Looking For More Women in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Try Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D

Marvel has a problem with women. That is a simple truth that a lot of people know and recognize. We could say the problem exists across all of their platforms (comics, TV, movies, games etc), and that would certainly be true, but the problem is especially bad in what's called the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The MCU refers to the Marvel movies based on the properties owned by Marvel/Disney. In the MCU movies, there are rarely more than two women in the main cast of any particular movie. And if there are two or more women in the main cast? They will rarely pass the super low bar Bechdel Test (two women talk to each other, about something other than a man). For example, in The Avengers: Age of Ultron, the latest MCU film, there are two women in the main cast (Elizabeth Olson/Wanda Maximoff and Scarlett Johansson/Natasha Romanoff) and three in the supporting cast (Cobie Smulders/Maria Hill, Linda Cardinelli/Laura Barton, and Claudia Kim/Helen Cho). Only two of these women, in a two and a half hour film, speak directly to each other--Natasha Romanoff and Laura Barton, Hawkeye's wife, have a brief exchange about Laura's pregnancy at the Barton's home. The fetus is male, so I'm not even sure that actually passes the Bechdel Test. 

In contrast, the Marvel TV shows appear to be doing much better on this front. Particularly Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. On AoS (the accepted shorthand), there are eight women in the main and supporting season 2 cast (compared to about eleven men, so almost even representation). Of those eight, SIX are women of color. It's also of note that of those six women of color, four are Asian or of Asian descent (Asians are very underrepresented on TV, even more so than African-Americans and Latinos). Eight women, six of color, who are interesting, have various agendas and motivations, are three-dimensional and talk to each other (and not even always about men!). It's pretty awesome and frankly a little unbelievable for something coming from Marvel. Let's meet them! 

 

Agent Melinda May aka The Calvery, played by Ming-Na Wen

Melinda May is Coulson's second in command, the best fighter on the team, deeply loyal and one of Nick Fury's most trusted agents. At first, she might seem to be a version of the Asian Dragon Lady stereotype with her stern demeanor, amazing fighting skills and gorgeous looks, but there are layers, plenty of demons and deep hurts that Melinda hides by purposely keeping most people at a distance. An entire episode this season was devoted to her backstory (and how she got the name The Calvery) and it was heartbreaking. May's "coldness" made a lot more sense after that episode.

Skye aka Daisy Johnson aka Quake, played by Chloe Bennett 

Skye is the sarcastic and suspicious orphaned hacker leader of an Anonymous-type group who becomes a S.H.I.E.L.D agent and finds out she's more than human. Skye is the audience POV character. She's the most Whedonesque character on the show (quippy, searching for family, growing up) and in a lot of ways the show is largely about her journey to find herself. 

Agent Jemma Simmons, played by Elizabeth Henstridge 

Jemma Simmons is one of the "Science Babies" aka one half of the FitzSimmons super science/super best friends team. An adorable young English genuis who loves science, structure ("I can't be part of your bad girl shenanagins!"), and her friends; Jemma is loyal and a non-fighter who is much braver than she looks (or gives herserlf credit for). She also really dislikes betrayal, so don't cross her. 

Agent Barbara "Bobbi" Morse aka Mockingbird, played by Adrianne Palicki

Bobbi Morse is a character well known to Marvel comic book fans. On the show, Bobbi is one of S.H.I.E.L.D's best agents and an amazing fighter like May. But, refreshingly, she's also really nice, supportive and friendly. Those are her defining traits. She has a sunny, eternal optimist disposition that makes her a great friend and someone people immediately like. She's the most open and non-judgemental of the S.H.I.E.L.D ladies. 

Raina, played by Ruth Negga

Raina is self-interested, manipulative and will do whatever it takes to get what she wants...but she's not a (straight) villain. Raina is a True Believer who knows that she was meant for something more. She's a survivor who will align herself with whomever can help her achieve her goals-whether that's S.H.I.E.L.D or Hydra. You never know when she's telling the truth and her morals are super questionable, but you can always trust that she's looking out for #1. 

Jiaying, Leader of the Inhumans, played by Dichen Lachman

Jiaying is the seemingly benevolent leader of the Inhumans. She's also Skye's mother. Due to her abilities, Jiaying is very old but looks very young. She has lived and seen a lot of horrible history and experienced unimaginable pain (her family was destroyed by Hydra and she was brutally tortured and experimented on in an attempt to try and discover the secret of her abilities). Jiaying is kind but can be ruthless if need be. She will do anything to protect her people (who just want to live in peace and be left alone). 

Kara Palamas aka Agent 33, played by Maya Stojan

Kara Palamas was a S.H.I.E.L.D agent who was kidnapped, tortured and brainwashed by Hydra. Once Hydra is mostly destroyed by S.H.I.E.L.D, the un-rescued and still half brainwashed Kara is left adrift and desperately trying to figure out who she is. S.H.I.E.L.D eventually declares her free of the brainwashing, but it's unclear who the real Agent 33 is anymore. Or what side she's on. 

Agent Anne Weaver, played by Christine Adams

Agent Weaver is a scientist who became the director of the S.H.I.E.L.D Academy of Science and Technology--the school Jemma Simmons and Leo Fitz graduated from. After surviving Hydra's attack on S.H.I.E.L.D (during the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier), agent Weaver joins the non-team Coulson S.H.I.E.L.D as one of its leaders. Weaver is level-headed, cautious and a team player.

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Not all of the representation on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D is perfect, there is plenty of legitimate criticism of the show's treatment of canonically queer characters, for example, and some of the female character's storylines are frustrating as hell (the Bobbi/Hunter storyline, which I hate, is seriously testing me), but the show is leagues ahead of what the movies are giving us. I suspect the amount of diversity in the show is largely due to co-showrunner Maurissa Tancharoen, who is an Asian woman (and Joss Whedon's sister-in-law). It's worth noting that Agent Carter also has women at the helm. 

If we want to see (good) female representation from Marvel, it looks like, for the foreseeable future, we are going to have to make do with turning on our TVs. 

Niala Terrell-Mason's picture
on May 12, 2015

Hey, I'm Niala! I'm black, bisexual, super liberal, a Unitarian Universalist (I'll wait while you Google that), and a long time fangirl. I love fan conventions, Marvel, Star Trek, fan fiction, Tumblr, Harry Potter, most of the shows that Fox cancels and books. I work in a public library and I am a grad student pursuing a masters of divinity in interfaith chaplaincy (aka someone who does religion for a living). I hope you think I'm funny.