Captain Marvel reminds that emotional, compassionate, angry, resilient, brave, loud girls and women are dangerous to oppressive structures.
This article contains spoilers for the Marvel movie “Captain Marvel”.
One of the most Persistent and harmful messages I learned as a kid were that I needed to control my emotions and that if they expanded beyond a size that others were happy with, I would become unwanted, unemployed, and unreasonable. Loud girls turn into loud women if not checked early on. Loud women are dangerous, we are disruptive, we refuse to absorb pain in silence – a silence that only perpetuates oppressive structures and their beneficiaries. Marvel’s latest film, “Captain Marvel” starring Brie Larson, reminded me of the message so many of us hear and reaffirmed the power to break free from the silence we are bound to.
Jointly directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, Captain Marvel managed to complete an often difficult task: to create a story with feminist elements that felt more sincere than just opportunistic. Vers (Larson) was caught in an intergalactic war between the Kree and the Skrulls in 1995 and lives on Hala, the capital of the Kree Empire. Vers was trained as a member of the Kree Starforce by her commander, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), and tries to keep her emotions in check in order to become “the best version of herself.” She keeps having nightmares about a life she doesn’t remember her own. During a mission to extract an undercover Kree agent infiltrating a faction of Skrulls, Vers is captured and subjected to a memory probe that she escapes in a capsule and that leads her to the crash land on Earth in Los Angeles. Vers’s presence brings SHIELD agents Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) to the scene and initiates an investigation into why the Skrulls wanted access to Vers’s memories. This leads her and Fury to search for the mysterious technology the Skrulls have been looking for. Vers begins to unravel the jumble of her past life and discovers her identity as Carol Danvers, a US Air Force pilot who, after a plane crash with her mentor Dr. Wendy Lawson (Annette Bening) was believed dead. The investigation leads them to Danver’s best friend, former Air Force pilot Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) in Louisiana. There they are interrupted by Skrull commander Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), who reveals that the Kree have led an oppressive rule against the Skrulls and other life forms. They discover that Dr. Lawson was a Kree named Mar-Vell who had turned against the Kree Empire and worked to give the Skrulls access to technology (later known as the Tesseract, which gave Danvers their powers) to build a new home, far from Kree. Yon-Rogg was sent to kill Mar-Vell for her work and the crash was used as a cover-up and Danvers was taken to Kree, the memory was gone. Danvers, Rambeau and Fury join the Skrull Resistance and are ambushed by Yon-Rogg and his fighters in Mar-Vell’s laboratory outside of orbit. After Danvers is captured by the Kree, she uses the full capacity of her powers, leans into the depths of her human emotions and empathy, successfully defeats the Kree team and frees herself from Yon-Rogg and his control.
Much of what “Captain Marvel” was able to show us so effortlessly was how men control women through condescension, harassment, firing, infantilization, and gas lighting. Yon-Rogg’s role is one that many of us are familiar with. Almost every woman has heard his demand that Danvers suppress her feelings. He is the authority who views Danvers humanity as a mistake that must be fixed because their emotions, compassion and instinct would ultimately pose a threat to the Kree-led oppression – he is aware of how dangerous Danvers would be, if you have been able to fight back with full force, control over him is the only way for him to remain in a position of strength. Yon-Rogg convinced Danvers that keeping her emotions at bay would strengthen her powers, reminding her that “what has been given can be taken away” if she refuses to submit. His multi-part suppression of Danvers involves a hefty dose of gas light – he demands that she disregard her instincts, lie to her about her memories, and make her wonder who she is and whether her feelings are even valid. Only when she reaches Maria Rambeau does she begin to understand the depth of his deception.
Danvers’ relationship with Rambeau and her daughter Monica (Akira Akbar) is vital to the plot. Thanks to their friendship, she can connect not only with her memories, but also with her humanity and compassion. Carol and Maria’s bond as two women who are each other’s family and support system enables Danvers to see the power, use their emotions and empathy as a lens to understand the plight of the Skrulls. Rambeau’s presence and her words to Danvers undermine Yon-Rogg’s built-in message that Danvers must break free of her emotional responses in order to be the best she can be. Maria can help Carol to see that her feelings and humanity are actually her greatest strength and the foundation of her resilience – no matter how hard she is knocked down, she will always get up. The suppression of humanity and empathy can only fuel a kind of neutral complacency and perpetuate a one-sided belief that portrays the oppressed as enemies of the law and order of the Kree Empire.
This is not an unfamiliar topic, but one that all the oppressed are well aware of. The dehumanization of oppressed people through a series of laws, guidelines, beliefs, socially rooted structures and prejudices perpetuates systems such as white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism and is exerted through colonialism, anti-blackness, racism, xenophobia, nationalism, misogyny, queer and transphobia , Ability awareness, poverty, environmental disasters and more. It fuels wars, it wants to build a wall, it drives people out of their homes and lands, it bombs schools and hospitals, it controls wealth and it crushes revolutions.
“Captain Marvel” has managed to interweave what we know well about the oppression in our world and has shown us that our oppressors are most afraid when we use our anger and empathy to avenge those who are hurt. It encourages all of us, especially women and girls, not to be ashamed of our range of emotions, but to recognize them as a source of strength against those who tell us that they make us undesirable, unemployed and unreasonable. It’s no wonder the same gatekeepers who banded together to purposely underestimate the likes of Black Panther and Star Wars: The Last Jedi also gave Captain Marvel bad reviews weeks before its release for misogyny angry about the idea of a woman who is the focus of a superhero movie, especially a woman who is positioned as the most powerful individual in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Rotten Tomatoes was forced to change his permissions to prevent these types of tantrums from occurring in the future. For weeks, male YouTubers have been posting videos of how they know without a doubt the movie was going to be awful and screaming like Brie Larson hates white men. The fact that the film itself turned out to be a statement about how Mansplainer should just be quiet because their opinions don’t ultimately matter, and the fact that it co-opened on Thursday night $ 20 million to $ 24 million at the box office just feels so satisfying.
I would like to think that Captain Marvel is a reminder that emotional, compassionate, angry, resilient, brave, loud girls and women are dangerous to white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism. I’m glad that there are fictional and non-fictional superheroes who show us that our emotions are our strength every day.
With contributions by Sherronda J. Brown
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