You may have noticed that in the weeks leading up to Captain Marvel, the movie got a considerable amount of bad press. A lot of the coverage made it sound like Brie Larson was a crazed sexist out to destroy men. I’m here to set the record straight.
This blog was originally going to be a look into what happened with Captain Marvel. I was going to focus mainly on the exact situation surrounding it. But this situation has been so quintessential to what it means to be a woman and a comic fan that I am going to go a little deeper.
It feels weird that I have to preface everything with this, but here we go. I am a STRONG supporter of the comic industry, and I’m not here advocating for costume changes or other things like that. Not today, at least! I’m not going to say Captain Marvel is an untarnished soul who needs to be protected. I’m not going to argue that Brie Larson isn’t without her faults.
I am, however, going to explain a few things to people who might not know what it’s like to be a woman who loves comics and superheroes. I’m going to clear up the misquoting that kept happening. And I’m going to hopefully make you think about this.
Captain Marvel Herself
Look, I get it. Captain Marvel isn’t exactly in good standing in the comics right now. She messed up big in Civil War II. The whole storyline was a mess of possible futures, and honestly, it left a bad taste in a lot of fan’s mouths (myself included). The whole thing was supposed to be a discussion of free will vs. fate, and it had some interesting points to make. But overall I feel it mostly just ended in a lot of dead heroes. Basically, fans were sort of done with her by the end of the arc.
Which leads us into why there was a tepid response to her movie by the time it came out. Perhaps the sentiment would have been different if the film came out in July of 2018 like they originally planned (they bumped it to make room for Spider-Man, which also bumped Black Panther, but I digress). The thing is, we will never know. But, because it came out as late as it did, we have to deal with the sentiment that exists now.
Unfortunately, bringing her into the universe so late also made her feel like she was shoehorned in at the last minute. Having a character who had a lot of potential feel like an afterthought…well, it sucks. I think we can all agree on that. All of these things came together as a perfect storm that made a lot of people uneasy. But, it was met with another equally powerful force.
What is it to be a Woman who Loves Comics?
I am not saying that the majority of comic book fans are sexist. I want to be clear. Most people I have met have been great. I have had many long conversations about lore and characters with the strangers I met in line at cons. But — and it’s a huge BUT — some fans are not so open-minded. Some people don’t want women in these spaces. They act superior to anyone they deem not a big enough fan (especially women) and have coined terms like “fake geek girls” and “fake fan.” I have news: There is no such thing as a “fake fan.” If someone says they like something, believe them.
Now, I know most of you hate hearing about this. There are huge debates that have raged for years about sexism in the comic community. But just because you don’t like hearing about it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Don’t start focusing on Brie Larson just yet. Let me tell you my personal experience and the stories of the women in my life, so you understand what I mean. What I want you to do is take a moment, and realize that women aren’t making up these stories for attention. We are telling you our experiences because we love comics and we love superheroes so much we are willing to put up with this to continue to be a part of the community.
Let’s start with me. I wear a lot of Star Wars and comic book (mostly Marvel) inspired clothing. I have, on more than one occasion, been stopped and grilled at length on every tiny detail of whatever fandom I’m repping. If it happens to be one I haven’t kept up on the comics for a while, or I fail to answer a question right away — the person will become so unapologetically smug you can feel it. They assume that they have proven I am a “fake fan” despite my walls being covered in action figures and prints. This has happened to me, multiple times, by numerous people. All of them have been men.
I’m not an isolated incident. Every woman who loves comics has had this, or something like it, happen to them. My town had to start a woman only comic book club because of it (I’m not joking). There was so much sexism and so little respect when women raised their voices in the local reading clubs that they stopped wanting to come. One of the local comic shops got sick of it and helped these women start a group where they could openly discuss comics together.
A group of passionate fans with pull lists as long as my arm was driven out of a space for things they love. Some people might say “Well, they weren’t real fans!” I have news for you people. If a person likes something — no matter what form of it they consume — they are a fan. You might also suggest starting a space where only women are allowed is sexist itself. But when other clubs make it so that women can’t speak or don’t feel safe speaking — there isn’t another option.
There is something that many fans, both men and women, have experienced — it’s called “Gatekeeping.” This is when a fan (of any gender), sees another fan and immediately begins to ask them 500 obscure questions about a character or an author in order to prove they are not a “real fan.” The thing about fandom and the thing about characters is this — if you like them, you are a fan. End of story.
If someone has read every comic that has ever been printed? They are a fan. If someone has only ever seen the MCU movies? They are a fan. If someone fell head over heels for the character design and the ideals they represent but has never read a comic book? They are also a fan. The only fake fan, in my opinion, is the one who doesn’t help others love the characters as much as they do.
There is one thing these gatekeepers forget. If people stop reading — the industry dies. The good fans, the real fans, go out of their way to introduce people to their favorite comics. They recruit new fans, the ones who’ve only seen the movies or just love the designs. These real fans take these young fans, and they show them the magic of comic books. The more people read, the more stories we get, the longer runs we get, and that is the magic of fandom.
Now that I have that out of my system, I want you to understand that this group of gatekeepers is trying to tell you what you can and can’t enjoy. They spend their time thinking of ways to stop people from seeing things and reading things that do not conform to their ideas. These people are the ones who tried to kill Captain Marvel before it even came out. And they spread a lot of miscommunication to already unhappy fans to do it.
The Facts about Brie Larson and her Interviews
The thing I heard spouted the most often (and with the most vitriol), was that Brie Larson refused to sit down with male interviewers during her press tour. This was a lie. The people who decided they did not like the idea of a female-led Marvel movie and the people who did not like that it had themes of female empowerment decided to take a quote completely out of context and use it as proof. They took it out and spread the word that “Brie Larson hates white men and won’t take interviews from them.”
Now, this lie spread like wildfire in a community that already was already unhappy with Captain Marvel (the character), and that can have a problem with sexism (again, this isn’t everywhere). So as you can imagine, it quickly became quoted and yelled about in every comic Facebook group and on every forum.
Many times I saw this quote from Brie Larson going around, “About a year ago, I started paying attention to what my press days looked like, and the critics reviewing movies, and noticed it appeared to be overwhelmingly white male.”
Looks a little rough, right? Sort of sounds like she didn’t like what she saw. Well, that’s because it’s cropped only to show you a quarter of the story. The thing is, she had a lot more to say. Here is what it looks like in full:
“About a year ago, I started paying attention to what my press days looked like, and the critics reviewing movies, and noticed it appeared to be overwhelmingly white males. So, I spoke to Dr. Stacy Smith at the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, who put together a study to confirm that. Moving forward, I decided to make sure my press days were more inclusive. After speaking with you, the film critic Valerie Complex and a few other women of color, it sounded like across the board they weren’t getting the same opportunities as others. When I talked to the facilities that weren’t providing it, they all had different excuses. I want to go out of my way to connect the dots. It just took me using the power that I’ve been given now as Captain Marvel. [The role] comes with all these privileges and powers that make me feel uncomfortable because I don’t really need them.”
That paints a pretty different picture, doesn’t it? She saw something she considered odd and actually looked into it. She never said, “I will not sit with any white male;” she asked for others to be included. Which is fair. If you are making a movie about a female superhero, shouldn’t there be female interviewers on the press tour? If one of the main characters is an African American (Samuel L. Jackson), shouldn’t you have people of color on the press tour? She said things bluntly in some cases, and in ways that seemed vitriolic in others. But she never said men shouldn’t review movies. Brie Larson simply asked for people who are actually the focus of the film to get a chance to discuss it.
Larson clarified in a follow-up interview, to really drive home her initial point, “What I’m looking for is to bring more seats up to the table. No one is getting their chair taken away. There’s not less seats at the table, there’s just more seats at the table.”
The Problem and a Hopeful Future
The people who started these rumors did it because Brie Larson is an outspoken activist. They did not want her to succeed. They went to a community already divided over the character, and gave them the push they needed not to see a movie that was actually a pretty good time. Was it the best movie in Marvel canon? No. Was it as good as many of them? Hell yes.
People said they were upset that Brie Larson made Marvel political — but I have news for you. Marvel has always been political. Captain America was created to punch Hitler in the face. He is doing just that on his first ever cover. And if you don’t think that is political, I don’t know what is. The X-Men were also very political when they were created. We’re talking about a bunch of outcasts who were treated as monsters and just trying to find a way to co-exist with a society that’s afraid of them. “That’s history, it’s just escapism now,” you might be whispering. But you’re still wrong.
Iron Man came out in 2008 during the War on Terrorism. It’s full of anti-war and anti-violence rhetoric. Captain America was anti-nationalism and taking care of people who can’t care for themselves. Sure, it was set in WWII, but that doesn’t change the theme. Ant-Man was anti-corporate greed, Black Panther was anti-isolationism…I can go on and on. Comics have always been a way for artists and writers to provide commentary on the world. That isn’t going to change. So feel free to enjoy them as nothing more than escapism, but you need to know — they always have been, and always will be, political.
The people who try to tell you that this is all just movies, and all just fun, are missing the very real people being affected by the worst among us. These people who only think we should allow the things that perfectly fit within their world view. They have screamed about diversity, about female superheroes, about anything that doesn’t fit their cookie-cutter hate filled worlds.
We are letting the people who have no place in our community win.
The problem is, as it always has been, that we let these rogue elements get what they want. We give these gatekeepers, these sexists, these racists power in our community, and that is something that should make you uncomfortable. The only way comics will continue to be made, the only way we get more movies, is to make sure we don’t drive parts of our community off. Make sure you have the whole context before you begin to nod and spread the word on things like Captain Marvel.
Try to support those who are telling you that something is wrong. At least listen when they speak up so you can understand. We are fans of heroes, and we need to act like it. The thing that Marvel teaches us — the thing that these stories show us — is that we need to stand up for each other. We need to listen when someone says there is something wrong, and we need to help each other be better.
I’m not asking you to love Brie Larson, and I’m not asking you to become an activist. I’m asking you to do your research. And next time you hear someone gatekeeping or talking about fake fans — remind them that they are the ones that are killing comics. It’s time we embody the heroism Marvel taught us — because we’re not acting like the people Stan Lee wanted us to be.