Magazine article Risk Management

Super-Powered Diversity

Magazine article Risk Management

Super-Powered Diversity

Article excerpt

Over the past few years, Marvel Entertainment has made an effort to add more diversity to its lineup of predominantly white male superheroes. In addition to featuring more female and minority characters, they have introduced alternate versions of classic heroes, like a black Captain America, a Korean Hulk, a female Thor and a half-Latino, half-African-American Spider-Man. An African-American woman also donned Iron Man's armor, while a Muslim-American teenager became the new Ms. Marvel.

Marvel's push for diversity makes sense: The success of superhero movies has helped raise interest in comic books worldwide, while demographic trends suggest that the United States itself is becoming more diverse. Developing characters for people of all backgrounds is therefore a smart business strategy.

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So it was surprising when Marvel Vice President David Gabriel said in an interview with pop culture trade publication ICv2 that diversity was actually hurting comic book sales as people were "turning their noses up" at the new heroes. "What we heard was that people didn't want any more diversity," he said. The comments sparked outrage from those who thought that diversity was being unfairly used as a scapegoat for company-wide sales declines. Gabriel and Marvel scrambled to clarify that these sales concerns were only based on the opinions of certain comic book retailers and that many of the new characters were actually among Marvel's most popular.

Marvel's rush to explanation illustrated a new sensitivity to the effect diversity can have on corporate reputations and, in some cases, bottom lines. For example, a recent controversy surrounding Ghost in the Shell, a remake of a Japanese anime movie, demonstrated the financial impact diversity-or lack thereof -can have in entertainment today. Before the movie's release, critics levelled charges of "whitewashing"--using Caucasian actors to play non-white roles--when Scarlett Johansson was cast as a character who was originally Japanese. …

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