Marvel at the Beauty

by Nneka Obidike Gerstle May 05, 2016

Flowing capes, futuristic suits of armor, yellow-maned gods, and the occasional not so jolly green giant. Welcome to the wonderful Marvel Universe where creativity flourishes and the denotation of beauty is… well, a work in progress.

On April 21st, 2016, news broke on the casting of actress, Tessa Thompson (Selma, Dear White People), as a principal character in the Marvel Universe. In this mystery role, the precocious Afro-Latina siren will be furnished with the trimmings of a superhero as she stars opposite Chris Hemsworth in the highly anticipated third installment of the Thor franchise. She is subsequently set to reprise the role in several additional Marvel movies.

Photo Credit: SERENA BECKER, Instyle November 23, 2015

When we at Bolden heard this glorious news, we broke out the champagne and had a toast. In case you’re confused by the ado, here’s why this development is noteworthy.

It’s no secret that Hollywood is a significant influence in regards to beauty, and the manner in which it is perceived by the world at large. Over decades, since its inception, the western film industry has determined ideals for beauty including, but not limited to skin, hair, eyes, mouth and even eyebrows.

Edgy brunette bob, dramatically drawn-on eyebrows, and wispy physique, Clara Bow, the first it-girl, epitomized the essence of the 1920s flapper. The 1950s saw the petite, blonde, blue-eyed, and delicate Grace Kelly heralded as the epitome of beauty. Marilyn Monroe’s platinum blonde hair, full lips, beauty mark and bold curves set iconic standards, which decades after her death, women still strive to emulate.

For better or worse, stars, particularly of the big screen, have set the benchmark for what is acceptable. And as Marvel, with its widely successful blockbuster franchises, (Iron Man, Avengers, Thor, Captain America etc.) currently occupies a dominant position in the film market, it has also established itself as an authority where beauty is concerned.

While Marvel has been applauded for its ability to have international audiences stampeding to movie theaters (myself unashamedly included), the entertainment powerhouse has also been widely criticized for its obvious patriarchy and whitewashed casting choices.

Quite simply, men rule the Marvel Universe, especially in its leading roles; Robert Downey Jnr. as the lovingly ostentatious Tony Stark, Chris Evans as the upstanding Steve Rogers, or Chris Pratt as the heroic buffoon, Peter Quill a.k.a Star-Lord.

Photo Credit: Marvel 

Roles for women are few, far between, and often insignificant. Therefore, when in the rare occasion meaningful parts such as Black Widow (Avengers), Pepper Potts (Iron Man), Lady Sif (Thor), go to Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jaimie Alexander, though we celebrate the appeal and expertise of each of these women, we cannot ignore the glaring lack of diversity or its singular interpretation of what a beautiful heroine should look like.  

(Though Latina actress, Zoe Saldana played Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy, her full body paint prevented her diverse features from being highlighted.)

Not to in anyway diminish her prowess, as Tessa Thompson has consistently delivered praiseworthy performances, but along with recognizing her aptitude, Marvel by this progressive casting choice is expanding the beauty horizon of its universe and paving the way for the embracement of broader definitions of beauty in the world.

So we raise our glasses to Marvel and to Tessa Thompson, whom we can’t wait to see in action. And when that time comes, we’ll be glued to the screen, because here at Bolden we believe there’s a superhero in every woman.

Nneka Obidike Gerstle
Nneka Obidike Gerstle


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