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How does marvel reinforce racial stereotypes in america? John Lee

Abstract

With Avengers: Endgame being the top grossing movie of all time, we cannot argue against the fact that Marvel's superhero movies have had an influence in today's popular culture. Though Marvel's superhero movies are fun to watch, many their movies showcase different races in certain positions. Through this project, I will be mainly analyzing how Tony Stark 'Iron Man' mirrors the image of a young, successful, and 'white' CEO, and how different races appear in different Marvel movies in their representative stereotypes. For example, Middle Easterners appear as terrorists, Asians as scientists, African Americans as athletic characters that do not have leadership. In addition, I will be analyzing a Chinese villian 'Mandarin' that directly opposes the US superhero and characterizes the fight for world power between the two countries China and US. Through this essay, I wish to portray how Marvel reinforces various racial stereotypes in America.

How does marvel reinforce racial stereotypes in america?

Marvel created the first generation of superheroes (the ones who were introduced before the first Avengers) out of all white men like Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hawk-eye, and the Hulk. Subsequently, of those superheroes who had a sidekick, most of them were African American or Asian. In addition, Asians commonly come out during movies as scientists that only serve to aid the white ‘superhero’. This reinforces the stereotype that white ‘have it all’ – leadership, physical capabilities, and the brain – while other races lack in one way or another. It is only after Marvel received criticism of their films in regard to racial problems that they started to make films that deviated from the stereotypes. Like Black Panther, where Africans are seen as scientific and smart. For this research, I will be watching some of Marvel’s top hit films and analyzing the scenes/plots where racial stereotypes are reinforced. I will then connect these stereotypes to social protests that have been linked with racial stereotypes and structural barriers they create for people of various races. Then, I will consult some scholarly articles/newspapers to find how racial stereotypes were reinforced in other types of films (especially ones before 2000) and link it with how Marvel is reinforcing racial stereotypes.

METHOD: As I was watched several films released by Marvel over this weekend, I paid special attention to how various races were portrayed inside various movies. I will start off with the Iron Man. Tony Stark, the ‘Iron Man’, He graduated MIT, started developing weapons, and eventually owns his own company Stark Industries. He is the typical rich and successful white man we imagine. He also has a sidekick, ‘war machine’, who is an African American man who just assists Iron Man whenever he is battling an enemy. This aspect of Iron Man reinforces the stereotype that rich and successful people of society who usually work in management positions are white men. And they are always the one to get credit and have their faces on headlines like the ‘TIME’ magazine, while their sidekicks/employees from different race appear in their shadow. Take a look at the various Marvel movie posters below and see how the white men are ‘more in front’ than other races.

Where Iron Man appears, white men appear as the main character/villain and other races only appear as sidekicks. These sidekicks are always in Iron Man's shadow.
Iron man (Tony Stark) is captured by a Middle Eastern Terrorist group. This reinforces the image that Middle Eastern people are terrorists in America.

When I was watching the Avengers series, I found that the technicians working for Stark Industries are usually of Asian descent. Like the photo below, Asians are portrayed as the ones who work behind the curtain, matching the racial stereotype that Asians are good at tech but work under whites in management positions.

Asians are the background technology experts of SHEILD, but never the hero themselves.
After receiving criticism of how their superheroes are only 'white' men, Marvel created the Black Panther to deviate from the racial stereotype of Africans.

Essay

With Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, Black Widow, Hawk-eye, Spiderman, and many more of our favorite superheroes teaming up to beat the evil purple giant Thanos, the movie ‘Avengers: Endgame’ has risen up to become the top grossing movie of all time. With 289 million views just alone with Avengers: Endgame and more than 3000 million views across every film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel films have become part of popular culture. However, while these Marvel films are fun to watch, they have also indirectly reinforced racial stereotypes for America. Through this essay, I will be detailing how Marvel has reinforced racial stereotypes for America by showcasing the how the Iron Man series portray various races in Marvel films.

First off, I will be starting with the first superhero series that signaled the start of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – Iron Man. The superhero in this series is Tony Stark, successful CEO of a weapon manufacturing company called Stark Industries. He is the typical successful white man. Tony was raised in a upper socioeconomic class family, being born a prodigy in both technology and entrepreneurship, and graduated MIT. He had access to the very best of what America could offer an individual, and he had a lot of other ‘white’ and powerful businessmen help him rise to the position of a CEO of a huge company that his father passed onto him. Tony is the typical rich and successful white man who’s backstory parallels those of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and many more of today’s successful CEOs. Take a look at the scenes from the first two minutes of the first episode of ‘Iron Man’ where Tony Stark is introduced to the roaring crowd. These scenes are very similar to how today’s famous CEOs are showcased. By showcasing Tony Stark – the stereotypical rich and successful white man – inside such a popular movie, Marvel is reinforcing the stereotype that all the mega-successful CEOs of America is white.

The scenes found in Iron Man's opening scene portrays Tony Stark as one of those young 'white' successful CEOs like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg.

In addition, African Americans and Asians are portrayed in a certain ‘racially stereotypical’ manner in the Iron Man series. Tony Stark, or ‘Iron Man’, has a sidekick named the ‘war machine’. He is an African American soldier who assists Iron Man whenever he is battling an enemy. However, even though the war machine helps Iron Man get out of trouble multiple times during the movie and plays an important role in successfully completing missions together, he is always behind Tony Stark, and never receives the spotlight. Asians also appear several times during the movie as scientists and engineers working for Stark Industries, developing new technologies and presenting them to be used for upgrades to the Iron Man. However, none of the Asians are even mentioned by the press and they are all behind the shadow of Tony Stark. These representations of African Americans and Asians showcase to the audience that they lack in some dimension compared to whites. More specifically, the whites are seen to have all the physical strength, intelligence, and leadership while other races lack in some way or another. African Americans are seen to have physical strength but not intelligence, and Asians are seen to have intelligence but not the physical strength.

Iron Man's Cinema Posters showcase Tony Stark's African American sidekick in the shadows of him.

It is also interesting to note that in the third episode of the Iron Man series – Iron Man 3, there is a villain that appears as the ‘Mandarin’, Tony Starks arch-nemesis. First off, the name itself begins with the Asian character being called the most stereotypical Asian name possible. As Charlie Jane Anders says in her article How Big Is Iron Man 3's ‘Fu Manchu’ Problem, this name is "oriental at best, but plainly racist." The conflict between Mandarin and Tony Stark, where the Mandarin plans to invade the United States, is very analogous to the current technology race in the world. The current technology race is a war between companies like Apple and Hwawei fighting for hardware devices and Amazon and Alibaba fighting for e-delivery services. Tony Stark, who resembles young and successful CEOs of tech giants like Tesla or Facebook is going against Chinese ‘villians’ represented by the Mandarin. This portrayal of the China as the enemy of US is clearly depicted in Iron Man, and this reinforces stereotypes that China is a rival of the US and offers a very ‘American’ viewpoint to the US-China technology race in which the Chinese is portrayed as the ‘villain’.

The 'Mandarin' -- the arch nemesis of Tony Stark and villain of Iron Man 3
The Technology war against Chinese companies Hwawei and Alibaba against American companies Apple and Amazon

Bibliography

  • Anders, Charlie Jane. “How Big Is Iron Man 3's ‘Fu Manchu’ Problem?” io9, io9, 16 Dec. 2015, io9.gizmodo.com/how-big-is-iron-man-3s-fu-manchu-problem-5955239.
  • Cristobal Giraldez Catalan. “‘Heckuva Job, Tony!" Racism and Hegemony Rage in Iron Man.” Bright Lights Film Journal, 26 Apr. 2019, brightlightsfilm.com/heckuva-job-tony-racism-and-hegemony-rage-in-ironman/#.XeRq-JNKjxj.
  • “Mandarin (Character).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 3 Dec. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandarin_(character).
  • Marotta, Jenna. “'Black Panther' Co-Writer Says 'Douchey and Disrespectful to Women' Tony Stark Might Not Sit Well Today.” IndieWire, 6 Apr. 2018, www.indiewire.com/2018/03/black-panther-writer-tony-stark-sxsw-1201938017/.
  • McNary, Dave. “Here Are All the Box Office Records 'Avengers: Endgame' Will Break This Weekend.” Variety, 27 Apr. 2019, variety.com/2019/film/news/avengers-endgame-box-office-records-1203199238/.
  • Moersen, Alex. “A Spoiler-Heavy Analysis of Avengers: Endgame.” Innovation & Tech Today, 29 Apr. 2019, innotechtoday.com/avengers-endgame/.

Reflection

Created By
John Lee
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