- Mairead Levitt
Breaking Down Barriers in the MCU
This past week, leaked set photos from the “Hawkeye” TV show showed Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) and Hailey Steinfeld (Kate Bishop) walking through the streets. While these pictures don’t seem too interesting by themselves, there is a very small detail that means the world to a lot of fans. Hawkeye might be wearing a hearing aid.
It’s not super obvious, but Renner definitely has something in his ear, so fans are speculating that the Hawkeye in the show might be deaf. While you might be asking yourself why any of this matters, it’s actually really important. For one thing, Hawkeye in the comics was canonically deaf. This fact means that the show’s creators are going back to the origins of the character for source material, a choice I believe will significantly help the show. Not only that, but this element is the newest way that Marvel is breaking down barriers in its content.
Superheroes exist so people can live vicariously through them. When little kids see themselves in these characters when watching movies or tv shows, it helps them feel more confident. However, Marvel wasn’t always as inclusive as it was now.
In front of the camera, Marvel has come a long way. Starting in 2008 with “Iron Man”, there were very few BIPOC characters, besides Rhodey, the African-American sidekick to Tony Stark, and the Middle Eastern terrorists who kidnapped Stark in the beginning of the film. This movie did little to break any barriers and instead perpetuated some harmful stereotypes.
After that film, the next game-changing movie was “The Avengers” in 2012. This blockbuster was, similarly, not the most diverse film. Out of the five heroes, only one was a woman, and they were all white. Marvel clearly focused on one specific audience for its film, and as I previously stated, people are meant to see themselves in these heroes. It’s hard to see yourself when everyone looks the same.
Marvel hasn’t had the best time behind the camera either. Both Robert Downey, Jr. (Iron Man, white guy) and Terrence Howard (Rhodey, black guy) had three movie deals for the “Iron Man” franchise. After the first movie was such a success, Marvel went to Howard and told him that it was going to pay him one eighth of the salary they agreed upon because Downey, Jr. wanted more money, so they were taking it out of Howard’s salary. Not only that, Marvel told Howard that they could do that because the second and third movies would do well with or without Howard in the role of Rhodey. Understandably, Howard left the project, and Don Cheadle signed on as Rhodey and, while the second and third “Iron Man” movies weren’t smashing successes (mainly due to bad stories), no one minded when Cheadle replaced Howard and Cheadle is still in the role of Rhodey today.
As time has gone on, Marvel has improved the diversity in its films. Arguably, the two most powerful heroes in the MCU are women (Captain Marvel and Scarlet Witch). Sam Wilson, a black man, is the new Captain America. And, there have even been positive strides behind the camera, with the record and box-office breaking “Black Panther.” “Black Panther,” along with being an amazing movie, had a mainly black cast and crew, along with a black director and writer. These details show that Marvel is making an effort to be more diverse, as culture is an important theme in “Black Panther, and it wouldn’t have had the same impact if there had been a white director or writer.
This point brings me back to the Hawkeye TV show. While Marvel has been more inclusive and diverse, it has never touched the topic of ableism. It seems natural that all the characters would be like Captain America: peak physical condition, no issues, and the perfect specimen of manliness. And, while I’m on the topic of Captain America, he was originally shrimpy, asthmatic and sickly, all things that had to be changed about him before he could be a hero. What does that say to the kids with asthma watching the movie? Does that mean that because they have asthma, they can’t be superheroes? Yes, the assumption of superheroes is that they’re pretty perfect as they are the heroes fighting villains, but it still doesn’t send the best message for people who are trying to see themselves in these heroes because they don’t share a fundamental trait or the hero has to get rid of their similarity to be a hero.
Marvel has started to break through the barriers of ableism in the past, as in “Captain America: Civil War” when Rhodey got paralized from the waist down. This stride would be great, but after one scene of Rhodey struggling in physical therapy, he could walk perfectly with technology that Tony Stark gave him. Given how this technology doesn’t actually exist, it would be a little hard for anyone to relate to him.
“Hawkeye” is a new era because instead of ignoring the fact that Clint is canonically deaf, Marvel is (we can hope) embracing this key character aspect, and maybe a kid who has never seen themself in a Marvel movie before can watch this show and think Hey, this is like me.
Photo Credits: Courtesy of Marvel Studios