For months before seeing the movie, I watched my Twitter timeline shiver with anticipation as they impatiently awaited the arrival of Captain Marvel.
The excitement makes perfect sense: Captain Marvel is Marvel’s first female-led film, and it arrives after a whole decade of male superheroes being the center of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel leaned into the Girl Power ™ aspect of this event; it’s apparent in the marketing and advertising around the movie, and in the movie itself.
I went to a Thursday-night fan event for the movie. I thought the movie had some structural issues, but I still liked it. I did not, however, feel the empowerment and excitement that a lot of my friends seemed to feel.
I’d gotten hung up on two characters in the movie: Maria and Monica Rambeau. In the film, Maria is Carol Danvers' best friend and Air Force buddy, and Monica is her daughter who affectionately calls Carol “Auntie Carol.”
In this movie, Maria and Carol have a very, very close (...and a tiny bit gay) relationship. Maria’s been through thick and thin with Carol, and they’d do anything for one another. Maria’s tough, kind and amazing at flying a plane.
Monica is a smart kid with a twinkle in her and the ability to convince the grown-ups around her to do what she wants. Carol and Monica clearly love each other very much, and Monica acts as a vital aspect of Carol’s journey of self-discovery.
The things is, the movie versions these characters are very different than the comics version of them.
I liked how they changed Maria in Captain Marvel, even though I wanted Maria to have more development and screen time. The Maria Rambeau of the comics has mostly just been Monica’s really sweet, supportive mom, so it was cool to see her become a badass.
It’s the way they’ve changed Monica that’s irked my spirit. The Monica Rambeau I know isn’t a child who grew up admiring Captain Marvel.
The Monica Rambeau I know is Captain Marvel. Monica Rambeau, a Black female superhero, is the first woman to ever use the “Captain Marvel” moniker.
Monica Rambeau’s character was created in 1982 by writer Roger Stern and illustrator John Romita, Jr., who noted that Monica’s looks were originally modeled after Pam Grier.
Monica was born and raised in New Orleans to her parents Maria and Frank. She was a lieutenant in the harbor patrol, and, or a while, was a cargo ship captain. One day, Monica was exposed to a wild amount of extra-dimensional energy after she tried to stop the creation of some wild ass weapon. The exposure gave her the ability to manipulate and transform herself into electromagnetic energy.
Monica decided to use her powers to kick ass, and the media dubbed her “Captain Marvel.” Monica would use the Captain Marvel title for a very long time, and would eventually go on to lead the Avengers. Monica was actually the first Black female superhero in the Avengers.
The reason the film’s portrayal of Monica Rambeau vexes me so badly is because the film ends up taking a title and backstory that belonged to Monica and giving it to Carol. Instead of being the powerful superhero who precedes Carol, Monica is now a child who stares up at Carol in admiration.
This movie essentially erases a Black female character in order to bolster a white female character.
The racial optics of this portrayal of Monica Rambeau are poor to say the least. Firstly, it continues the tradition of white superheroes overshadowing Black ones. Secondly, it mimics mainstream feminism's tendency to exclude or diminish Black women in favor of centering white women. Mainstream feminism has been kicking Black women to the curb since the days of Ida B. Wells and the Women’s Suffrage Movement.
If you Google the phrase “Black feminism,” you’ll find that Black women have always had to find ways to navigate systems of oppression on our own because our white counterparts often ignored the specific ways patriarchal society abused us.
Empowerment ends up looking different for white women than it does for Black women. White nerdy women can watch Captain Marvel and feel very good about the way they are being represented. But a lot of Black nerdy women might watch Captain Marvel and wonder why they couldn’t have done a Monica Rambeau movie instead.
I actually think a Monica Rambeau movie would have been more impactful. It would’ve been the first Marvel movie to be lead by/centered on a Black female character. While Black Panther does right by its women, (better than most Marvel films) it is still a male-centric movie. So, having a Black female-centric movie would’ve been a huge step forward in terms of representation.
This might sound petty to some people, but I feel as though it’s a big issue because we’re just now getting to a point where companies like Marvel remember that Black superheroes exist.
We still have a long ass way to go in terms of racial representation in film in general, let alone in nerdy shit. Black people are still often to the role of the sidekick or the best friend or the support system in these types of movies.
Hell, Captain Marvel uses Monica and Maria as Carol’s support system. I did enjoy Maria’s relationship with Carol in the movie, and I still wish Marvel would admit that they’re gay AF. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that Maria mostly existed to be Carol’s cheerleader in this movie.
Most of Maria’s lines are spent telling Carol how strong and amazing she is, and how much Maria missed her. Maria spends a good amount of her screen time finding ways to be Carol’s backbone.
And Monica straight up teaches Carol about who she is. Monica even uses pictures that she’s been apparently hoarding for her entire childhood to explain Carol’s history with Maria.
Again, this wouldn’t have been all that concerning to me if it weren’t for the racial optics of having a Black female character who mainly exists to be there for her white best friend. That is a tired ass trope that we desperately need to leave behind.
Another reason I find myself irritated is the fact that this isn’t the first time Marvel’s pulled a stunt like this. They did it with Peter Parker and Miles Morales in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Homecoming takes elements of Miles Morales’s story — Miles’s best friend Ganke Lee and his uncle Aaron Davis, in particular — and gives them to Tom Holland’s Peter Parker. Ganke Lee is now Ned Leeds, Peter Parker’s geeky best friend.
And Aaron Davis is now a weapons dealer that Peter meets up with on his journey to stop Vulture. The character in Homecoming even mentions that he has a nephew who lives in the area, but he never says Miles’s name in the film (he apparently says it in a deleted scene.)
Just like Captain Marvel has done with Monica Rambeau, Homecoming took parts of Miles Morales’s story and tweaked just enough to make his white counterpart look better. Marvel’s clearly got an issue that needs to be addressed.
The more I think about Captain Marvel and Monica Rambeau, the more I wonder why this was the route Marvel chose to take. I understand why they would have wanted to use Carol’s character: she’s become a prominent part of Marvel’s canon in the past several years.
But they didn’t have to introduce her as “Captain Marvel.” They could’ve just introduced her as “Ms. Marvel,” which is who she’s been for the majority of her publication history.
Carol Danvers didn’t take on the mantle of “Captain Marvel” until 2012, which is when writer Kelly Sue DeConnick came along. DeConnick’s run is where Carol becomes “Captain Marvel,” and, to DeConnick’s credit, she realized that she was stepping into murky territory. DeConnick even has a moment in her run where Monica tells Carol that Carol should’ve asked before taking on the name.
It honestly makes no sense to me to just skip all of Monica’s run as Captain Marvel and go straight for Carol Danvers as the captain when there is so much history that comes along with the name. Monica’s character has been so important to so many that it feels offensive to watch Marvel morph her into Carol Danvers' underling when they didn’t have to.
Captain Marvel ultimately reminds me that this movie was made for a particular type of female audience, and I am not in it. I can like it as much as I want, but it really doesn’t matter. Because Marvel didn’t make this movie for me.