Disney’s Avengers: Endgame, the culmination of 22 prior movies connecting the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), made an astounding $1.2 billion at the global box office this weekend. [‘Avengers: Endgame’ Sets Global Box Office Record: $1.2 Billion, by Christopher Palmeri, Bloomberg, April 28, 2019] But the plot signals the end of the line for MCU white super heroes—and consequently, I predict, for the series. Call it America: The Microcosm.
It was seven years ago when a bunch of white superheroes got together to save the world in The Avengers: Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hawkeye, The Hulk and the Black Widow. the foundational characters the entire MCU was built upon (See my The Avengers—“A Bunch Of White Guys Saving The World”? Can’t Have That!).
When we last saw our heroes in 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War, the villain Thanos had shockingly vanquished the Avengers, snapping his fingers, thanks to his capture of the Infinity Stones, and killing off half of the MCU universe’s population: Black Panther, Spiderman, Falcon, the Winter Soldier, and Doctor Strange were all turned to dust.
Avengers: Endgame is set five years into the grim future after our heroes have lost. All of the original white heroes from 2012’s The Avengers are still alive: Iron Man, played by Robert Downey Jr., is happily married and has a child; Captain America (played by Donald Trump-hating Chris Evans) is leading a support group for those who survived Thanos’ finger-snap and want to move on, a process that includes listening to a gay man talk about a date he went on (a “First Openly Gay Character In Marvel Superhero Film” moment); Thor, the God of Thunder, has developed PTSD, after failing to stop Thanos, has put on 50 pounds and become an alcoholic; Hawkeye’s entire family was killed via the finger snap; Hulk and Black Widow continue.
Let’s jump directly to the SPOILERS!!!, since this piece is less about the movie and more about where the Disney’s MCU franchise (and America) is headed in the future.
Our heroes figure out the way to stop Thanos’ finger-snap massacre is to travel back in time and collect the six Infinity Stones to stop the act from taking place, and to bring back all those who were killed.
As only celluloid allows, our heroes succeed, but at extraordinary cost: Iron Man sacrifices himself and dies saving humanity by killing off Thanos and his allies; Captain America, who in Captain America: The First Avenger saved the US from a nuclear strike by the Nazis only to be frozen for 70 years in ice, survives, but goes back in time to 1945 to live the rest of his life with Peggy Carter, right (whom he had fallen in love with and promised a dance, only to be denied by his sacrifice in stopping the nuclear strike and being frozen).
The movie ends with Captain America an old, fragile man, on the verge of death. He gives up his shield to his friend, the Falcon—who is black and is presumably to become the new Captain America.
So, just as I predicted in my review of Captain Marvel, Disney has killed off the two white characters who were the very heart and foundation of the MCU franchise. Also, the Black Widow (played by the beautiful Scarlett Johansson. left), is killed off. Oh, and our obese God of Thunder has decided to hand over power of Asgard, the citadel of power, to a black Valkyrie (Norse mythology has been bastardized into a multi-cultural fantasy).
Don’t get me wrong, Avengers: Endgame is an enjoyable movie, primarily because it allows Iron Man and Captain America to be heroic without any lectures of their unearned white privilege or toxic masculinity. Unquestionably, this is their movie, with the blond haired/blue eyed Captain America and white scientific genius in Iron Man/ Tony Stark/ (along with our Norse god, Thor) dominating the screen time. [The REAL battle of the Avengers: How male superheroes in new £694m Endgame movie enjoy three times more screen-time than female characters, by Henry Martin, Daily Mail, April 25, 2019]
But they are all, effectively, killed off. These white characters will play no part the future MCU sequels.
Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, the architect of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has directly addressed the problem of whiteness at the core of the movies and promised whites will be phased out:
“I think that in the movies we’ve already made, and certainly in the movies that are coming up, it will be as inclusive a group of characters as one could want,” Feige told Vulture. “For us, it’s important that we don’t feel like a completely white, European cast”…
In several cases — including The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Solider and Avengers: Age of Ultron — Samuel L. Jackson, who plays Nick Fury, has been the sole top-billed person of color in the movies in which he appears.
[10 years in, the Marvel Cinematic Universe still lacks diversity – and these 4 graphs prove it, By Tim Mulkerin, Mic.com, April 21, 2018]
But the new woke Forbes Magazine added: think of the Hispanics!
Actors of white or Caucasian descent are the majority at 61% of the entire group. This means that more than three out of every five significant actors are white. When we consider just the Major Characters that number spikes to 69%, as a whopping 56 of the 81 major actors fit in this category. Many of the franchise’s most important characters are white, including Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man (Iron Man), Chris Evans’ Captain America (Captain America: The First Avenger), Chris Hemsworth’s Thor (Thor), and many others.
However, one statistic is shamefully off. the MCU’s representation of Spanish/Hispanic/Latino actors stands at only 4%. Meanwhile, the Census tells us that this subgroup actually accounts for 18.1% of the population.
[The Marvel Cinematic Universe is 61% White, But Does That Matter?, by Anhar Karim, Forbes, October 10, 2018]
However, whiteness, although deemed the greatest liability and detriment to life in the Current Year (as well as to the past and the future), has also been the unspoken driving force behind the popularity of the MCU.
Avengers: Endgame is poised to be the biggest movie of all time, but what does this mean for the MCU that three of the original white Avengers will play no part in the franchise moving forward?
Well, the Journofa are claiming people of color will fill the void:
Most of the oldest, most classic comic book characters are white, and Marvel has stayed close to canon in that regard. (Nick Fury, notably, was changed to match his 2001 Ultimate Marvel comics counterpart [This is confusing. Fury, in the 1960s comics a working-class white soldier from Hell’s Kitchen (right) was changed from black to white PC reasons in the comic book series. Then the black comic-book Fury was redrawn to match Samuel L. Jackson.]). Yet the overwhelming success of Black Panther, 18 films in, reveals a missed opportunity to have introduced more non-white leads sooner. The DC Extended Universe sidestepped adherence to canon entirely by casting the Polynesian Jason Momoa as the traditionally white Aquaman, and his film is now the highest grossing DC film of all time.
The lack of more leads of color is a painfully noticeable issue, but with contracts ending for most of the original Avengers, and with Marvel Studios’ president, Kevin Feige, no longer reporting to the more conservative Isaac Perlmutter, the hope is that this will change going into Phase 4. “There will be two distinct periods. Everything before Avengers 4 and everything after,” Feige told Vanity Fair.
And the groundwork has certainly been laid for a diverse new slate of films. All of the Avengers leaving – Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and Hulk – have counterparts of marginalized identities who could fill the role, like Miss America, Ironheart, She-Hulk and Goddess Thor. If Endgame ends up being as mind-bending as expected, it’s not impossible that some of these alternate universe characters could be ported over. Spider-Man: Homecoming teased the possibility of Miles Morales, and Captain Marvel introduced Monica Rambeau, who in the comics grows up to be the superhero known as Spectrum. There’s also hope Captain Marvel will one day introduce Kamala Khan, the first Muslim superhero to helm her own Marvel comic. And just yesterday it was announced Destin Daniel Cretton will direct a Shang-Chi film, making it the first Marvel film led by an Asian character. As Captain Marvel herself says, “Higher, further, faster, baby.”
[White hero, sidekick of color: why Marvel needs to break the cycle, by Clara Mae, The Guardian, March 15, 2019, links in original]
But “Higher, further, faster, baby” is only possible courtesy of the white characters who were the foundation of this massive universe. We’ll soon see how well this new diverse slate of characters can perform without that heavy lifting. Certainly, Captain Marvel, although a box office success, shows unmistakably decreased momentum.
The identity politics and tribalism propelling Black Panther to such a monstrous hit was almost entirely due to blacks flocking to the theater again and again and again to see their beloved Wakanda, an African nation free of the hands of whites (derisively called “colonizers” in the movie). Whereas blacks were only 17 percent of the share of the audience for Avengers: Infinity War, they represented a staggering 35 percent of the audience for Black Panther.
Whites represented 36 percent of the audience for Black Panther and 48 percent of the audience for Avengers: Infinity War. Interestingly, although not one character in either movie was Hispanic, the Latino share of the audience for Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War was 18 percent and 21 percent respectively. Asians were 10 percent of the audience for Avengers: Infinity War and 6 percent for Black Panther. [2018 THEME REPORT: A Comprehensive Analysis and Survey of the Theatrical and Home Entertainment Market Environment, MPAA.org, March, 2019]
In other words, an incredible $245 million of Black Panther domestic box office ($700 million) came from the black community. If segregated by itself, that would have accounted for the 7th highest grossing movie in 2018. White theater goers, although still a vastly larger demographic in the U.S., represented just $252 million of Black Panther’s overall box office.
For Avengers: Infinity War, blacks represented $115 million (of $678 million), whereas whites were $325 million of the overall box office. To put it simply, whites showed a 29 percent increase in seeing Avengers: Infinity War versus Black Panther. But for black theater goers, their percentage of the box office for Avengers: Infinity War dropped a whopping 53 percent from what they contributed to Black Panther.
The unifying theme behind The Avengers and the MCU was always the characters of Captain America and Iron Man. They are gone now, white heroes who have no place in the future. Instead, the MCU is about to embrace wokeness, with whiteness no longer holding back the multi-racial/multi-religious future:
In a recent interview with the BBC, Kevin Feige set hearts aflutter when he said: “We’re doing Captain Marvel right now. Captain Marvel‘s shooting right now with Brie Larson. Ms. Marvel, which is another character in the comic books, the Muslim hero who is inspired by Captain Marvel, is definitely sort of in the works. We have plans for that once we’ve introduced Captain Marvel to the world.” Ms. Marvel is the alter ego of Muslim teen Kamala Khan. So, if you’re counting, along with Peter Parker and Stephen Strange, we can expect African, Asian, Muslim, and female heroes fleshing out the slate as Marvel forges ahead in a post-Avengers world.
[Marvel’s Incredibly Diverse Post-Avengers 4 Plans Are Starting to Take Shape: The studio has kept quiet on what’s coming next, but details are slowly leaking out—starting with a Shang-Chi movie., by Joanna Robinson, Vanity Fair, December 3, 2018]
So perhaps there was a reason Captain America went back in time at the end of Avengers: Endgame—he’d rather live with is own people, with the love of his life and in a country he can still call his own.
Because of the original white heroes from 2012’s The Avengers, Iron Man is dead; Black Widow is dead; Captain America is effectively dead; Hawkeye has retired to his family and farm; the Hulk appears marginalized; Thor has handed off rule of Asgard to a black woman.
Avengers: Endgame is an enjoyable movie and it will perhaps be the biggest money maker of all time (at least in non-inflation-adjusted terms). But it seems like a farewell, a wake for those white heroes who made the entire MCU possible.
My guess: it won’t work.
Paul Kersey[Email him] is the author of the blog SBPDL, and has published the books SBPDL Year One, Hollywood in Blackface and Escape From Detroit, Opiate of America: College Football in Black and White and Second City Confidential: The Black Experience in Chicagoland. His latest book is The Tragic City: Birmingham 1963-2013.