Greetings & the Marvel Trailer Side-Eye

Hello, all. I’ve never been the blogging type, but I decided to start one, here on my author site. As anyone who knows me well can attest, I’ve got what some might call Opinions™. Some of those views are probably best kept to myself. Others are good for social media, and others still, feel like they need worked through in writing. Of that latter lot, those that aren’t appropriate for publication elsewhere will likely end up here.

Thank you for joining me in the lion’s den, and as always, for hearing me out. 

For my first post, I’ve got some thoughts on Marvel’s marketing approach around its new offering for the MCU. (That’s the Marvel cinematic universe, for you Muggles.)

So, I confess I am a football fan. I played the sport from the age of seven through college, and while most of my participation trophies came in the form of medical bills, I regret no part of it (except, perhaps, not pestering my parents to find the money for better pads and braces). My parents, who were both on faculty at a university, took me to my first live game when I was just a cub. Point is, during football season I try to get in at least a couple college games and a couple pro games each week, as a viewer. (For those who care: Big Ten, Bengals, and Ravens FTW.) 

This past weekend, I was watching my football and a new trailer for The Marvels came on. For those unfamiliar, The Marvels is an MCU movie about three female superheroes: a blonde white Marvel, a Black Marvel, and a Pakistani Muslim Marvel named Kamala. Since the release is just around the corner, I had already seen two prior trailers for this film. Unsurprisingly, both trailers showcased all three characters. Surprisingly, this new trailer essentially erased the Muslim one.

I went “Wait, whut”, rewound my DVR, and rewatched the new trailer. Yep, it was all about the white character (Carol Danvers). I sighed, and decided to post my observation on social media. My post contained nothing but the three main facts: what the film was; the fact that Marvel’s new trailer focused on the white main character to the exclusion of the Muslim one; and the timing of the new trailer, coming as it did four days after the eruption of violence in Palestine and Israel. 

In short order, a sequence of (sorry, guys) mostly privileged, mostly white westerners arrived to jump to the poor multinational corporation’s defense. Some simply hadn’t seen the new trailer, yet, and that’s perfectly fine, though reading their replies did remind me of the link between people taking time out of their day to mention they have nothing to contribute to a topic and people wanting/not wanting a thing they haven’t experienced/verified for themselves to be true. 

Others proffered the following explanations, assertions, and justifications:

⬤  The company’s choice to release a Kamala-free edit of their new movie’s trailer was a result of underperformance on the response to the previous trailers; the decision to cut and release a new trailer had been in the works for weeks; and the decision had no connection to Palestine.

⬤  The company’s choice to release a Kamala-free cut of the trailer revolved entirely around the desire to show audiences a character with whom they were already familiar, as theatrical draw, and they reasoned that since the white Marvel had already gotten her own stand-alone film in the MCU, this made her the right choice for a trailer that revolved more fully around a known commodity. This, despite the fact that prior trailers showed the white Marvel more than plenty, and despite the fact that the Muslim character had already gotten her own entire season of TV by then, totaling far more screen time than the white character received via her stand-alone film.

⬤  Ye olde “It’s just business” line. I didn’t count them up, but I feel like I must have heard the expression “It’s just business” over 25 times between when I made the observation and when I decided to write this, just a few hours later. Yes, we all know Disney is a business. Thank you.

⬤  Marvel is far too important to be called into question publicly, and I’m just a big poopy-head.

As is my wont, I listened to what all these fine folks had to say on the subject, posted a couple clarifications, and retired to my meditation chamber (aka, the shower) to ruminate on the matter. When I emerged, clean of thought and meatsuit, I did so bearing a few observations of my own:

⬤  Specifically creating a cut of a film trailer that erases two of the three main characters just to try to pander to bigoted white audiences is pretty cynical and disappointing, regardless of when the idea first appeared. Either the company’s creating a more diverse film, with three contrasting main characters, or it’s not. If the intent is not to erase the non-white Marvels from the film, itself, then they shouldn’t be erased from the film’s trailers, either. Pretty straightforward, in my humble.

⬤  Try as I may, I have trouble following the marketing logic of the decision: Whatever the official rationale given, this is a movie starring three characters. The company is not going to improve reaction to the trailers by hiding one or two of those main characters. That’s a flawed premise.

⬤  Creating a trailer that erases or nearly erases the Black and Muslim Marvels becomes twice as sketchy when the entire plot of the film hinges upon one of the erased characters. (The plot’s entangling effect seems to come from one of the ‘bangles’ from which Kamala gets her powers.)

The more senseless the distancing of the ad from the actual film material, the more the new ad is basically just the company saying, “Hey, our new movie is all about this popular white actress! Don’t you want to pay us to see it now?” Which is, well… not awesome, especially circa 2023.

So, after re-watching the trailer yet again, I realized the one I was watching was one Fox aired, and it occurred to me that this might be an example of some state-of-the-art advertising and marketing theory. Looking around the rest of the evening, I discovered there were in fact multiple new trailers. The one aired by NBC, for example, was almost identical to the one in question, except there were a couple quick shots of the Black and Muslim characters shown. Still different from the first couple trailers Marvel dropped, but not as fully erasive as the other.

Since Fox is Fox, it’s possible they self-cut the same new trailer Disney sent to other outlets, but it’s far more likely that they simply ordered such a custom trailer from Disney, perhaps even carrying the threat that without the requested erasure, the network would refuse to air the ad.

Either way, it’s not what I’d consider the finest hour for Disney, the MCU, or those networks and other outlets who chose to air the more cynical new ad. People noticed what the company did, and some of those people were pretty offended by the call. But hey, as long as corporate feels confident with their new product, everything’s good, right?

After all, it’s just business.