Agent Carter’s Opportunity for Intersectional Feminism

#DiversifyAgentCarter has been an active hashtag since May 8th, when the second season of the hit ABC short series Agent Carter was announced. Set in late 1940’s NYC, the show follows the work of the kick-ass Agent Peggy Carter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) after the disappearance of Captain America. Agent Carter is strongly feminist in that it depicts the struggles of Peggy having to now prove herself as an agent in a highly sexist environment.

It is a show that gets so much right about mid-century misogyny in the workplace, and elsewhere as we see Peggy living in a creepy home for single women. It is a huge step forward for seeing feminism in the MCU….. well, white middle class feminism anyway. The show is unfortunately glaring in its lack of diversity in skin color and ethnicities, painting a very WASP-y portrait of NYC that was in no way true.

The idea that better media representations of women has to start with white women is ludicrous and not really feminist. True feminism needs to be intersectional to not simply be called white feminism. The need for intersectionality in discussing feminism and issues of female representation, participation and pay in Hollywood and TV was brought up in the culture-sphere this winter when Patricia Arquette gave a rousing acceptance speech at the Oscars, followed by some backstage comments that much to be desired. While the feminist criticism of her comments might be seen as negative, it is actually the decades of  frustration among many POC feminists who have often been made to feel like a side note or an “other” by white, and especially white wealthy, feminists. While Arquette can easily write her comments off as being not what she “really meant,” the problem is that many white feminists still need to learn intersectionality.

Woman is not shorthand for White Woman.

That being said, since we have such sparse representation of powerful women in the both the Marvel and DC television and film franchises, it is natural to want to tear apart the few that finally pop up when we don’t feel represented by them. So when Arquette spoke out, many focused more on the problematics of her words rather than the moving impulse of her original speech, a speech that hasn’t really happened at the Oscars before. My hope is that Arquette used this opportunity to educate herself better on ways to ensure that when she uses her powerful voice to speak for women, it is clear that she is speaking for all women. Furthermore, I hope this is an opportunity for her, and others, to understand that the movements for equality based on gender, skin tone and sexuality are inextricably linked in feminism.

So, how do we learn to critique, while providing opportunity for growth?

#DiversifyAgentCarter is doing something different, where people are calling out the glaring whiteness of Agent Carter, while also exclaiming fan-filled love for the show.

When you scroll down through the entries, you find highly enthusiastic fans that resoundingly say they love the show and want to see it become better. There are people posting a multitude of historical  rationales for why a more diverse cast of women (and men) on the show makes sense in the real world, and suggestions for actual characters to include from the Marvel Universe that are POC or could easily be made so. Folks are pointing to the reality of Black, Asian, Latino and Native people who were fighting in WWII and working in intelligence fields, making the inclusion of a POC agent realistic.

It does seem ridiculous that the audience is expected to believe in super serums, Hydra and Red Skull but not brown people as heroes, as some folks on Twitter pointed out.

The show has already shown itself to be an excellent platform for depicting stories of people rising above adversity despite not being seen for their true potential; imagine how much more rich the show can become when they bring in the real-world racism of the late 1940’s, particularly as experienced by women in NYC? Hopefully the showrunners will see this call for diversity as an opportunity for growth and notice the creative potential available to the stories they are telling.

As Rachel Edidin explains in a really good Playboy article (you read that right), having a show like Agent Carter be all white is a system of the implicit bias of the entertainment industry, the assumption that white is somehow neutral. It is a construct that has been in the works as long as television. It is the work of the present to unlearn these biases and construct something new. Intentional inclusion of POC actors and storyline that subvert biases is one very important way we can begin to dismantle white supremacy and misogyny on television.

Another way is to encourage more diversity BEHIND the camera as well. The writers, the producers and the show-runners are all going to be telling tales that they can somehow relate to, resulting in not only diversity of faces, but also the diversity of stories. Really, there is nothing but a positive result that can come from diversifying Agent Carter! The only thing that might lose out is the white hetero-patriarchy, and that is a good thing!!!

Much of the above critiques can, and need to be, applied to much of television and film. so why are people focusing on Agent Carter instead of say Arrow? Well, it is a REALLY good show with a ton of potential! AND timing; the culture at large is in the midst of change, creating an excellent opportunity. It is a critique built out of love and a desire for bettering our cultural mythology of heroes.

So, will ABC, Marvel, and the showrunners of Agent Carter pay attention and at least get it 25% right? We will find out next season. But I do believe They are starting to get it, Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D. is already more diverse than the MCU movies, and more diverse than any of the DC televised shows for that matter. Hopefully, the folks behind Agent Carter can catch up and spear ahead with an even richer second season.

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