While Marvel Studios attained pretty widespread critical and commercial success fairly early on, one of the main criticisms lobbied against the MCU has been its lack of diversity. Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Doctor Strange, Ant-Man, and Hawkeye are all white dudes with varying degrees of muscle definition. It took 20 films for the MCU to finally get around to making one with a woman at the center—2019’s Captain Marvel—but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Indeed, an internal struggle waged inside Marvel for years, which is why it took so long for a female-led superhero movie to arrive from the studio.
Mark Ruffalo discussed in an interview with The Guardian how, on the set of Marvel’s The Avengers, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige was preparing to go to Disney to complain about the lack of female superhero movies. The problem? Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter:
“When we did the first Avengers, [Marvel supremo] 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, which they had been discussing while preparing for Thor: Ragnarok. “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.’”
Perlmutter, a secretive executive with a background in the toy industry, controlled the keys to Marvel for years, and was the roadblock preventing Feige from fully executing his vision. Indeed, we learned a few years back that Rebecca Hall was supposed to be playing the main villain in Iron Man 3 until Perlmutter decided that kids wouldn’t buy toys based on female characters. Which explains why Hall’s role in that film feels half-baked.
Feige and Perlmutter butted heads for years, as Perlmutter continually refused to greenlight Captain Marvel or Black Panther. In August 2015, Feige successfully lobbied Disney to restructure Marvel Studios. Going forward, Feige would report to Disney head Alan Horn instead of Perlmutter, and Perlmutter would have no more oversight over Marvel movies (he did, however, retain control over Marvel TV and comics). This is right around the time that development on Thor: Ragnarok was underway, and is why that film feels like a fresh start for the MCU. Immediately, Feige got the greenlight to make Black Panther and Captain Marvel.
Ruffalo discussed this shift in the Guardian interview, teasing Marvel’s first openly LGBTQ character in Eternals coming later this year:
That, says Ruffalo, was the turning point for Marvel. “Because Kevin wanted black superheroes, women superheroes, LGBT superheroes,” he explains. “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.” He smiles. “They have to, though. This is the fucking world.”