Agent Carter and Diversity

The heir to Captain America's legacy should do better than manufactured whiteness

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In the words of one of my best friends, it’s amazing how many people become historians the second someone wants representation in historical fiction.

The Marvel fandom, from where I’ve stood on the sidelines of it, has always had problems with racism. If you look at the stats on AO3, you’ll find Steve/Tony is far and away more popular than Tony/Rhodes. Rhodes and Falcon are ignored in the fandom. There was a nasty backlash to Heimdall being played by the very handsome Idris Elba, and Hogun being played by Tadanobu Asano. And you can’t tell me villains like Loki or Agent of Shield‘s resident Nazi, Ward, would be half as popular if they’d been played by non-white actors.

So when the fandom began having fits about people criticizing Agent Carter for being very obviously white, I wasn’t surprised. Just disappointed.

“But wait!” I’ve heard people cry, “Agent Carter takes place in the 40s! In America! Are you really expecting there to be loads of black people just wandering around?”

Yes. I am.

Agent Carter takes place in a universe where Steve Rogers can grow nearly a foot taller and get the finest ass in Brooklyn in under a minute. Where a dude literally has a Red Skull. Where Thor, the Norse God of Thunder, regularly comes to visit Earth and just hang out in between bouts of smashing people with his hammer.

People don’t bat an eyelash when Bruce Banner turns into the Hulk. But the very second we hear someone saying, “this needs to be a little less white,” people go positively apeshit.

I’ve been enjoying Agent Carter, enough to be sad to hear that it isn’t doing so well in the ratings department. But I’m not surprised; Marvel is clearly trying to reach out to its female audience, but only the white ones. Everyone else? Well, you’re apparently just going to have to put up with the manufactured whiteness of the show.

Agent Carter focuses heavily on the themes of sexism, of having your talents ignored because of your sex, and wanting to prove you can be as qualified as the boys despite what they believe. Why, then, is the show ignoring how those themes could also tie into what non-white people have experienced in the history of our country? The Captain America movies are not at all shy about criticizing America’s failures and showing us, in Steve Rogers, what America can and should be. Why are the writers for Agent Carter so scared to do the same? Especially when it’s been repeatedly shown throughout the show that Peggy herself is the heir to the Captain America legacy?

I’ve also heard it said that Peggy couldn’t possibly get together with her friend in the show, Angie Martinelli, because it was the 1940s. As if bisexual people didn’t exist until the 60s.

All of these arguments culminated in a post by beloved young adult author Tamora Pierce, who stated:

If you mean the cast is primarily white, it’s the 40s. Which is more offensive to you: black help and blacks in service, or no blacks? I would like to see more POC, yes, but that was the time, and I’m not sure I’d like to see more POC if they’re always going to be in service.

A serum that can make a person practically immortal and super strong is okay. Black women as waitresses, or soldiers, or any number of areas they actually were a part of in history? Whoa now, that’s just crazy talk. We can suspend disbelief for magic, but not the very real historical things that happened when it comes to non-white people.

It always hurts to see a hero fall as Tamora Pierce has just done. While I got to her books too late to really consider her an important influence on my own person, I recognize what she and her books have meant to thousands of readers everywhere. I can’t imagine the hurt her non-white readers must be experiencing right now, seeing their hero argue for their history to be ignored.

We should not, under any circumstances, ignore Agent Carter‘s faults in the name of girl power. The show can and should do better. It should not focus solely on a white woman’s problems breaking through the dick filled ceiling of her profession; if Agent Carter truly wants to be a voice for all of America and a worthy heir to the Captain America legacy, it needs to turn its gaze to others who have had to fight for their worthy places in our country, for a bare minimum of respect or civility.

That would be more historically accurate than the sea of white we have now.

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