Date of Award
MA in English
Shanté P. Smalls
The Marvel Cinematic Universe and its collection of films have represented a large number of superheroes and sidekicks. Taking a closer look into the character dynamics reveals that the majority of the Black characters have been forced into the restrictive ‘sidekick’ trope that stunts all development and keeps them positioned below their white hero counterparts. Sidekick characters James Rhodes, Sam Wilson and Maria Rambeau all work in the same function as side players who ensure their starring role heroes can save the day, even if it costs them their bodies, ideals and backstories. This repeated violence helps perpetuate the anti-black structure of repression that promotes whiteness and does not acknowledge the role that the Black heroes have played. Marvel Comics, alternatively, has had a little more progress in promoting Black characters into titular roles but still struggles with repression due to the characters being unable to move outside of the shadow of the white heroes. Using the characters to show how whiteness is positioned above Black in terms of relevance allows the racist hierarchy of power to be continued on. Looking at how each of the Black characters function in relation to their corresponding hero and on their own also works to uncover trauma. Rambeau, Wilson and Rhodes are regulated to Military/Armed Forces members who have lost someone important to them and can save the day without getting any of the credit. Forcing them into two-dimensional shadow versions of their heroes – Captain Marvel, Captain America and Iron Man respectively – shows how diversity within the Marvel Cinematic Universe and comics is further back than films like the Black led Black Panther would lead one to believe. In order to allow Black sidekicks to become heroes in his or her own rights the white hero would have to be reconsidered as screen time and development would have to be shared.
Wilson, Kayla, "Shadows In Spandex: A Look Into Anti-Black Racism And The Positionality Of Sidekicks Within The Marvel Cinematic Universe And Comics" (2020). Theses and Dissertations. 12.