Moving forward, the Marvel Cinematic Universe wants to normalize diversity. This is a noble goal, but one that is easier said than done. Many studios in the past have shied away from diversity, and one key reason is that doing it poorly seems like too big of a risk. If the diversity feels forced and inauthentic, the story risks turning everyone away. Ideally, you want characters that feel real, relatable, and that make a diverse audience feel seen. Is this too lofty a goal for Marvel to reach? According to a recent Variety interview with Eternals star Salma Hayek, we can expect to see it achieved in Marvel’s Eternals.
Salma Hayek has worked as an actress in Hollywood for a long time, so she has the experience to know when it feels wrong. But what is it that makes her feel so confident in Eternals? She says that it doesn’t feel forced, and she points to director Chloé Zhao as the reason why. She said, “It’s the way she chose every single one of us that really creates a family for the purpose of the Eternals. For the purpose of the film.”
To understand what Salma Hayek may mean when she says the diversity doesn’t feel forced, we have to consider what it looks like when it does. There is a debate to be had about whether “forced diversity” is a real issue. Sometimes, the term is used when people feel like there was no reason for a person of color to have a role. In these cases, there is often no reason the character needs to be white, either. Saying that there needs to be a reason for a character’s racial background to exist is problematic and something that needs to be looked at.
Other times, this comes up when a single person of color is cast in an otherwise all white cast, and the one person of color’s role is simply to play up stereotypes or talk about their background. It’s awkward, uncomfortable, and it’s hard to find people who like it. It feels forced. There’s no reason for that character to be doing those things, it doesn’t feel authentic, but the filmmakers wanted to make sure you remembered that the whole cast wasn’t white. Who benefits from that? Not an audience looking for authentic characters they can connect with.
Here, Salma Hayek is saying that it doesn’t feel forced in Eternals because the director chose each actor in a way that created a family dynamic. From a superhero movie, there is pretty much nothing better you can promise for a movie. We want to see Avengers team up. We want to see Guardians of the Galaxy characters bantering and giving each other a hard time. The new trailer for Eternals shows the group in the end sitting at a table, laughing amongst themselves. That is exactly the kind of promise you want to see in a Marvel film, and it’s also the kind of promise you want to see in a movie that promises diversity that feels natural and authentic.
Would it have been weird to have a cast for Eternals that wasn’t diverse? You betcha. The characters are supposed to be eternal beings. They’re old as can be. They’re stronger than the Avengers, more ancient, and they should represent what the world–and Marvel’s audience–looks like. And that means a cast that includes different racial backgrounds, ages, and genders.
Hopefully, everything Salma Hayek has promised for Eternals feels true to the audience. We’ll be finding out for ourselves when the movie releases in theaters November 5, 2021.