Oh, My Pop Culture Excelsior: Where Are The Religious Superheroes, Marvel?

Oh, Marvel. I’m only mean to you because I know you could be so much better.

Marvel’s comic book universe is at a peak of diversity right now. Characters of color, queer characters, characters with disabilities, and characters from other marginalized groups are gaining roles of prominence in the 616 Universe.

What makes that diversity supremely frustrating, however, is that barely a whit of it is reflected in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Marvel’s movies remain a relic of the white-bread, sausagefest past of their comic books, and a lack of religious characters is just one strike of many.

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A lot of types of inclusion failure can be chalked up under the bullshit excuse “I didn’t want to get it wrong and be offensive”—an excuse that smacks of laziness and an unwillingness to do real research or give an actual fuck. The other problem, though, is that authors don’t want their stories to sound like proselytization to some cause. When that cause is religion, writers are especially squeamish. Give too much screentime to a positive portrayal of religion, and the movie becomes a religious genre piece, surely suitable only for believers. (Negative portrayals are so much easier, given the ease of stereotyping: the Muslim extremist, the Christian bigot, etc.)

News flash, writers: showing a character who is comfortable in their faith (or even one who struggles with their faith) does not magically turn your movie into a Left Behind book.

tumblr_m7zf66XIvC1qfzhnwThe only overtly religious character in the MCU right now is Captain America, who was raised Catholic. And considering the amount of shit that guy has gone through in recent films, you’d think it’d be natural for him to maybe take a few minutes to pray about it. One scene in a chapel, or a shot of him walking out of St. Patrick’s after Mass, could fix the representation issue, but for now we just have a comical one-liner about how Jesus doesn’t dress like Thor.

Man of Steel had its ups and downs, but one of the things I appreciated about it was the scene where Clark goes to talk to his priest. Was there was a ton of ham-fisted symbolism about Superman being a type of Jesus in that scene? Yes, yes there was. But it also showed a character for whom religion was a kind of support, a character who turns to his faith in times of need. Marvel, take heed: a DC movie beat you at a thing.

2011-06-24_084211_nightcrawler09_lrgReligious inclusion is the same as any other sort of inclusion, in the long run, especially when we’re talking about marginalized religions. People want to see characters who are like them on screen—characters who fast during Ramadan, characters who say a rosary when they’re afraid, characters whose dietary restrictions are based on what they consider holy, and whose attire reflects their beliefs. It doesn’t ruin characters to include these aspects in a movie; rather, it can help viewers understand the characters and their motivations that much better. Non-MCU Marvel movies like Daredevil and the X-Men franchise have included the religious leanings of their characters in the films; Marvel Studios shouldn’t be afraid to do so, too.

I’d love to see any character of any religion step onto the big screen in future films, but I’d especially like for that inclusion to go hand in hand with other sorts of diversity. Take the British hero Faiza Hussain, for example, a Muslim woman. Throwing her into the mix would help Marvel on the female representation front, the PoC representation front, and the religious representation front. Opening the door on the Young Avengers would bring gay hero Billy Kaplan, raised Jewish, onto the playing field, along with his whole diverse team. Marvel’s Earth-616 is chock full of diverse superheroes with a variety of religious backgrounds, and any of them would be a great addition to the Cinematic Universe, if only Marvel took the chance and actually let their characters shine on screen.

Give me Faiza or give me death. (That's how the saying goes, right?)

Give me Faiza or give me death. (That’s how the saying goes, right?)

2 thoughts on “Oh, My Pop Culture Excelsior: Where Are The Religious Superheroes, Marvel?

  1. Considering the roots of Walt Disney’s antisemitism I can see why they decided to avoid the subject altogether recently. Just throwing that out there, lol, obviously as of now Disney hasn’t really touched Marvel productions at all besides not giving Captain America a political stance in the comics.

    I personally would love to see some more of that in the films since it is very prevalent in the comic books, I appreciated what was done with Nightcrawler in X2 a lot. Great article!

  2. Pingback: Oh, My Pop Culture Devil of Hell’s Kitchen: Is Daredevil the Religious Hero We’ve Been Waiting For? | Lady Geek Girl and Friends

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