Since the release and monumental success of Black Panther in 2018, Marvel Studios has been making a larger effort to include more diversity in the MCU. We’ve seen our first female-led Marvel movies in Captain Marvel and Black Widow, along with the predominantly Asian cast of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. But the biggest strides in representation yet for the studio come in the form of Chloé Zhao’s Eternals.
The hiring of Nomadland filmmaker Chloé Zhao in of itself was a big moment in terms of a POC filmmaker getting the keys to a big-budget Marvel film. But Eternals walks the walk too. There’s a number of massive instances of incredible representation in the movie that we have never seen before in a movie of this scale. Let’s take a moment to celebrate the aspects of the film we want to celebrate now that Eternals is streaming on Disney+.
Kingo’s Bollywood Dance Sequence
Kumail Nanjiani is the first South Asian superhero we’ve seen on the big screen. The Silicon Valley actor famously got super jacked to play the role. The actor shared he felt it was important for his character to look like “somebody who could hang out with Thor and Captain America” in a Hollywood landscape where South Asian actors are often typecast into “fixing your computer.” Not only did Eternals deliver on a ripped Kingo, but the movie itself is packed with South Asian representation.
Nanjiani had the chance to be part of bringing Bollywood to a big-budget Marvel film with his dance sequence, along with the movie highlighting the world of Bollywood movies and the scene-stealing character of Karun (played by Harish Patel), who goes along for the ride of much of the movie to play cameraman to Kingo’s latest movie.
Phastos And Ben Kiss
Disney in general has a troubling history with showcasing the LGBTQ+ community in its films. When the studio made a first attempt with Beauty and the Beast, by making Josh Gad’s Le Fou gay, it was both criticized by the queer community and caused the movie to be initially banned in many countries. The studio has continued to push some weak attempts at representation over the years, between a in-the-background same-sex kiss in Star Wars and mixed signals on queer Disney princess.
Eternals however is the first legitimate step forward in the direction of LGBTQ+ representation on the big-screen for the studio. In the film, Brian Tyree Henry’s Phastos is an openly gay man with a partner named Ben, played by Haaz Sleiman, who identifies as gay. They have a son together and late in the film, the pair have a blatant moment of PDA when the pair kiss. What’s great about Phastos arc in Eternals is that he’s not just the “gay superhero” in the team. There’s other interesting things about him other than his sexual preferences, such as how he guides the innovations of mankind. Eternals also dodges the common trope of the gay character having a coming out scene as well.
Our First Deaf Superhero
When it comes to conversations around diversity, there’s still not enough storytelling around people with disabilities on a mainstream scale. Eternals not only paid attention to diversity in terms of race and sexual identity, the movie also brought the first deaf superhero to the forefront with Lauren Ridloff’s Makkari. In the movie, Makkari is an Eternal who has super-speed. Her lack of hearing is actually a gift because without it she can reach a powerful sonic boom while running. She can run across the Earth in minutes. Also, while speaking to the cast, she uses sign language to communicate.
The ripples of Makkari’s presence in Eternals have been immediately evident. The movie’s release led to a huge spike of interest in people researching American Sign Language education. Ridloff, who is deaf herself, had the chance to play a major role in a Marvel movie and as she shared, excited to see “deaf kids wearing Halloween costumes that are going to be Makkari-inspired.”
Women-To-Men Ratio Of The Superhero Team
Since the beginning of the MCU, there’s been an inherent inequality between men and women. One clear example is through the original six Avengers, where only one of them is a woman – Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. And it took over a decade for a female actress to lead a Marvel movie with 2019’s Captain Marvel. The scales have definitely been tipped toward men in Marvel, but with Eternals, the group of eight heroes is split nearly even in terms of men vs. women.
Additionally, there are a variety of body types and presenting men and women in the lineup. For example, Sprite is a more masculine-presenting female, whereas Angelina Jolie’s Thena is more classically feminine in her appearance. Overall, Eternals is the first superhero movie to showcase a wider spectrum of what a hero can look and act like and it’s honestly beautiful.
A Dominantly POC Cast
And finally, we can’t overlook the range of backgrounds the cast belongs to in Eternals. We’ve touched on it throughout this article, but it truly does set itself apart from not only other Marvel films, but any other film of its scale. Along with the cast we’ve mentioned, Hong Kong-Londoner Gemma Chan plays the lead Sersi, Mexican-Lebanese actress Salma Hayek is Ajak and South Korea’s own Ma Dong-seok is Gilgamesh.
And what’s especially beautiful about this is the comics didn’t necessarily reflect the representation of the movie. The writers took the time to alter each character to become what we see on screen and in a way in which each of them have fleshed out storylines and again are not solely defined by traits that make them diverse or among the representation conversation.
We can’t wait to see how Eternals return to the MCU and how Marvel will continue to include more diversity into its movies and TV shows going forward. Check out the upcoming Marvel movies here on CinemaBlend and stream Eternals on Disney+ now.
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