Marvel made history in 2018 when it released Black Panther, the first mainstream superhero movie featuring black superheroes and a mostly black cast. “Black Panther is a story we haven’t seen told before in popular cinema—a story about black people completely untouched by colonialism, who exist entirely outside the global systems of institutionalized racism,” wrote NPR’s Glen Weldon at the time.
“It’s a fantasy, in other words—but then, that’s exactly what superhero stories are for,” Weldon said. “It’s difficult to explain the simple, inspiring and empowering joy of seeing a version of oneself onscreen, to those who’ve spent their lives unthinkingly soaking in it.”
In last year’s Captain Marvel, Brie Larson played the eponymous character, who (spoiler alert) turns out to be one of the most powerful characters in the entire Marvel universe. She was the second woman in the Marvel universe to lead her own movie—or, as film critic Justin Chang wrote, the first “assuming you don’t count the ill-fated 2005 Jennifer Garner vehicle, Elektra.”
With Black Panther and Captain Marvel, “we wanted to keep showcasing heroes from the comics that represent the world that goes to see our movies,” Feige said. “So our intention was always to continue to do that.” Both of those movies were so successful, Feige said, that they “have inspired other companies around the world to do the same thing and tell those different types of stories.”
Marvel wouldn’t be the first studio to feature a transgender superhero. That distinction belongs to CW’s Supergirl, which in 2018 cast the first transgender superhero to be featured in a television show. Nicole Maines plays Nia Nal, who came out last year as a transgender woman named Dreamer who is half-alien and half-human. “That inadvertently [broke] the fourth wall because as Nia’s doing that, so am I,” Maines told Entertainment Weekly. “I’m going on television and declaring my identity as a trans woman, proudly, unapologetically, and in hopes of inspiring people.” The increasing representation of trans people in media has “taught me there are people in Hollywood who care,” Maines said.
Feige told the New York Film Academy audience that Marvel tries to encourage diversity behind the camera as well. “Both films we have coming out in 2020 are directed by women,” as are multiple Disney+ shows, he said. “It makes for better stories,” he continued. “When you’re sitting at a table … if everybody looks like you, you’re in trouble. You’re not going to get the best story out of that.”
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