Tell me if this sounds familiar: “Legendary Hollywood auteur previews Marvel movies online that sent comic book fans into a frenzy.” No, it’s not Martin Scorsese calling the MCU movies “theme parks.” Not even Francis Ford Coppola, who thinks all Marvel movies are the same. The latest Hollywood legend to wreak havoc in the realm of online movie fandom is Quentin Tarantino. And this time, one of the enraged fanboys is the actor who portrays the Marvel superhero on screen.
In an interview to promote his new book, the director known for hyper-realistic and violent films claimed that Marvel films have killed the modern movie star. It’s not the actors who are the stars now, but actually the characters they embody on screen that bring fans to the theaters, he said.
Chinese-Canadian actor Simu Liu, who portrays the superhero Shang-Chi in the MCU films, hit back at Tarantino on Twitter, writing: “If the only guardians of movie stardom came from Tarantino and Scorsese, I would never have had a chance. lead the film plus $400 million”. He went on to call the directors “transcendent auteurs” but mentioned that he feels proud to work for a studio that prioritizes inclusivity and representation in contrast to Hollywood’s golden age, which was “white as hell”.
Now, as someone who has blathered on for hours about the genius of Tarantino’s cinema (much to the chagrin of my dinner dates) and has also seen all 30 MCU movies in theaters, I’m in a catch-22. Conventional wisdom tells me to side with the underdogs, but who is the underdog in this scenario? A famous film director with a three-decade career that cinephiles swear by, or an actor who represents an absolute giant of a movie studio that devours all competition?
So let’s break down the two aspects at play – movie stardom and diversity.
If I remember Conan the Barbarian and TerminatorI think of Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as Julia Andrews’ Mary Poppins and Maria Von Trapp, Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, and Indiana Jones. If you think of stardom as a linear growth from one big thing to the next, I tend to agree with Tarantino’s view. Aside from the first wave of MCU stars like Scarlett Johannson and Robert Downey Jr., who established themselves before entering the superhero arena, it’s hard to think of an MCU actor who has established himself as equally in another role. They can help films achieve big weekend box office like Tom Holland Uncharted and Chris Pratt for Jurassic World series, but these films are rarely known for the acting prowess of the actors in question. Even Tom Hiddleston, who is getting critical acclaim for his post-Avengers take on Jim Jarmusch, has to come back to don the supervillain tights. Loki, a streaming show on Disney+. Simply put, the studio has such a strong hold on these actors that the studio is the star.
But when it comes to diversity and inclusion, the waters are a little murky. The die-hard Tarantino fan in me claims that African-American actors like Samuel L Jackson and Pam Grier have had plum roles in his films since the 1990s, and that in films such as Jackie Brown and Kill Bill. These depictions have since come under scrutiny, with accusations of appropriation and fetishization. On the other hand, when a massive studio like Marvel decides to tell the story of a superhero from a marginalized background, it puts their culture in the spotlight. The black Panther films combine African culture with futuristic science fiction, Ms. Marvel mixes South Asian Muslim culture with a teenager who gains superpowers, and Shang-Chi explores the character’s Chinese roots while battling a supervillain.
How prominent these characters will be in the next Avengers team remains to be seen. It could, after all, lead to another fetishization vs. tokenism debate.
At the end of the day, a movie is the sum of its parts. What is a little annoying is the black and white binary that develops around the love of the movie. Every moviegoer should be able to love the stories and stars they prefer. If a big superhero action movie makes them appreciate their culture, which is valid, and if a superstar in an unconventional role makes them take risks with the movie, then that’s valid too. It became the highest grossing film of 2022 Top Gun: Maverick, powered by the irresistible charisma of Tom Cruise. At the same time, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Playing in theaters right now is an emotional send-off for actor Chadwick Boseman. Both movie stars in their own right.
The writer is a stand-up comedian, writer, podcaster/podcast producer