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Marvel’s Diverse Universe: raceAhead

Mahershala Ali at the San Diego Comic-Con International on July 20, 2019.Mahershala Ali at the San Diego Comic-Con International on July 20, 2019.
Mahershala Ali at the San Diego Comic-Con International on July 20, 2019.Alberto E. Rodriguez—Getty Images for Disney

And with one mighty snap, the entertainment universe just got a lot more interesting.

There was plenty of good news for fans of all ages from this year’s Comic-Con extravaganza in San Diego. But the Phase 4 slate of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) had some delightfully inclusive twists.

While comic fans have already welcomed a black Captain America, television viewers can look forward to Anthony Mackie picking up the Captain’s shield in 2020. (If you’re not up on Avengers lore, or don’t have the patience to figure out the time traveling mechanism that helped restore the white Captain America to his rightful place in the space/time continuum and made room for a black one, then just wait for the debut of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier television series on Disney+, and the inevitable racist explainer-bots who will break it all down for you.)

Other notable announcements:

Actor Simu Liu will play Shang-Chi in Marvel’s film Shang-Chi: And the Legend of the Ten Rings. The film sports an all-Asian cast.

In 2021, Natalie Portman will become the first female Thor in Thor: Love and Thunder. Even better, Tessa Thompson, who plays Valkyrie, will be a featured player in the film. Thompson also confirmed that her character would be the first superhero in the MCU to be openly LGBTQ+. “As king, [Valkyrie] needs to find her queen. So that’ll be her first order of business, she has some ideas,” she said as the crowd went wild.

An upcoming film called The Eternals features Lauren Ridloff as part of a very attractive ensemble of moody immortals. The Tony Award nominee will become the first deaf superhero in Marvel’s world.

And Blade fans rejoice! The vampire-hunting vampire once played by Wesley Snipes is coming back! He will now be played by two-time Oscar winner Mahershala Ali, an exciting addition to an increasingly diverse body of work.

All that said, everyone else can relax. Most of the other cis, white superheroes who still want to work remain gainfully employed by Marvel (even the dead ones), proof positive that diversity isn’t a takeaway

But representation can mean so much.

"I got a lot of messages, especially from young women, who were so happy to see themselves on screen, they were so happy to see someone making science and technology cool," says Letitia Wright, who played the teen genius Shuri in Black Panther. "So many young girls saw themselves like, that's me, that's how I pick on my brother, that's how I think about things, that's how I get excited about creating."

On Point

Issa Rae: Get your scripts ready, everybody Issa Rae and actor/producer Paul Feig, and their respective production companies, are teaming up to launch a script writing contest that will produce the next great teen movie. “We’re looking for underrepresented writers who have an idea for an ensemble feature film that captures the humor, the awkwardness, and the all-consuming drama of the modern high school experience!” Perhaps the 2020 version of The Breakfast Club or Clueless? Click through for details, but don’t delay—the contest runs until August 9. Two finalists will get $25,000 to make a short film to prove their concept, the winner will get a feature length gig. But it all starts with a one to three page pitch document. Shadow and Act

Padma Lakshmi: ‘I couldn’t love this country more’ Padma Lakshmi is better known as the host and producer of Top Chef. But for this opinion piece, she’s speaking as an ACLU Artist Ambassador for immigrants’ and women’s rights—and an immigrant. “I came here with a single mom who built a new life for us, and I couldn’t love this country more,” she says. But the president’s racist diatribe attacking four Democratic representatives brought back a familiar pain. “Those words, those hurtful, xenophobic, entitled words that I’ve heard all throughout my childhood, stabbed me right in the heart,” she says. “Regardless of what we do, regardless of how much we assimilate and contribute, we are never truly American enough because our names sound funny, our skin isn’t white, or our grandmothers live in a different country.” It’s time for good people to stand up, she says. Washington Post

A Polish media company threatened to publish and distribute ‘LGBT-free zone’ stickers Gazeta Polska is a conservative weekly newsmagazine, and a media arm of the Law and Justice Party, an anti-gay and anti-immigrant party that has an outsized presence in the Polish countryside. It’s the largest party in the country’s parliament. The stickers were in support of town councils who voted earlier this year to denounce LGBTQ+ “ideology.” The move generated a wave of alarm across the country and online. “This is fascism officially introduced in Poland,” wrote Paulina Młynarska, a Polish actor and columnist. “What’s next? Rainbow armbands? Camps?” NBC News

The U.S. clamps down on visas for Nigerians, now rumors are the only things flying Nigerians apply for hundreds of thousands of travel visas every year, many of them business or family-related. But recent policy changes to the visa process has triggered a spate of alarming rumors that are hard to chase down. “Just last month, the United States embassy in Nigeria was forced to deny a widespread rumor that it had placed a ban on issuing student visas to Nigerians,” reports Quartz Africa. There’s a reason why rumors are spreading. Not all news is fake: The U.S. has indefinitely suspended its process for Nigerian visa renewals, putting frequent travelers into a tailspin. Quartz

On Background

Who is a U.S. citizen? Jelani Cobb, an author, professor, and staff writer at The New Yorker, starts this important analysis with a poetic truth. For President Trump, white people have won “the epidermal lottery,” and “pigment is something foundational—a navigational star in the night sky of his world view.” Nothing that he says after that—Mexican people are racists, Obama is really Kenyan—should come as a surprise. And yet, Trump’s current “send her back” drama may be designed to entertain his base, who are familiar with the historical idea that some people aren’t really citizens, even if they’re born here. While the history lesson Cobb offers is instructive, the urgency feels real. With hate crimes on the rise, “The worry is that Trump’s most recent fulminations will find their way to other vulnerable and dangerous observers.” The New Yorker

Will Darren Walker reshape the world? This is the slightly bolder recharacterization of John Leland’s larger look at the power that a man with a $13 billion checkbook has. Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, began his tenure in 2013 determined to address inequality. The problems were immediate. Foundations exist because of inequality, and exacerbate because of the attitudes of the very rich towards meaningful reform. “He’d attend conferences where plutocrats who opposed tax reforms or labor unions earnestly trumpeted their efforts to reduce poverty,” writes Leland, channeling Walker. “Often he was the only African-American speaker at a conference, or the only one who had ever been poor.” His efforts to leverage his many connections and refocus the foundation have been challenging. And yet, Walker seems to be precisely the right person for the job. Enjoy, and know hope. New York Times

From refugee to game developer Tales of long shots and outliers are always somewhat problematic. Celebrating the outsized talent found in people who shouldn’t have been in desperate straits in the first place is, in many ways, to miss the bigger problem. And yet, here is the delightful Lual Mayen who lived in a refugee camp in northern Uganda for 22 of his 24 years, one of the 2.5 million people who have been displaced by the civil war in South Sudan. While the self-taught game designer first fell in love with Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, that wasn’t the kind of game he wanted to make. “I realized the power of gaming,” he said at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco earlier this year. “I realized games can be helpful for peace and conflict resolution. I started making a video game in my country, so video games can divert their minds from destructive activities.” Bring tissues. Venture Beat

Tamara El-Waylly helps produce raceAhead.


“It is so important to showcase people with disabilities with intersectional identities because that allows viewers to see beyond disability. People with disabilities are multilayered—we are complex, breathing human beings defined by more than just what we lack.”

Lauren Ridloff in an interview with nonprofit RespectAbility.