Many comic book fans are looking to the recently announced group of series on Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Daredevil to fix Marvel’s gender and racial diversity problems. However, if those fans looked at Marvel as a part of its parent company Disney, the diversity picture of movies already on Netflix looks very different. Since Disney has omitted many of its “classic” and “bestselling” titles from its Netflix offerings, the animated options do not include helpless, underage, white princesses like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. Instead, there are take-charge heroines from diverse backgrounds such as Mulan, Meg, Lilo, Pocahontas, and Esmerelda. Jessica Lange will only add to this action-based group of heroes, with their varied interests, backgrounds, and inclusion in “princess” composite photos.
Now, Disney comes with its own, whitewashed set of cultural diversity issues, which make the portrayals of characters of color problematic. But in addition to attempts at racial diversity, characters like Mulan and Pocahontas offer young girls active role models who can both physically and mentally out-do their male peers. Think of Pocahontas’ run through the woods with John Smith, Mulan’s mastery the climbing challenge at training camp, or Meg’s sardonic wit. These moments make these Disney women exceptional and interesting role models for young girls, and great alternatives to the “she was in trouble, he rescued her, they got married” sorts of Disney princesses. Jessica Jones will be a happy live-action addition to these animated alternatives.
It is unclear whether Jessica’s story will pick up where the comics left off, after her marriage to Luke Cage and birth of their daughter. Hopefully, the series will continue to portray Jessica as the comics have, as a complex, unmasked, and often-reluctant hero. If they do, Jessica will continue to work on investigating the multiverse with her private eye firm, Alias Investigators. If they do not follow the comic timeline, then perhaps Jessica Jones will suit up as Jewel once again and engage the villains of Hell’s Kitchen on a grander scale.
Regardless of the direction Marvel takes Jessica’s plot line, her entrance to the already-large cast of independent Disney women on Netflix will be a perfect fit. Since Disney decided to release characters they deemed “minor” (or “minorities”) on Netflix, the site has become a vault for some of the best role models Disney has to offer young girls. Between Mulan’s gender-bending ethos to Lilo’s “nobody-gets-left-behind” policy, Jessica has some big sandals to fill. Hopefully she takes hers and takes charge, giving American girls a flesh-and-blood super woman to admire alongside these animated heroines.