Why Marvel Needs Ava DuVernay More Than She Needs Marvel

Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images

Just as the American Civil Liberties Union is slapping Hollywood with an investigation into what the organization believes is intentional and widespread gender discrimination in the industry, TheWrap has reported that Marvel is courting Selma director Ava DuVernay to direct one of its upcoming films.

Marvel is one of the studios that has been met with the most criticism regarding the lack of women and diversity in general, both in front of and behind the camera, and hiring a black female filmmaker like DuVernay would be the best PR move Marvel could hope for as Hollywood comes under investigation.

According to insider sources who spoke to TheWrap, Marvel is courting DuVernay to direct one of its “diverse superhero movies,” meaning one of the films on Marvel’s upcoming slate that won’t feature a white male protagonist. The sources said she’s probably being looked at for Black Panther or Captain Marvel, with Black Panther being the more likely choice, as it’s coming out first.

Black Panther is about the superhero of that name, who will be played by Chadwick Boseman. The character is the prince of the fictional African nation of Wakanda who has to take on his father’s throne and avenge the king’s death.

Sources say that Marvel is eager to find a black director for the project, as well as a female director for Captain Marvel, which will be Marvel’s first female-centered superhero movie. We don’t need insider sources to know that the studio is suffering from a PR problem, given that no woman has ever directed one of its films and none of its standalone movies have ever been about a female superhero.

Much of the backlash has taken form in fan desire for a movie centered on Scarlett Johansson’s Avengers character Black Widow. Most of the other major Avengers have gotten their own standalone movies, but despite the fact that fans love her and have called time and again for Marvel to give her her own movie, the company hasn’t yet done so.

The Black Widow controversy was hilariously skewered in a recent Saturday Night Live skit when Johansson hosted the show, in which the standalone Black Widow movie was given a fake trailer presenting it as a romantic comedy because that’s the only way Marvel understands how to reach a female audience.

Even Mark Ruffalo, who plays the Hulk in the franchise, tweeted at Marvel asking the company to make more Black Widow merchandise for him to buy his daughters and nieces. He also retweeted responses that the character’s appeal isn’t limited to girls.

A subject of a thousand essays and think pieces, Marvel’s issues with diversity are a well-known problem. Landing DuVernay would be a major win for the company, especially with the ACLU investigation looming. DuVernay has said that while she’s not very familiar with Marvel’s comic books, she would be interested in working on one of the films in order to tell one of the stories in a new way.

“I’m not a big comic book fan, but I know I love to deconstruct heroes, deconstruct myths. I probably want to do some origin story,” she said in an interview with HitFlix when asked what she would do if Marvel came calling.

DuVernay earned raves for her Martin Luther King Jr. biopic Selma, but was snubbed for a Best Director nomination at the Academy Awards. Still, the film made her one of the breakout directors of last year, and she’s become an outspoken voice on the issues of diversity in Hollywood, particularly behind the camera.

While she wouldn’t be the first female superhero movie director — DC beat Marvel to the punch with that by hiring Patty Jenkins to direct Wonder Woman — her presence would definitely help Marvel mitigate some of the tension it’s certainly about to face with this ACLU investigation.

The organization alleges in a scathing report that Hollywood has been systematically discriminating against women for years and getting away with it due to legal loopholes and the overall belief that the entertainment industry is allowed to function outside the law.

“Women directors are subjected to discriminatory practices, including recruiting practices that exclude them, failure to hire qualified women directors based on overt sex stereotyping and implicit bias, and the use of screening mechanisms that have the effect of shutting women out,” reads the document, which can be read in full at The New York Times. The investigation covers both TV and film.

Marvel’s movies account for huge box office draw every time one is released. The most recent, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, has grossed $881 million so far since it was released May 1, according to Box Office Mojo. Marvel is a powerful force in Hollywood because of how much money its movies make.

And like one of the company’s very own heroes taught us, with great power comes great responsibility. The company has a duty, like the rest of Hollywood, to abide by fair hiring practices. It also has a social obligation to tell stories that are not solely related to the white male experience.

While stereotypically comic book fans are white men, we know that many people outside that description love and relate to the comics and characters created by Marvel, and the company shouldn’t leave those fans out of its cinematic universe. Hiring DuVernay would be a start to turning that around.

Follow Jacqueline on Twitter @Jacqui_WSCS

More from Entertainment Cheat Sheet: