If the mythical '1,2,3' contest were to return and one of the contestant couples, those friends and residents of Madrid who aspire to a villa in Torrevieja, were asked, by Marvel superheroes, the list of responses would be as broad as it is unequal. Sure they would mention Thor, Iron-Man, Spider-Man, Hulk or Captain America. Perhaps, and with some effort, Black Widow would appear among the mentions. The list of male protagonists of the saga is infinitely greater than the female one, and while in the comics they try to offer much more diverse, equal, feminist stories that include the LGTBI collective, in the cinema it is still much more conservative.
Sexual diversity is still something almost taboo, but the presence of women as absolute protagonists of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) is not much more buoyant either, just as the number of female directors who have been put in charge of the projects of the study. This past Friday the new installment of the franchise, Thor: Love and Thunder, was released, which has been sold as the return of Natalie Portman as Jane Foster and with the images of her turned into a goddess of thunder. Watching the film, directed by a man, Taika Waititi, one realizes that the show is still about Thor (Chris Hemsowrth). Jane gains weight, but it remains a story that defines the protagonist's. In fact, the character's name hasn't even been put in the title.
Since the MCU arrived in 2008, 29 films have been released, including the latest installment of Thor. Only two of them have an absolute female protagonist. These are Captain Marvel (2019) and Black Widow (2021). Behind them would be Ant-Man and the Wasp, a sequel that gives the same prominence to the character played by Evangeline Lilly and even places it in the name of the film. Then there are the choral films like the four installments of The Avengers, where Black Widow or Scarlet Witch have a leading role, but they are two women in a team full of gentlemen. Parity does exist in Eternals, directed by Chloé Zhao and by far Marvel's most diverse film. Many protagonists in this group of demigods that also included a gay and black hero and a deaf heroine.
The franchise began its journey with Iron Man in 2008. It took more than 20 years for there to be a film where a woman was the absolute protagonist, the image of the poster and the one that bore the name of the film. She was Captain Marvel in 2019. It was also the first time a woman had directed a Marvel movie. This is Anna Boden, who along with Ryan Fleck were responsible for the box office success. With Captain Marvel, one of the biggest attacks on a Marvel film was also experienced. Before its premiere, there were macho and misogynistic fans who took it upon themselves to attack the film without having seen it on social networks and boycotting its note on websites where viewers can vote. An attempt to prove that the first film starring a woman was a failure. It was of little use, Captain Marvel grossed 1,128 million dollars worldwide. A madness that made it clear that there was a hunger for heroines.
The date is no accident. That the first MCU film with a woman in front arrived in 2019 is the result of Me Too and the changes that actresses, directors and society asked for from a macho and patriarchal industry. 20 movies later Marvel took the step. The next one didn't take as long. Three films later came Black Widow (2021), also directed by a woman, Cate Shortland. The box office did not do so well, causing the misogynist mob to try and attack it. In this case, it was the pandemic and the simultaneous premiere on Disney + that kept many from going to theaters. Despite this, it grossed 380 million worldwide. Black Widow was the first Marvel film directed solo by a woman. Next up was Eternals the following year. Only three women, so far, have achieved it.
The arrival of Disney + has made Marvel expand its universe and that it is no longer just cinematographic. The series are now a fundamental part of the history of the heroes, and to understand the films of phase 4 it is essential to know what has happened in television fiction. Dr. Strange is not understood in the multiverse of madness without knowing what was happening in WandaVisión. These series have opted much more openly for female leads. Of the eight that have been released (or will be released in the coming months), four of them have female leads: She-Hulk, Kate Bishop, Wanda and Ms Marvel. However, of those four, only two have a female showrunner.
The future seems much more equal in the Marvel Cinematic (and series) Universe, but there is still much to be done and for the moment the superheroines are still a minority in a world dominated by men.