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Kevin Feige runs the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which means he currently runs the most successful movie franchise in the world. Everything he touches seems to turn to gold (and upsets Martin Scorsese). But he put his Marvel Studios job on the line to stand up to Disney's biggest shareholder -- among others at the parent company -- to fight for female-led superhero movies.
According to Mark Ruffalo's account, Kevin Feige wasn't sure if he'd have a job after making his pitch to Disney. It's not clear whether he would've quit if they said no or if he thought Disney might fire him for standing up to them. Either way, he won. He stood up for change and made it happen.
Mark Ruffalo told the story in an interview with the Independent. Ruffalo plays Bruce Banner/The Hulk in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and he's very active in progressive politics. The site noted how Marvel had been criticized in the past for its lack of LGBT+ representation -- with many allies disappointed to just get a brief nod in Avengers: Endgame. That's when Ruffalo shared some Marvel backstory:
When we did the first Avengers, Kevin Feige told me, ‘Listen, I might not be here tomorrow.’ [He was going to talk to Disney about the issue of why there were no female superhero movies.] And he’s like, ‘Ike [Isaac Perlmutter, Disney’s largest shareholder at the time] does not believe that anyone will go to a female-starring superhero movie. So if I am still here tomorrow, you will know that I won that battle.’
He won that battle. Marvel has always had prominent women, from Pepper Potts in the very first MCU movie Iron Man to Black Widow as the MCU's first major female superhero. But it took 21 Marvel movies for a woman to lead her own film. That movie came with Captain Marvel. (The 20th film gave The Wasp co-billing with Ant-Man and the Wasp, but it was still considered Ant-Man 2.)
Kevin Feige speaking up was the turning point for Marvel, Mark Ruffalo continued:
Because Kevin wanted black superheroes, women superheroes, LGBT superheroes. He changed the whole Marvel universe. We now have a gay superhero on the way, we have black superheroes, we have female superheroes – Scarlett Johansson has her movie coming out, we have Captain Marvel, they are doing She-Hulk next. No other studio is being that inclusive on that level. [Smiles] They have to, though. This is the fucking world.
This is the world -- and Marvel is the superhero market leader in it, and hugely influential. The box office successes of Black Panther and Captain Marvel showed that -- at the very least -- Marvel fans don't need lead characters who are white or male to show up. They just want the movies to be good enough to live up to the Marvel standard. It's the story that matters.
The Eternals is going to have the first openly gay superhero, and Kevin Feige has talked about continuing diversity in future movies. As long as the quality stays high, it should be a win-win for people that have dreamed of superhero representation and the overall Marvel fandom that just wants great comic book movies. After all, if things like gender, color, and sexual orientation shouldn't matter, then it shouldn't matter if movies focus on more than one gender, color, or sexual orientation.
The DCEU already gave Wonder Woman her first hit movie in 2017 and she's getting a sequel this June. DC's Birds of Prey hasn't done as well so far, but it also has a very inclusive team. Both Marvel and DC are showing a lot of diversity in different ways right now. But the common denominator is always going to be Is It A Good Movie? And that's the way it should be.
Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel weren't hits because they were about women any more than Iron Man and Thor's movies were hits because they were about men, there was just more focus on the former leads' genders because it was new. (I cannot wait until we stop calling any movie with women as stars "female-led." You never hear about a "male-led movie" because that sounds stupid -- imagine reading about Tarantino's next male-led movie. It's just considered "a movie" and not about gender. Are we there yet?)
They were just engaging movies about characters fans came to care about -- plus there are always awesome supporting characters in these films. See Black Widow's solo movie, which is finally showing up (after they killed the character in Avengers: Endgame) this May 1, 2020 and introducing a great supporting cast. I fully expect that to be the case for all future Marvel movies and Disney+ shows. I can't wait to meet the new characters and stars coming soon in Phase 4 and beyond. Excelsior!