‘Thor: Ragnarok’ proves nuanced diversity sells, despite claims to the contrary
Seven years later, Thor: Ragnarok appears to feature more people of color in its cast than either of the previous movies anchored by the mighty god of thunder.
The publisher’s sales vice president David Gabriel seemed to previously buy into the idea that diversity was the reason for the sales revenue slump. “Sales of any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up against,” Gabriel told to ICv2 in March.
He revised those comments in April after receiving major backlash, reaffirming Marvel’s commitment to its new cast of characters, but still noting that some retailers “were not happy with the false abandonment of the core Marvel heroes.”
But Marvel’s film success bucks that argument in several ways.
It’s not just Elba’s role as Heimdall.
The creative decision to cast Thompson changed the race of the Germanic and Norse mythological figure who is depicted in the comics as a fair-skinned blonde.
Lifelong Thor reader Nick Purpura, 44, owner of JHU Comic Books stores in Manhattan and Staten Island, says the fans angry over changing the race of characters in both movies and comics are overreacting.
“You can’t have the same characters doing the same thing for 75 years and expect everybody to read them,” the comic retailer told Mic on Wednesday.
He points out that Thor himself, for example, while clearly based on an Odinist white European deity, was actually a bearded red head in Norse mythology even though he always had blond hair in the comics.
“Nobody was going to complain Thor had blond hair instead of red hair,” Purpura said. “Years later I met guys who said, ‘I never liked Thor because the mythology wasn’t right.’ It’s loosely based on this mythology and you have to take it for what it is.”
While Marvel Comics has been criticized for prioritizing diversity and progressive messaging over quality storytelling, the latest Thor movie does a better job of seamlessly weaving those elements into an engaging narrative without coming off as preachy propaganda.
Ragnarok is still centered around its lightning-wielding, white male protagonist — but that only fuels the notion that Marvel needs to diversify its comics by adding fresh, new main characters of color to its series, instead of simply swapping out classic characters with ones that are a different race or gender.
Unlike Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s multiracial vision of Asgard proves that great storytelling based in European folklore doesn’t have to exclusively feature Caucasians.
It’s all fiction, after all.