favor of males. In the MCU, it seems that more men have superpowers than women, which could account for its female-to-male disparity.
Black Widow, in fact, doesn’t even have superpowers; she gained her ability to fight from Shield, an organization that trained her as an assassin. That doesn’t stop her from holding her own alongside her male teammates or taking over the leadership of the Avengers while Iron Man was focused on his family. One of the most refreshing aspects of Black Widow’s character is that she doesn’t see her gender as a hindrance or view saving the world as a job reserved solely for males.
Her viewpoint counters that of women in a variety of industries that have traditionally been male-dominated, such as STEM fields and cybersecurity. Within cybersecurity, researchers have found that women tend to shy away from pursuing a career in the field because of the notion that some careers are specifically geared toward a specific gender. Imagine if Black Widow had felt the same and chose not to join the team simply because she was female. One could argue that the events of Endgame would never have occurred in that case, as Black Widow worked tirelessly to hold the team together after Thanos’ snap while most of her teammates fell apart.
Her role as de facto leader of the Avengers, however, was short-lived. Once Iron Man returned from retirement and the time heist plan was devised, Black Widow stepped back and allowed men to take the lead, essentially leaving the MCU gender gap firmly in place. Her overall actions, however, may serve to encourage young female viewers to take on positions of power and enter male-dominated fields in greater numbers.
Diversity has clear benefits in organizations across all industries, including increased problem solving, heightened creativity, and a greater willingness to work together towards common goals. Studies show that business and organizational leaders are well aware of this fact; 85% of CEOs at companies with a diversity and inclusiveness strategy in place report enhanced workplace performance.
This phenomenon was definitely evident in the case of the Avengers. In their leadership roles, both Iron Man and Black Widow welcomed the assistance of a diverse array of characters, from a talking raccoon and a tribe of Wakandan warriors to an alien who was once devoted to Thanos. Without that inclusivity, the Avengers would never have been able to defeat Thanos and restore balance to the universe.
While multicolored aliens and CGI raccoons aren’t representative of a diverse workplace in the real world, Endgame’s final scenes at least indicated that the MCU is on its way towards greater inclusivity. Captain America handed his shield, and his job, over to Falcon, an African American, and the bevy of women who came to Captain Marvel’s aid proved that women are just as capable of saving the world as men.
For many viewers, the strong female presence in the final battle of Endgame was one of the film’s high points, and they argue that the film did justice to the feminist movement. The movie features strong, capable women in major roles, especially Nebula and Black Widow — each of whom receive a good deal of screen time and meaty character arcs. There is still work to be done in the realm of inclusivity within the MCU, but Endgame was a huge step in the right direction.
Where do you stand on this issue? Did Endgame earn its feminist moment? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!