The Inclusion Crisis in Hollywood: Captain Marvel and the role of women in film

Brie Larson stars as Captain Marvel, one of the few female superheroes in feature films. (Photo from Marvel Studios)

By Joe Catalfamo staff writer

Captain Marvel (2019) is a progressive film that embraces a different style that we have not seen before from Marvel Productions: a female superhero.

Captain Marvel is controlled by Carol Danvers, an ex-Air Force pilot who acquires her powers while exploring her uncertain past as a fighter pilot on Earth. History has shown a slight improvement towards depicting women more powerfully, but the efforts from Hollywood are still falling short. Captain Marvel welcomes a storyline that includes many primary characters that are female.

The film stars Brie Larson, Annette Bening, and Samuel L. Jackson, and Captain Marvel falls under the genre of a female superhero action/adventure film, and even harnessed a female director and co-writer. As a story about the film from Marie Claire put it, Anna Boden’s goal as the director was to take the character of Captain Marvel, played by Larson, and “take her on a very powerful journey of self-discovery” throughout the film’s storyline.

Boden explains that the story lends itself into a feminist narrative, and the directors chose certain attributes about Captain Marvel and stuck to those characteristics. She said there’s plenty of pressure as a trailblazing woman director, but feels honored have the opportunity to craft such a dynamic character.

“One of the things that I love about this movie is what an amazing collaboration it is between super awesome women,” the article quotes Boden saying, which essentially sums up the basis of what the film stands on. The purpose of this is to break barriers in the movie industry to make these films a common practice, instead of just a rarity that audiences see only a few times every year.

Captain Marvel is set in the 1990s and follows the character of Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel) as she evolves into one of the universe’s most powerful hero when Earth is caught in between a galactic battle between two foreign alien races. After crashing an experimental aircraft, Captain Marvel is discovered by the Kree race and is trained to be a warrior for the elite Starforce Empire. Six years later, she escapes to planet Earth after battling with the Skrulls and finds herself in the city of Los Angeles during the 1990’s. Captain Marvel is accompanied by S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury, played by Samuel L. Jackson, and together they try to explore Carol’s mysterious past as an Air Force pilot. As the two begin to piece Carol’s history together, the audience is shown the strength, courage, and brains that Captain Marvel prides herself on.

Captain Marvel addresses an issue in our society about the under-representation of women in the American film industry.

A report from the 2018 USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative study analyzed the representation of gender, race/ethnicity, LGBT, and disability in popular film. It found that in 2017, women had fewer speaking roles in movies than they did a decade ago, according to the study ( After looking at the top 100 movies of 2017, the number of male characters outnumbered female ones by more than double: this issue is known as an “inclusion crisis”.

The study showed that this crisis has stayed consistent for years, and of the percentage of 1,100 films analyzed, only 13 percent of them featured a balanced cast of men to women. Of these 1,100 films, just 43 of them were directed by women (note that these statistics are from 2017, so Captain Marvel is not included here). Women directors made up about 4.3 percent of the directors studied, and even more specifically, of the 64 black or African American directors, only four of them were females.

Throughout the history of the film, it is common for the role of women to be secondary relative to the roles of men, and the issue spans across nearly every genre. History has shown a slight improvement towards depicting women more powerfully, but the efforts are still not enough. With more films like Captain Marvel and female directors like Anna Boden being active in Hollywood, the inclusion crisis could be put to an end sooner than we had hoped.

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