‘Captain Marvel’ is a triumphant story of female identity, diversity, and immigration

This movie succeeds in charming it's target audience: women. But it also does so much more.

Spoilers for Captain Marvel. Go see the film already. 

Captain Marvel has easily been the most anticipated film of 2019 so far, and with good reason. As the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first female led film (a long time coming), Carol Danvers’s origin story feels like a test. Can women superheroes sell tickets? Well, Wonder Woman proved that they do, and Captain Marvel only reinforced that.

It did a lot more than that. Captain Marvel does justice to its protagonist, and it subverts expectations in other ways, with diversity, no love interest, and a background story about colonization and immigrants. Directed by indie filmmakers Anna Boden (first woman to direct or co-direct a Marvel film) and Ryan Fleck, their unique perspective focuses on character over intense CGI-filled battles.

An exemplary show of rich diversity

Who I’d call the three main characters, Carol, Maria, and Fury, are a beautiful example of diversity. Maria Rambeau is just as much a hero and role model as Carol. She’s a fighter pilot who’s had to fight sexism her whole career, a single mother to Monica, and she’s been mourning the loss of her best friend for six years.

Her daughter, Monica, is as ambitious as her mother and aunt. In the comics, Monica Rambeau held the title of Captain Marvel before Carol, and she even led The Avengers during that time. We hope that this film is setting up for her rise after Avengers: Endgame. 

I’m sure that you all know Nick Fury, played by the wonderful Samuel L. Jackson. When he first appeared on our screen, Jackson was playing a character who was canonically white in the comics. But his portrayal was so effective that the comics now draw Nick Fury as Samuel L. Jackson.

Mar-Vell/Dr. Wendy Lawson

The most important person to Carol, besides Maria, is Mar-Vell (Annette Bening), known as Dr. Wendy Lawson on Earth. In the comics, Mar-Vell is a man, but it makes more sense that Carol would look up to a woman. Despite her being Kree, Mar-Vell and Carol have a very human relationship.

She’s an innovative scientist and engineer both as Lawson and Mar-Vell, and was Carol’s role model, shown by the fact that Supreme Intelligence took her form. When Carol hears the Skrulls’ story, she senses their honesty and decides to trust them as Mar-Vell did.

That quality, to be soft and more understanding, is stereotypical in women. Here it is a strength, not a hindrance, as most movies, tv, and society in general, lead us to believe. Carol sees what Mar-Vell was trying to do, and wants to help these people, who she’s been conditioned to hate, find a home. We don’t even meet Mar-Vell, as she only shows up in flashbacks, but her effect on Carol is lasting.

Maria and Carol are the “love story” of the film

Unless you count Talos and his wife, who are pretty darn cute. Or Goose and Fury. Those are arguable, but they don’t beat Carol and Maria, who fill all the requirements. They were as close as can be, “found family,” and one was forced to mourn the other for years, despite strongly believing that they survived.

Then Carol comes back years later, with no memory. After finding Maria, she slowly comes back to herself and understands how much they meant to each other. Seriously, it’s a better love story than some past superhero movies we’ve seen, but I won’t name names.

This is a character-driven story created for women, not men

It’s easy to see why most viewers might not, at first glance, like the movie as much as others in the genre. They’re comparing it to all other Marvel movies, but what they don’t realize is that this is a character story, focused more on Carol’s development than the action.

As all advertising stated, “Find out what makes her a hero.” And we did. Sure, there were cool action scenes, but it wasn’t about that. It’s about what makes Carol, Carol. Not Captain Marvel. She’s a hero even without her abilities.

This movie tells us that what makes us women is what makes us strong. For example, Carol is told frequently, especially by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), to control her emotions. It’s stereotypical to depict women as overly emotional. Carol is driven by her strong beliefs, and she smartly doesn’t listen to either Yon-Rogg or Supreme Intelligence when they order her to reign them in.

In the end, her emotions, and her connection to Mar-Vell, Maria, and everyone she loves, is the key to unlocking her full potential. Women embrace emotions just as everyone should, and our passion for what we believe in is our strength, our superpower.

In case you haven’t realized by now, this film wasn’t made with a male audience in mind. It was made for young girls, and women everywhere, who deserve to be told that they can do anything.

Mother Flerken

Now I couldn’t not mention Goose. As the MCU’s first pet, he certainly impresses. What a great pair of aliens, Carol and Goose. As a certified cat person, I quickly fell in love with Goose, and was happy to see that he can actually do his part in battle. Goose is no freeloader, he pays his rent.

The displacement of a race

The film also touches on the topic of immigration and the effects of colonization and war. The Skrulls, who are bad guys in the comics (see the “Secret Invasion” storyline), turn out to be a race that are being forcibly displaced and exterminated by the oppressive, imperialistic Kree.

Carol is able to very quickly understand the Skrulls’ situation and sympathize with them. The fact that the race that looks different, more alien, is being oppressed by the more normal looking Kree, is a clear parallel to our own racism. Captain Marvel clearly states its opinion on immigration: refugees need our help, and it’s our duty to help them.

While Captain America defends our freedom, Captain Marvel is here to take action and right the wrongs of the universe. She doesn’t hide behind a shield, her power shines bright, showing she’s a force to be reckoned with.

MLK said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” While all of Carol’s fellow heroes definitely aren’t staying silent about injustice, Carol’s practically screaming from the rooftops.

Carol is who I want to be

I’ve never identified more with a hero. She’s a badass woman who just wanted to be a fighter pilot, and was constantly put down by the men around her. Helped to greatness by a wonderful best friend and an inspiring female mentor, she achieves more greatness than she could’ve imagined. Not that I’ve done that…yet.

Along with that, Carol Danvers, Maria Rambeau, Mar-Vell, and Monica, show young girls how amazing they are, as well as young boys. As a little girl, there was limited positive female representation on screen, so I was essentially forced to find male characters to look up to.

While Marty McFly and the boys from The Goonies are still some of my favorites, I wish I had had more characters like Matilda to admire and want to be. Now, thanks to films like Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman, we are encouraging young boys to look up to women too.

With films like Dark Phoenix and Birds of Prey coming, and announcements of more diverse characters to appear soon, such as Muslim/Pakistani-American Ms. Marvel and LGBT characters, the future looks as bright as Carol’s Binary form.

(Featured Image: ©Marvel Studios 2019)


Devon Forward

Devon is an artist, writer, and current student of film/television development. She loves anything science fiction or fantasy, and her favorite show is Charmed, which kick-started her obsession with powerful yet imperfect female characters. You can usually find her somewhere analyzing a tv show or reading a good book. On Twitter @dev4wrd

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