Thursday 20 September 2018

Article: The Marvellous Number Game

The discourse is dead. Long live THE DISCOURSE. Only a day after a rather needless spat allegedly on the idea of film critics and class, we are slapped in the face by the new Captain Marvel trailer and the unbelievably "spicy takes" which come with it. Below is the trailer and the very strange reaction that’s been gained by one person:

Melissa McEwan, editor in chief of, a progressive feminist blog decided that after counting the amount of dialogue uttered by characters within the trailer, the fact that Samual L Jackson's Nick Fury had more lines than Brie Larson's title character was a clear reason to call shenanigans. Never mind that the trailer is clearly set up in a way to provide the character an air of mystery by one of the characters which helped formed the glue of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The sheer fact that a man had more lines than a woman in her own trailer was contemptuous. When the tweet was queried by a fan, their well meaning arguments were dismissed as appalling. Because even though the film may not even have its runtime figured out yet, Marvel must do better because sexism.

To question the methods of populist films is something that pop culture writers should critique and provide insight. Screen time and the vocal representation of gender and minority characters should most definitely be notified. Captain Marvel comes in after the Warner Bros hugely successful Wonder Women and as Marvel Studios’ first female-led superhero feature, it’s a film with very high, very particular expectations.

However, the age of twitter takes, instaopinion and microanalysis has created a platform of dubious, broken narratives that look to derail movies before they even get a chance to be watched. This quick take tweet comes across as one example. I have no doubt that Captain Marvel's movie will have Brie Larson's Carol Danvers character front and centre, yet McEwan hot take is so obnoxious that a person like myself is more switched off by her than an apparent meagre word count. Melissa's fans have highlighted her as a smart and insightful writer, whose writing on feminism is worth reading. However, it only takes one thing to switch someone off. For McEwan, it’s the bizarre idea that Captain Marvel will be about Nick Fury after counting the words to a two-minute trailer. For me, it’s the idea that something so myopic is worth being outraged about. Especially if the writer is unapologetically doubling down. 

At the same time, another Twitter member, whose name isn’t really worth mentioning decided to partake in some dubious trolling purposely designed to “trigger to snowflakes”. The “gag” involved some quick photo editing to change images of non-smiling Larson to display a cheesy grin. The idea? Female heroes should “smile more”. Despite the fact that male heroes are not asked the same thing. 

The problem is, both tweets land themselves in the same wheelhouse. Deliberating about the vocal representation of the main title character in a promotional advertisement designed not only to provide a broad description of the overall movie but to also proposes that we will need to actually see the movie to obtain the full picture, comes across as outrage for the permanently outraged. Good critiquing can be an entertaining as well as a thoughtful process, whereas ignorant hot takes such as these can suck the very joy out of those caught in the vortex. Just because we are progressive does not mean we aren't also ignorant at times. We must also think what chance does a film have if these are the battles we're looking to fight for?

I do not condone the vile insults which flowed from the thread soon after the tweet was sent, but I do find it eye-rollingly irritating to see a progressive feminist writer go down the route more used by the same faceless trolls who would be all too quick to lambast her. We all watch movie trailers. Characters you expect to have larger roles have significantly less to do. Scenes are rearranged and chopped, and in a situation like Captain Marvel, it’s no surprise that a character of the universe who is familiar to the audience would “take centre stage” in order to introduce a character.  

An interesting opinion that came up (that I'm not sure I would ascribe to) is that the thought is yet another example of "white feminism" in which the idea of Jackson’s Nick Fury, despite being a Marvel character with the most number of info-dumps, should be subdued so the pretty white girl should have more lines than the POC character no matter the situation. Once again highlighting the problematic issues that have dogged the current generations debates of Intersectionality and whether people really care about minorities. For the most part, I think most people do.  

Comments such as McEwan’s feels less like a sharp insight and more like snide comments in an out-of-place framework. Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa has no words in the first Black Panther trailer. Most of which is of two white characters talking about where the character is from as opposed to the character himself. The original spider-man trailer (pulled for its use of the Twin Towers) not only has a wordless Spider-Man but a Spider-Man who doesn’t turn up until late on into it’s very short run time. Due to the nature of the 1989 Batman film, Jack Nickleson has far more play than Michael Keaton. Such examples make McEwan’s comments feel more like the so-called manufactured outrage, that certain groups love to claim progressive indulge in.

As the online culture wars rage on we see more tools and projects which help us engage with the media around us. Methods such as The Bechdel Test as well as Every Single Word Spoken project (which deal with tally lines of dialogue spoke by minorities) for example are particularly helpful with emphasising marginalisation. However, they rightly can come under criticism of being utilised as complete cultural barometers for films. Amusingly, the Captain Marvel trailer is of course great news for black African American’s as Jackson occupies so much of its word count. Of course, these methods of evaluating those who are maligned are effective when used correctly and in the right context. Like within a whole feature for instance. 

Knee-jerk reactions like McEwan’s only muddy waters. Going through the thread, the tweets did nothing to engage any real debate or concern. It did, however, do lots to agitate those with cartoon faced avatars as well as many black and white feminists who seemed pissed that a female writer with a large following is needlessly dumping on Marvel’s first female feature for no other reason than the word count. Speaking of which. This post has gone on way too long. So how about some trailers to finish?