Eternals, the latest offering from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, opens this week. To its most ardent defenders, whether it will be a good or bad movie doesn’t seem to matter; to the extent it does, the parameters of what makes a movie “good” or “bad” seem to have been dictated to them by Marvel—which is to say Disney—itself.
Last week, one of the stars of Eternals, Kumail Nanjiani, retweeted an article about the movie being review bombed on the Internet Movie Database by people who objected to it having a same-sex kiss. Nanjiani’s tweet read, “looks like we’re upsetting the right people.” Later that night, he deleted it. (Motherboard reached out to Nanjiani to ask why the tweet was deleted and he did not respond.)
This wasn’t really a one-off; indeed, much of the marketing and press surrounding this movie makes prominent mention of the diversity of the film’s cast and characters. The film features Black and brown actors in lead roles, a deaf character played by a deaf actress, and one hero in its large ensemble cast is openly gay. It’s also directed by an Asian woman, Academy Award winner Chloe Zhao. The cast of the film talk about this in interviews, and Marvel boss Kevin Feige touts Eternals‘ diversity as part of what makes the movie good.
Feige told The Hollywood Reporter, for instance, that having an LGBT relationship “was always sort of inherent in the story and the makeup of the different types of Eternals.”
“I think it is extremely well done, and I look forward to that level of inclusion in our future movies being less of a topic,” he continued. Comments like these from the cast and crew have made Eternals, in the eyes of Marvel fans, synonymous with the idea of diversity in cinema. This sets up a syllogism convenient to Disney’s interests: Eternals is diverse; diversity is good; therefore Eternals is good.
It is unambiguously good that actors from marginalized groups are getting leading roles in major motion pictures. The unfortunate side effect of that framing, though, means that it is now very difficult, and sometimes almost impossible, to say that Eternals looks like a bad movie without being characterized as someone who hates diversity by the hardest of hardcore Marvel stans. After Eternals got lackluster reviews last week when the press embargo was lifted, Marvel fans have characterized these mediocre reviews as coming from people who don’t like that the movie is diverse, as if there were no other conceivable reason anyone might not care for it:
It is true that Black Panther and Captain Marvel both faced negative reviews and review bombing from people who disliked that the films starred Black people and women, respectively, but those movies were also critically acclaimed. In Eternals‘s case, it seems like overall the movie is just not great, but because of the way its diversity has been positioned to its fanbase, regular critics are being lumped in with political bad actors.
Characterizing any criticism of this movie as bad for marginalized people is not just myopic, but a sad marketing tactic, carried out by people who aren’t even getting paid for advancing shoddy and cynical arguments. There is a clear need for broader diversity and inclusion in Hollywood, but that also means paying more attention to filmmakers and actors who do not work with Disney and Marvel. Saying that only people that hate diversity don’t like Eternals not only doesn’t make sense, it only helps Disney at the end of the day, positioning its marketing needs at the center of an entire art and industry.
Of the reviews of Eternals I’ve read, most mention that the film feels overly long and overly complicated, but find things to compliment within it, and make a point to mention the film’s diversity as a positive. A two-star review from RogerEbert.com praises the film’s “natural diversity,” but also says the movie is “a bit of a mess.” Likewise, Slate’s negative review says Eternals is “as sociologically inclusive and as pictorially beautiful as any movie in the franchise,” but also that it’s “one of the weakest Marvel movies.” Movies can just be bad sometimes. I’d prefer to live in a world where someone can make a stinker and still get another job, regardless of their race.
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