Marvel’s Latest Crisis Proves It Hasn’t Outgrown Its Most Despicable Instincts

After fighting tooth and nail for more inclusive stories, the MCU could find itself right where it started.

Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow in The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Marvel Studios

It took an entire decade for Marvel’s Cinematic Universe to put a female hero center stage. As the story goes, that was largely due to skepticism from Ike Perlmutter, then-CEO of Marvel Entertainment. Perlmutter served as the head of Marvel through its acquisition with Disney in 2009, and oversaw development on every film from Iron Man to Avengers: Age of Ultron. He was also infamously averse to the idea of diversity and inclusion, for the fear that a female action hero (or anyone that wasn’t a straight, white man, honestly) would fail to turn a profit.

Perlmutter was eventually sidelined in a “long overdue” corporate restructuring in 2017. Vanity Fair cited his “outdated opinions about casting, budgeting, and merchandising” as cause for the shuffle — and though Marvel never made an outright statement against their former CEO, it’s not hard to see that he was the one holding the franchise back.

The MCU became a very different franchise without Perlmutter. Black Panther premiered in 2018, the first Marvel film to feature a majority-Black cast. Captain Marvel wasn’t far behind in 2019, paving the way for female-fronted superhero films like the long-overdue Black Widow. Perlmutter wasn’t officially fired until 2023; with his departure, it felt like the last remnants of a bygone era had finally been sloughed away. Unfortunately, there’s more than just one bad apple still spoiling the fun at Disney.

Perlmutter hasn’t called the shots at Marvel for quite some time, but he’s far from obsolete. He still owns billions of dollars worth of Disney stock, according to The Hollywood Reporter — and he’s teaming up with activist investor Nelson Peltz to take some of that power back. The financial nitty-gritty of this proxy battle isn’t the easiest to follow, but in short, Peltz is angling for two seats on Disney’s board of directors. With that power, Disney — and Marvel in particular — could be heading right back to the dark ages.

Despite a dearth of female-centric Marvel films, there are some who still question the need for “a Marvel that’s all women.”

Marvel Studios

Peltz’s recent comments echo Perlmutter’s infamous attitude on diversity in the MCU. “Why do I have to have a Marvel [movie] that’s all women?” he told the Financial Times. “Not that I have anything against women, but why do I have to do that? Why can’t I have Marvels that are both? Why do I need an all-Black cast?”

For what it’s worth, no Marvel film features an exclusively all-female, or all-Black cast. But even if it did, what’s one movie to a franchise of over 30 interconnected stories?

Peltz also claims that Feige’s record has been dubious, but Black Panther and Captain Marvel — the two films that Perlmutter reportedly sabotaged for years — were also two of the franchise’s highest grossing. There’s a clear demand for inclusive stories, particularly from studios as massive as Marvel. Some just aren’t willing to accept those facts, or more accurately, cater to marginalized communities in any way.

For insiders at Disney, Peltz and Perlmutter’s campaign is the product of a personal vendetta. The studio itself framed their proxy battle as the manifestation of Perlmutter’s “longstanding personal agenda” against Bob Iger, current head of Disney. Iger himself calls Peltz a “distraction” meant to deter the company from its goals. Given that Disney is in the midst of a “quiet retooling,” it can’t really afford a setback as big as this.

Perlmutter’s anti-woke attitude is the last thing Marvel needs right now. But after The Marvels, the franchise needs more than a quiet retooling.

Marvel Studios

Then again, figures like Peltz and Perlmutter weren’t born in a vacuum. Disney has been mired in what insiders call “internal confusion” for a while now, not only because of Perlmutter’s meddling. Marvel’s efforts to reinforce itself against superhero fatigue and an increasingly toxic fandom have produced diminishing returns, culminating with The Marvels and a storm of anti-woke controversy.

Iger’s attitude in the wake of the film’s release wasn’t very reassuring, either. The exec claimed that The Marvels suffered from a lack of on-set supervision, and that creators have “lost sight” of their main objective within the Disney brand. “We have to entertain first,” Iger said. “It’s not about messages.”

Not even Iger seems to understand what Disney and its subsidiaries really need. The company wants to position itself as the antithesis to figures like Peltz and Perlmutter, but it can’t do that without reevaluating its relationship to marginalized filmmakers and fans. It’ll take more than a quiet retooling to bring Disney out of Perlmutter’s shadow; hopefully Iger realizes that before it’s too late.

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