WARNING: SPOILERS FOR AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR BELOW.
There have been a lot of think pieces churned out since one of the biggest movies of all time, Avengers: Infinity War, came out. Some on why Thanos was right or wrong, some debating theories about who will come back in the next movie, and some critiquing various stylistic elements of the film.
But what I haven’t seen yet is a discussion on this movie’s glaring race problem.
The Marvel Universe, cinematic or illustrated, has never been overtly kind to people of color. Certainly, there have been some strides as of late. One, the Black Panther comics, written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and the accompanying film which Ryan Coogler directed masterfully.
Two, comics like Ms. Marvel featuring Kamala Khan, America featuring America Chavez, and Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur featuring the canonically smartest character in the Marvel Universe, Lunella Lafayette. And three, the eloquent, powerful television series Luke Cage.
These are amazing steps forward, to be sure. But they come with their caveats. These comments from a Marvel Exec blaming diversity for failing comic sales, for starters. The lack of representation at Marvel is startling, with an overwhelming majority of writers, illustrators and people in positions of authority being white. And while they’re beginning to produce better racially-conscious content, many of their creations remain insensitive. For example, the white savior narrative in the Iron Fist television series and the whitewashing in the Doctor Strange film.
All this to say that Marvel, though it’s definitely trying, still has a great long way to go. And Avengers: Infinity War is a major step back.
Destruction of Wakanda and its people
This ties into other points I make later in the article, but we as an audience had just fallen in love with Wakanda in all its Afrofuturist glory. For Black people especially, this was a cathartic vision of an African country free from European colonization. Here, Black people ruled and lived freely and happily. They existed without the constant fear of death that characterizes so many black lives around the world.
The film’s final battle takes place at Wakanda. Captain America believes he can take Vision there to save his life and destroy the last infinity stone. This plan is incredibly stupid, considering if Shuri cannot save Vision in time and lets Thanos get to him (which is what ends up happening, of course), HALF OF THE UNIVERSE DIES. I love Vision as much as the next fan, but his life is plainly not worth half of the universe.
Besides the decision being ridiculous, the directors chose to stage the final battle in Wakanda. Which leads to the most troubling aspect of Avengers: Infinity War.
the Spectacle of Black Death
In America, the spectacle of Black death and suffering exists everywhere. Especially since many started videotaping police brutality to ensure accountability (which often does not come anyway). Whenever another unarmed Black person dies at the hands of the police, video of the event spreads like wildfire on social media. We mourn and grow even more fearful of our deaths at the hands of the state. We experience the negative health effects associated with watching people of your race gunned down repeatedly. This is unsurprising, but still heartbreaking. And then the next week, something new occurs and the cycle happens again.
Childish Gambino’s latest powerful music video “This is America” illustrates this chilling world. A world where violence is committed, consumed, and then the rest of us move on with our lives as if nothing happened.
Avengers: Infinity War did not premiere in a world where racism is dead. Its creators should be aware of the sensitivity it should approach Black death with. But it went the opposite direction. By the end of Infinity War, I was drained. Not only from seeing my favorite characters die so suddenly, but because so many people of color were a part of the final body count of the film.
The first major death on-screen is Idris Elba’s character Heimdall. I laughed a little then. Of course the Black guy dies first. But as the movie went on, I stopped laughing. Gamora fell next, in a moment that turned her into another refrigerated female character. I gasped—one of the only major Black women in the universe dead? Surely this was a mistake.
Next, because the final battle takes place at Wakanda, we not only see a sacred African homeland destroyed, but the majority of death from Thanos’s evil dog monsters comes to Wakandan soldiers. In addition, when Thanos snaps his fingers and we begin to see the effects, most of those we see disappear are soldiers, too.
Then came Black Panther.
My inner “oh hell nah” erupted from my mouth at the theater. The Asian woman next to me reacted with the same incredulity. “Did they just do that?” She asked.
I know that Chadwick Boseman’s contract with Marvel lasts for quite some time, so there is a very small chance he is actually dead. But it hurt, goddammit, to see Black Panther taken away when we just got him.
Mantis, Falcon, and Nick Fury perish as well. At that point, it was just a gut punch.
Returning to Whiteness
The only characters of color left alive (that we know for sure) are Okoye and Rhodes. While both are great, I felt sick at the end. The next Avengers movie will surely feature tons of superheroes working to save the day and reverse Thanos’s crimes, but the heroes of color were taken out before they had a chance to fight alongside them. For plot development, nearly all of Marvel’s diverse movie cast disappeared. I wonder if I was the only one who thought…so they didn’t care about us at all from the start, huh?
I loved the first Avengers movie. But you can’t deny it had a major diversity problem. Just as the Marvel universe was looking a little more colorful, it was gone, with a snap.