On the eve of International Women's Day, I sat in a movie theatre with my teenaged son on my right, and a cluster of excited teenaged girls on the left. There was a palpable buzz among that crowd who were a wonderful cross-section of the superhero fandom. We were there for the opening night fan event for Captain Marvel, wondering if what we had been waiting for would live up to our hopes and expectations for the next chapter in the MCU.
Did it Ever!
Carol Danvers, is a hero we need right now. She is a strong intelligent woman, who despite the misogyny and abuse that has been throw her way, not only gets up and dusts herself off, but then hands her oppressors their asses - on a photon-charged platter no less! She is both Gaia and Warrior. She has power of cosmic proportions - however, she is a protector, someone out to end, not perpetuate war, and to locate safety and haven for refugees she encounters.
Some may wonder why with all of the various challenges in the world facing women, that on a day like IWD that I would write about a fictional character, when there are women in ghettoes, war zones, and shelters that I could write about instead. I write this for them, and because of them. We can see ourselves in Captain Marvel, and we can see the Superhero within ourselves.
Sometimes we need to see Superheroes in front of us, to remind ourselves of the Superheroes within us.
Carol Danvers represents the EveryWoman archetype, just as Steve Rogers was the EveryMan within the MCU - and we couldn't ask for a better Captain Marvel. She provides a snapshot of what it takes to make it, and reclaim it as a woman in a still male-dominated world.
She overcomes a great deal because of her conviction and the process of reclaiming belief in herself. It is also with support of her best friend and her best friend's daughter, along with the inspiring and illuminating memories of a female mentor. There are men in the cast, and in a #Bechdel affirming way, they are vehicles for her, and the plot. They are McGuffins of sorts, the threads that connect her to Endgame, but don't tie her down or hold her back. The ones that try that, pay for it in the end.
After Black Panther, which showcased the power, importance, and influence of women of colour, in addition to a titular strong black male, I was worried that the feminist component here might not reach the levels attained with Shuri, Nakia, Okoya, and Ramonda. I also worried about a return to a too white cast. Like Black Panther, the elements of intersectionality, race, and gender were worked in organically (and here intergalactically). In doing so, they worked to provide a timely, and timeless, tale.
Carol Danvers' key relationships are with her best friend Maria Rambeau, and Maria's daughter Monica, who calls her Auntie Carol. Scientist and mentor Wendy Lawson is Carol's role model and some would say a maternal figure. These women pilot the story - and the aircraft - soaring to heights others question possible. Monica even asks her mother "what kind of role model she is being for her daughter" if she were to step down from a mission with Carol because of her maternal responsibilities. She reminds us that we are often inspired by our mothers, and yet sometimes let down by them, when they place parenting above their own dreams.
We can parent and live our dreams, and that in living them, we can be better parents for it. For our children to know how to dream, how to fly, we must model the behaviour.
Carol and Maria do that for Monica. They are an interracial maternal powerhouse, regardless of whether any romantic relationship exists between them. These women love each other in a manner that transcends the physical or romantic. I appreciate the openness that was left in the story by having no romantic angle present - something that distracted from DC's WonderWoman. Their love for each other, for Monica, and for those they fight for and alongside, goes beyond wistful glances and sentimental trifles. It comes in the form of candid conversation, and kick ass determination. No punches pulled.
In Captain Marvel, men's roles are strictly supporting cast. They are either genuinely compassionate (if not sometimes endearingly confused) and supportive, or they are representations of the misogyny and abuse Carol has faced in a lifetime. A demeaning father is on the periphery, with his name omitted. All that is present are recollections of his verbal assaults to bring her down and reign her in. Similar experiences in her military career follow. These voices will later be echoed by Yon-Rogg who, very paternally, seeks to control and contain her, and who will ultimately face the greatest, display of her strength physically, and psychologically.
Fury and Coulson are threads to MCU's Endgame rather than being major plot drivers. We see them in their early days, neophytes that Danvers mentors and leads. They are even comedic sidekicks that convey the emotional range of healthy masculinities along the way. And if your'e a cat lover, you'll be shipping Fury and Goose after watching this! In a role reversal, we have otherwise leading men as sidekicks, and they are none the lesser for it.
Women can drive stories without devaluing men - that's feminist film-making.
As to what Carol overcomes in her journey to being Captain Marvel, there are connections between all aspects of her life and history, and too many that would be spoilers to discuss here. So let me focus on one aspect that will resonate with many, especially in an era of #MeToo and #TimesUp. In the verbal abuse, condescension, and derision, we see hurled at Carol over a lifetime, there was far too much that hit home for me, and I'm sure many other women in that theatre. However, the moment where Carol is able to fully embrace and control her powers is built up with images of every time she got up after having fallen, or been pushed, down. Here she overrides the limitations placed mentally and physically upon her, and her full galactic force emerges - and male villains shrink back in her wake.
She overcomes the voices that sought to restrain her because they saw her power, and now she unleashes that power upon them. She also leads with her strength - her emotional acuity and compassion - which are part of her superpowers. The very things they demanded that she contain and withhold, and derided as weakness.
Carol is a survivor of abuse and trauma. These too are part of the Superpowers she possesses. They inform her perspective and her use of her powers. She is not out for vengeance, she is out for justice and reparations. Along with Lawson and Rambeau, she seeks to end cycles of violence. She possesses grounded realism and compassion that come with trauma. She fights to protect displaced refugees, and does so humbly after the recognition that she was fed a series of lies alleging these were invaders infringing on borders. This sounds way too familiar in an era of border walls and nationalism.
There is an interesting anti-military aspect to Captain Marvel, just as there is to Captain America. Too often those who don't know much of comics and superheroes conflate and confuse military references as support for invasion and imperialism, rather than recognize the critique of these from a front-line perspective.
Captain Marvel is front-line soldier who will no longer be a pawn in someone else's unjust war.
What pleased me the most about this film, and what inspires me to share my thoughts, was the response in the theatre. From the excited responses of the young women next to me, to that of my son and the other viewers in the theatre - there was a palpable energy through out the film. There was a power that energized us as we journeyed with Carol as she sought to harness and eventually unleash her powers.
It was wonderful to see young people responding to a movie hero that I wished existed in my time: A woman of strength and character, and one not tied to a male love interest, or bogged down in the burden of pleasing or appeasing others. A woman owning her freaking awesomeness and building a healthy network of support, friendship, and allies along the way. My son lead an impassioned conversation as we left the theatre. He was equally impressed and heartened to see a lead female character who inspired him, and one who we both noted, can be cosplayed with full coverage. Yes, that matters.
So yes, on IWD, I write about a fictional character. Because like other characters within our legends and mythologies over the millennia, such a character gives us a touchstone, a role model, and vehicle to find our own hero's journey.
Captain Marvel provides a much needed and timely vehicle to find the Superhero that lives within us, especially those of us who have overcome abuse, misogyny, and trauma.
Carol Danvers, I wish you a happy International Women's Day, and I thank you for being a role model who embraces her superpowers in a manner that allows you to shine to your fullest potential, without diminishing the light and strength of others, and rather empowers them in seeking justice and healing.
To my sisters, may we seek our own strength the same way: building strong relationships between us and with healthy and supportive men, so that we may transform the world to a place where justice comes easily, conflict is not sought lightly, and where healing brings empowerment.