Diversity In 2016 Marvel Movies Was At An All-Time High For The Studio

It may seem like 2016 was a disaster of a year, but it hasn't been all bad. Just take a look at pop culture. Disney introduced its first Polynesian princess, though Moana would correct you if you called her one. (She's the chief's daughter and the future leader of her people, thank you very much.) Black filmmaker Barry Jenkins and the primarily non-white cast of Moonlight are cleaning up at awards shows and seem to be right on track for a slew of Oscar nominations. And Marvel, one of Hollywood's biggest studios, finally picked up the pace and made some long strides when it came to inclusitivity.

In November, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige told Vulture that diversity is a priority moving forward for the studio: "For us, it's important that we don't feel like a completely white, European cast," Feige said. Fortunately, the studio's moves in 2016 are evidence that this position is more than just a soundbite. While Marvel was criticized this year for what some have called the "whitewashing" of The Ancient One character in Doctor Strange (in the comics, the master of the Mystic Arts is usually an Asian man, but Strange cast Tilda Swinton in the role), it'd seem that Marvel has learned something from that backlash, and is working to move forward. There's still work to be done to make sure that the studio's onscreen heroes are as diverse in gender, sexuality, and race as the audience that comes out to see them, but as 2016 proved, Marvel has shown an increased commitment to diversity in some major ways.

1. Captain America: Civil War Introduces T'Challa

It takes a presence like Prince T'Challa's to stand out in a stacked superhero movie like Captain America: Civil War. Chadwick Boseman made his MCU debut as Black Panther, a member of the royal family of Wakanda who's one of Marvel's most prominent black characters (and who's not a huge fan of Bucky Barnes, as you can see). Fans responded instantly to T'Challa's suit, quiet intensity, and fighting style, not to mention that statuesque bodyguard.

2. Brie Larson Is Captain Marvel

I'm still waiting on my Black Widow solo film, but at least there's one female superhero film coming along at long last. Larson was officially announced as the star of Marvel's upcoming Captain Marvel film at San Diego Comic-Con this year. The movie is on the docket for an early 2019 release, which gives you plenty of time to read up on some Carol Danvers source material.

3. Wong Has A Major Role In Doctor Strange

In the Doctor Strange comics, Wong is more of a butler than a warrior. Played by Benedict Wong in the film, though, he's a skilled practitioner of the Mystic Arts. Wong takes on the job of the keeper of the library in Kamar-Taj, even though the last librarian, was beheaded and is hilariously unimpressed by Strange's ego.

4. Zendaya Joins Spider-Man: Homecoming

Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

A little part of me rejoices when bigoted fans cry and complain about the race or gender-bending of an existing character. Zendaya's character in the next Spider-Man reboot is probably named Michelle, but man, were those trolls peeved when they thought she was playing Mary Jane. And hey, it's still possible that she is Mary Jane— how cool would that be?

5. The Black Panther Cast Is Incredible

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

T'Challa gets his own film in 2018, and Black Panther is already loaded with a rich ensemble of incredible actors of color. Creed director Ryan Coogler has put together a cast to die for, including Michael B. Jordan, Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong'o, Forest Whitaker, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, and yes, Florence Kasumba — the actor who made such an impression in her brief bodyguard scene in Civil War.

6. Taika Waititi Hires Native Crew Members For Thor: Ragnarok

What We Do In The Shadows director Taika Waititi may seem like an unconventional choice to helm a big-budget comic book flick like Ragnarok, but he definitely seems up for the challenge, and is already making some important moves. The movie was shot in Australia, and Waititi told Buzzfeed that he felt "a responsibility" to employ indigenous people on set, across every possible department. "I was exploring the idea from the moment I got to LA, telling the producers at Marvel and they were fully on board with it," the director said.

7. Tessa Thompson Plays A Comic Book Character Who Is Generally Represented As A White Woman

Creed solidified Tessa Thompson as a great "get" for any film. So how smart of Marvel to cast her as Asgardian warrior Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok, especially since she breaks that character's blonde, white mold.

8. Deadpool Is A Proud Pansexual

It could and should have been made more explicit in the movie, but director Tim Miller confirmed in an interview with Collider that Wade Wilson is very much a pansexual man. Ryan Reynolds told Variety that he'd be into the idea of Deadpool being in a relationship with another man in a future film. “I certainly wouldn’t be the guy standing in the way of that," Reynolds said. It'd only be fair to the canon to follow through on that.

It's frustrating that diversity isn't a given in 2016, but these Marvel milestones are truly encouraging.

Images: Walt Disney Pictures; sherlockspeare/Tumblr