Marvel movies are known for quippy heroes, light-hearted humour, and a CGI heavy 3rd act. While the franchise has attempted to change its formula over the years, those elements have remained in many Marvel films, along with military propaganda. However, while things like the Avengers fighting a CGI army, or banter between Iron Man and Captain is harmless, military propaganda is a serious issue.
The American Military has had a substantial on-screen presence in the Marvel cinematic universe, given that many marvel heroes served in the Military. Firstly, we have “Captain America: The First Avenger.” The film centers around Steve Rogers and his journey to become Captain America and fighting in world war 2. Like most world war two movies, the film highlights the best qualities of the United States military. For instance, in the film, Gabe Jones, a black soldier, is recruited into Captain America’s special team to fight Hydra. However, that would not have happened. Like most of America during the 1940s, the American Military was segregated. If black soldiers were allowed in white units, they had smaller roles, such as cook or gravedigger. However, in the movie, the racism which Gabe Jones would have endured in the Military is not present. Instead, the Military is portrayed as racially tolerant as Gabe Jones is treat like any white soldier. Basically, “Captain America: The First Avenger” presents a lie about the United States military to make it look good.
Another example of military propaganda in Marvel movies is “Black Panther.” The movie is a Black-centric story that focuses on the future of the futuristic pan-African country. Yet, it has a CIA agent, Everett Ross, as one of the heroes. “Black Panther” presents the CIA as an ally of a black nation, while Agent Ross aids T’challa in his struggle with Killmonger. The reality of the CIA, although, could not be further from the truth. Between the many democratically elected government its toppled, and its role in American imperialism, the CIA is responsible for some of the world’s most heinous war crimes. Most of the people whom the CIA has directly harmed are Black and Brown people. Agent Ross’s inclusion in “Black Panther” is not an accurate depiction of the CIA. The real-life CIA would have been plotting to either help Killmonger and/or steal Wakanda’s resources. This is propaganda to make the organization seem better than what it is.
Finally, we have Captain Marvel. The movie heavily features the Air Force since its main character is an airforce test pilot. In the film, Carol Danvers, the protagonist, is continuously battling sexism in her flashbacks. However, she is able to endure it and become an airforce test pilot. As a pilot, she is protrayed as strong and empowered. The problem with this is that the Air force, and the Military in general, has never been a safe space for women. For decades, women have experienced mistreatment in the Military, and the movie explored this very briefly as Carol Danvers was repeatedly told that women don’t belong in the Air Force. However, it still failed to acknowledge the racial aspect of being a service person, as it never explored Maria Rambeau’s time in the Air Force and never touched upon the darker issues servicewomen in the Force face, beyond inappropriate comments and the fact that Carol & Maria weren’t allowed to fly unless it was for testing. This omission was glaringly evident as days before the Captain Marvel premiere; Senator Martha McSally testified that she had been assaulted by her superior officer in the Air Force. Kara Ellerby, author of “No Shortcut to Change: An Unlikely Path to a More Gender Equitable World said it best, “The U.S. military is one of the most dangerous places for women to work because of sexual violence,” and she was right. By erasing that awful history of assault and abuse MCU minimizes the suffering of women and women aligned folks in the Military.
These are only a few of many explains of military propaganda in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and that is a problem. Firstly, the way that military propaganda is used in the MCU directly erases the harm which the Military has caused in the past. For instance, the inclusion of Gabe Jones in “Captain America, the First Avenger” with no mention of how Black soldiers were treated in World War Two. The Military has been profoundly problematic and violent in the past. Their victims deserve to have the pain which they caused them acknowledged. It is simply wrong to pretend as though the Military is not actively violent. Also, the Military does not have the right to pretend that it simply did not happen. They have done horrible things. Instead of showing a false narrative to make them seem better, the Military should be held accountable, on screen, for what they have done.
It is not just that the MCU’s depiction of the Military erases the harm that they have done. It is also that it presents its false representation of the Military to a broader audience. Washington Post contributor Albinko Hasic talks about how propaganda was used as a recruitment tool by the United States government for both world wars, and still is, to gain the military hundreds of thousands of new recruits. Albinko Hasic then details the dangers which the digital age can create with using the media to expand on the usage of propaganda. While his example is the internet, the same logic can be applied to movies. Marvel movies have dominated the box office for the last decade. Millions upon millions of viewers have sat and watched these movies, and thus internalized the military propaganda it portrays. There is so much harm which this can do. Essentially, military imagery in Marvel films packages a glorified image of the Military that ignores all the horrible things that it does. It presents that imagination to the audience, who most likely don’t have a deeper understanding of the Military. Thus, not only does Military propaganda in Marvel movies have a harmful message, but it also spread that message across a large audience. Viewers watching these movies understand the Military as heroes, while not being given knowledge of some of the more questionable things which the Military does.
There are so many chances with which the Marvel Cinematic universe had the opportunity to have an honest conversation about the Military. Both, “Captain America: Winter Soldier,” and “Black Panther” hinted at it, however, neither film committed to speaking out against the harm that the Military does. Even going beyond the movies, Marvel tv shows such as “Punisher” have committed to Marvel’s notion of the Military. Nonetheless, the Military that Marvel movies show is not the real Military. It exists merely to glorify it. Marvel fans get this depiction, and in doing so, repeatedly internalize propaganda which distracts them from all the atrocities the Military has committed. It is something that needs to stop. If Marvel is going to show the U.S. military, show the right way and have an honest dialogue about them. If no reason, other than, it’s the right thing to do.
Edited By: Keshav Kant