New Book Reveals Endgame’s Unearned Girl Power™ Moment Tested Poorly, Leading to Changes
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Marvel producer Trinh Tran revealed in the new book, The Story of Marvel Studios: The Making of the Marvel Cinematic Universe by Tara Bennett and Paul Terry, that the moment the women of the MCU came together in Avengers: Endgame was seen as “pandering” from test audiences. This interview was one of many in the book that shows behind-the-scenes decisions for the first few phases of the MCU.
Tran was adamant (as were others who were desperate for an ounce of parity from Marvel) that the scene should stay in the movie. Because the scene tested poorly, they added scenes of the women fighting together in smaller groups with reshoots and worked up to that big scene in the final cut. So in the short term, it gave more buildup to the women arriving onscreen together.
To anyone who’d been watching the MCU films for years, though, those additional scenes didn’t make much of a difference in how the scene was ultimately received in its theatrical version. Also revealed in the book is that the idea for the scene came from Thor: Ragnorak co-writer Craig Kyle’s photo of all the women present at the reception of Avengers: Infinity War for his daughter—an image shared to Twitter, too.
I took this shot for my daughter and it’s the coolest picture I’ve ever taken! #BadassLadiesOfMarvel 💪@MarvelStudios @Avengers @Guardians @Antman @theblackpanther @captainmarvel @thorofficial #AvengersInfinityWar pic.twitter.com/u36x1SB0zN
— Craig Kyle (@MrCraigKyle) November 27, 2017
According to Tran, this sparked a conversation about an all-woman Marvel film that some pitched to Feige. Because Marvel/Disney hadn’t done it yet (at that moment) and they plan years in advance, Tran went for that short-term inclusion in Endgame. “Hadn’t done it yet” is a bit light; let’s be forthright and say they refused to have a female-led movie until Captain Marvel and, recently, Black Widow. It also doesn’t help how often the word “empowered” was used in a simple visual context in the book’s quotes, rather than empowerment through narrative.
This doesn’t lie on Tran alone, but a whole industry that devalues women’s work on and off the screen. Let’s also be honest and admit that the “Girl Boss” mindset and culture has had a grip on society for decades. However, this was especially so the last ten years.
The “women of Marvel” photo story doesn’t help
The reveal that the idea came from seeing some of the women together in a photo on set reinforces this point. To put a bunch of women together and expect people to take it as a truly empowering moment is absurd. It was literally an afterthought.
Especially when there were significant structural issues with most of the women leads in the showdown with Thanos. In Avengers: Infinity War, a woman’s death (Gamora) was in service to two men’s character arcs (Star-Lord and Thanos). Then, in Avengers: Endgame, despite two original Avengers dying (Black Widow and Iron Man), only Tony Stark gets the onscreen, heartfelt goodbye—even after movie after movie of sexualizing Black Widow for no reason and having her partnership with another hero be the focus of many team films.
I’m just sayin’ … they could have had a joint funeral. Anyone with two birthdays in the same month as their immediate family knows the drill. All this disrespect to the only woman on the first big-screen Avengers team. (I’m not counting the original Avenger, since that “reveal” was almost two decades later.)
This is not new, but worth bringing up because, let’s be real, the last five years (especially the last two) have been a blur. That “girl power” moment felt like the Kylie Jenner Pepsi commercial of the MCU in the way almost every side agreed it was pandering and empty.
Even with the Quantum Realm, this was a hard fix
Behind-the-scenes drama over the years at Marvel and Disney, with what we now know about writers like Joss Whedon, makes me not even want to say, “Oh, if they’d done a few movies before that, it would’ve worked”—”a few movies before” meaning some majority women-led teams, solo films, etc. With the power of hindsight, we now know it would’ve likely been worse. Back in 2019, Princess Weekes wrote about how Marvel doesn’t know what to do with the powerful women they do write in.
If they couldn’t write most of their very few women well in Phase 1 and Phase 2, how would we expect them to handle a whole team? It took until Phase 3 (the same phase as both of those latter Avengers movies) and really Phase 4 to get complicated, interesting women as leads. Phase 3 was also the first phase featuring leads that are women of color. Tessa Thompson and others spoke out over the years, in their limited capacity, to call attention yet again to inclusion issues. It was Thompson who said she and a group of Marvel ladies marched over to Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige during a Thor: Ragnarok press event and suggested the time had come for an all-female superhero team-up movie.
Marvel’s phase 4 and 5
By the end of the year, we’ll be about halfway done with phases 4 and 5. (It’s hard to see exactly where one begins and ends and pandemic delays don’t help.) Still, we haven’t had enough to warrant a less shallow Girl Power™ moment—though we are hopeful. In this short amount of time, we’ve had six movies/ TV shows with women leads, disability representation, the first woman director for a Marvel film (Cate Shortland), the first woman of color (Chloé Zhao) to direct a Marvel film, a majority Asian cast film, and more. Next year, there will be Muslim representation with Ms. Marvel. Thor will be taken over by two powerful women, and we have nothing but the highest expectations for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
Even further down the line with The Marvels, we will be getting a women-centered team (as far as we know). I know representation and seeing oneself and others onscreen alone is a drop in the bucket when it doesn’t feel earned (i.e. the scene that brought about this article), but these are still promising changes—not just because of who we see on the screen, but who is participating behind-the-scenes, as well. Hopefully, like my fellow TMS writers, I won’t feel these conflicting feelings of joy followed by disappointment as these stories play out.
CORRECTION (10/27/2021): We incorrectly wrote that Tran wrote the book. Tran was one of many, many people interviewed for the book.
(via ComicBookReader.com, image: Marvel Entertainment/Disney.)
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