From Black Widow To Wakanda Forever: 6+ Exciting Moves For Representation Phase 4 Set For The MCU

Shang-Chi, Ms. Marvel and Namor, representation in MCU Phase 4
(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Now that we’ve witnessed Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase 4 is over. Over the last year and a half, starting with the release of Black Widow in 2021, we’ve just seen the most jam-packed phase of the MCU yet, with over fifteen new titles between big-screen features and Disney+ Marvel TV shows. As we anticipate the next two phases of the franchise’s Multiverse Saga, let’s reflect on Phase 4, particularly in terms of how it became more inclusive than ever before. 

Marvel has grown a lot since Phase 1 capped off with the assembly of the original Avengers a decade ago, consisting of six white heroes, one of them being female. Ahead of so many more upcoming Marvel movies coming in 2023 and beyond, the franchise made a lot of exciting moves for representation. Time to break them down. 

Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh in Black Widow

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Sole Women Directors Helmed MCU Movies For The First Time 

It only took 23 movies over a decade, but Black Widow marked the first MCU movie to be solely directed by a woman with the hiring of Cate Shortland. The Australian filmmaker ushered in the long-awaited backstory of Scarlet Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff along with introducing a new MCU favorite with Florence Pugh’s witty Yelena Belova. Unfortunately, the movie also led to a lawsuit by Johansson to Disney regarding the company’s decision to make it available to purchase on Disney+ at the same time as its theatrical release, breaching her contract. It was later settled between them in fall 2021. 

In the same year, Chloé Zhao became the first woman of color to direct a Marvel movie with Eternals, which in and of itself made a ton of strides for representation. Given the MCU is the biggest franchise in Hollywood, it’s important for them to usher in more diverse filmmakers and Phase 4 was a great step in the right direction for female filmmakers.  

Simu Liu as Shang-Chi in bus fight scene

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Shang-Chi Was The First Asian-Led Marvel Movie

Asian-American representation in Hollywood has a troublesome history. However, the Marvel Cinematic Universe did contribute to the forwarding of positive inclusion of Asian characters in the mainstream with 2021’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. The movie authentically approached the Chinese-American experience through Shang-Chi and Katy as they meet Chinese mythological creatures and discover Kamar-Taj. 

The release became a major blockbuster at a time where the theatrical industry was still finding its footing after COVID-19 shutdowns. It introduced Simu Liu to mainstream audiences, and he's booking movies left and right nowadays. It enlisted Asian director Destin Daniel Cretton, who is now set to helm an Avengers film next. Plus, the fire soundtrack highlighted a variety of Asian artists as well. 

May Calamawy’s Layla El-Faouly wearing Scarlet Scarab costume in Moon Knight series

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

The MCU Gets Its First Egyptian Superhero

In early 2022, Marvel also debuted its Moon Knight series starring Oscar Isaac. The series inspired by the comic book that is influenced by Egyptian mythology brought about the debut of the franchise’s first Egyptian superhero in May Calamawy’s Layla El-Faouly, aka the Scarlet Scarab. In a Hollywood landscape where Arab characters are few and far between, it was refreshing to see Marvel bring in Ramy actress, who is an Egyptian-Palestinian actress, get her moment to be introduced as a Marvel hero. 

Iman Vellani in Ms. Marvel

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Ms. Marvel Was A Big Win For South Asian And Muslim-American Representation

The introduction of Kamala Khan in the MCU marked a big moment for the inclusion of South Asian, particularly Pakistani-American South Asians and Muslim Americans. Iman Vellani’s Marvel character authentically captured the story of a Pakistani teen living in Jersey as she navigates her coming-of-age years and discovers some major powers. This was helped by the creatives behind the scenes who could speak to this background. That includes depictions of a Muslim-American community that pushes back against stereotypes

Namor (Tenoch Huerta) in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Wakanda Forever’s Talokan Was A Big Moment For Latin Inclusivity 

The last big moment for representation that Marvel tackled for the first time in a big way in Phase 4 was in the Black Panther sequel, Wakanda Forever. After the 2018 original had Ryan Coogler bringing a predominantly Black cast to the forefront along with depicting a variety of African cultures with Wakanda, his second movie puts the spotlight on the Latin kingdom of Talokan, which is the MCU’s version of Atlantis. 

In a beautiful retelling of Namor’s origins, Wakanda Forever tackled a Mayan-inspired story that saw a whole people retreating to the sea in light of colonialism. The Black Panther sequel also depicted another complicated villain following Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger, with Tenoch Huerta’s incredible debut as Namor. 

Over the course of a year and a half, Marvel fans have consumed a lot of content from the MCU. Between the most recent big-screen movies and Disney+ shows, MCU seems to have made a real effort to include more people from all types of backgrounds, religions and identities in Phase 4. With these various strides in representation, Marvel can be a leader in Hollywood becoming a place more honest to the diverse world we live in. Here’s to more inclusion in Phase 5 and beyond! 

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.