The world is made up of countless cultures, ethnicities, religions, genders, sexual orientations, and disabilities, all of which want to feel represented in the entertainment they consume, which is why diversity is paramount in the modern era. Marvel Studios has taken this lesson more strongly than ever in recent years, with Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and Eternals marking notable milestones for diversity in the MCU.
2018's Black Panther was a game-changer not just for the MCU but for Hollywood as a whole, as it was among the first major blockbusters to feature a primarily Black ensemble. Less than a year later, Captain Marvel took another long-awaited step forward for the Marvel world as Brie Larson's hero became the MCU's first female lead.
Moving into Phase 4, audiences have been treated to more representation than in the entire history of the MCU. These themes have even proven paramount to storytelling already, with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier taking a deep dive into racism in America.
Since then, MCU projects have featured various races, religions, and disabilities, with Eternals being a particularly ground-breaking venture. Chloe Zhao's MCU directing debut introduced audiences to the most diverse heroic cast ever put to screen, from Black and LGBTQIA+ inventor Phastos to Lauren Ridloff's deaf speedster Makkari.
Marvel Studios took its second dive into deaf characters soon after as Hawkeye premiered on Disney+. This was a series that not only introduced Alaqua Cox's deaf crime boss Maya Lopez - who will soon lead her own spin-off with Echo - but also saw Clint Barton suffering from loss of hearing.
Both Ridloff and Cox are deaf themselves, and are playing deaf heroes in the MCU; a show of diversity Marvel Studios has now been praised for with two awards.
Marvel Studios Receives Representation Awards
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Marvel Studios has been awarded the Ruderman Family Foundation's Seal of Authentic Representation for Eternals' Makkari and Hawkeye's Maya Lopez, aka Echo.
The foundation pushes for the full societal inclusion of people with disabilities, with The Seal being its award to recognize movies and series featuring disabled actors with at least five lines of dialogue.
Eternals director Chloe Zhao reacted to the award, praising actress Lauren Ridloff as their "real-life Makkari" who has brought her character to life with "love and conviction:"
"Makkari is full of heart and wisdom. She is strong, charismatic, mysterious, and mischievous. We are very lucky to have found Lauren Ridloff, who is our real-life Makkari! She has brought this character to life with love and conviction and has taught us so much in the process.”
Marvel Studios casting director Sarah Finn similarly praised Ridloff for bringing the deaf hero to life, calling the actress "overly qualified to join an already high-level cast:"
“Not only was [Ridloff] overly qualified to join an already high-level cast, she elevated the ensemble with her unique spirit, talents, and charisma. It’s been a privilege getting to know her through the process and seeing what a real-life hero she has become to so many."
Finn went on to reveal the studio's desire to represent Echo's deaf and Native American comic roots in casting Alaqua Cox, going on to explain how "authentic representation not only matters but is paramount" to the stories they tell in the MCU:
"Alaqua Cox’s character, Maya Lopez/Echo, is based off an existing Marvel character who is deaf and Native American. In casting the role, we wanted to celebrate and honor both Deaf and Native American cultures. We couldn’t be more delighted by Alaqua Cox’s performance. She is phenomenal and part of a new culture in film and television, where authentic representation not only matters but is paramount to the kind of stories we want to tell and how we shape them.”
Ruderman Foundation president Jay Ruderman commented on presenting The Seal to Marvel Studios, praising the "authentic casting" of two disabled heroes in a "high-profile and momentous milestone:"
“We are gratified to witness this latest group of studio productions implement the crucial values of inclusion and authentic representation in their casting decisions. These practices are increasingly becoming the norm in Hollywood, with the authentic casting of Lauren Ridloff in Eternals and Alaqua Cox in Hawkeye marking a particularly high-profile and momentous milestone for Marvel and the entire entertainment industry. Each time a casting director or other executive makes such a decision, it facilitates the industry’s broader journey towards fulfilling its full potential as a beacon of all forms of diversity and social justice.”
The MCU Continues to Expand Representation
Marvel Studios may have already demonstrated its greatest commitment to diversity yet in the first year of Phase 4. As the world continues to grow, representation is only doing the same, with Moon Knight currently exploring a Jewish character who suffers from dissociative identity disorder.
Looking ahead, Marvel Studios looks to be continuing down this path this year with Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel, and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Across last year and this year, the MCU is releasing 14 projects, of which only five are definitively led by a white male. By contrast, all the first 14 MCU movies to be released from 2008 to 2016 were led by white male actors, a clear show of progress at the studio.
Who knows what the future holds after that as much of the MCU slate after 2023 still remains a mystery. But for now, those looking to relive the adventures of Makkari and Echo can stream Eternals and Hawkeye now on Disney+.