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April 06, 2019

Imagining What Life Would Be If I'd Seen Captain Marvel as a Girl

Captain Marvel is an extraordinary model of empowerment that gives her a surge of hope for all the young girls

by Sheany
Captain Marvel Superhero Superheriones_SarahArifin

[Note: The following article contains spoilers for Captain Marvel]

I imagine every single person who’s gone to see Captain Marvel would leave the theatres with unique takeaways from the blockbuster. It would vary, as most things are, between a newfound admiration for the charming and magnetic Brie Larson, a total adoration for the chemistry between her character, Carol Danvers and Nick Fury, or a tearjerker moment upon being reminded that Stan Lee has passed away – you get the point.

Evidently, there’s a lot to celebrate. As of Monday, Marvel Studios’ first woman-led superhero movie made $760 million worldwide over two weekends, and currently ranks the 13th-most-successful Marvel movie in North America to date. I don’t really need to know all that to know that the movie is doing well, given just how much I’m seeing the subject Captain Marvel pop on my social media timeline in the past two weeks.

When something is as big as this, everyone has an opinion. It’s even more so given the fact that this is an adaptation from a beloved work that has existed for decades, so I think it’s important to acknowledge how tricky a task it is to balance between pleasing longtime fans and allowing newcomers to enjoy the narrative, too. I, for one, have not read the comic books, so I hope you’ll forgive me for writing this completely based on what I’d recently seen in the theatre.

For me, Captain Marvel is a joyful ride. I’m not going to claim to be the biggest fan of the Marvel Universe, cinematic or otherwise, but the excitement around it is something you can’t really escape these days. With the forthcoming Avengers: Endgame due for a release in April, it makes all the more sense that the buzz around Captain Marvel is exactly the way we see it today, given the fact that the storyline has led us to believe that she’s going to be the ultimate savior.

The origin story of the highly anticipated superheroine begins as she wakes from what she believes is a dream. She has no recollection of her past, and the bits and pieces that appear in her dreams make little sense. For the time being, she’s training as a Kree warrior, with Yon-Rogg, her mentor and commander, telling her to control her superpower abilities, while an abstract higher power referred to as the Supreme Intelligence, urges her to control her emotions. Vers (Brie Larson), as we know her in this beginning, was supposedly gifted with her special abilities, one that gave her a second chance at life in a moment when it was only about to end.

What follows is a thrilling adventure of discovery that is so masterfully led by Larson, into eventually finding out who she used to be – Air Force pilot, awesome best friend and cool aunt who actually goes by the name Carol Danvers – and her place in the world as, well, Captain Marvel (though she doesn’t actually use that super-moniker in the film). With a little, and sometimes a whole lot of, help from Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) and Taros (Ben Mendelsohn), this is one of those hugely entertaining movies that you’ve got to see for yourself.

While I can sit here and talk about the awesome cast and epic scenes pretty much all day long, it’s really Larson’s portrayal of Carol that struck me the most. To be honest, I’d expected the main character to be a little cool and distant but with a lot of compassion, perhaps along the same line as what we’ve seen with Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. That had been a huge miss for yours truly, as Carol is a wholly different character. She’s funny, a little erratic and occasionally reckless, and she doesn’t seem to care if the people around her are uncomfortable – she’s too busy embracing herself. She knows she’s good and powerful, and she doesn’t back away from it. We get to see this from the very beginning, and a whole lot more as the movie progresses.

Even for me, that was a bit unsettling to see on the big screen. I felt somewhat self-conscious on behalf of Carol, but Larson played with such confidence that the anxiety didn’t last very long. It’s this idea that girls and women have to tread along the lines that have been laid out for us, so anything beyond that is unacceptable or at least frowned upon, which I discovered was so deeply ingrained within me that seeing a character being outside of that boundary was alarming at first. This, despite having learned about feminism, women’s empowerment and gender equality, which of course set me on my next train of thought – what if I’d seen this film as a young girl?

We are learning through various accounts how transformative and impactful our early years are, and how they consequently shape us into the person we become as adults. They are the foundation from which we discover our strengths and weaknesses, and this is becoming more evident to me as I grow older. Sometimes, a random memory from way back when would appear in my mind, and I would be struck by how that has had an effect to how I think or behave in the present.

As Carol pieces her old life back together in the movie, we get to see glimpses of how she is never deemed enough by those around her. Whatever line she intends to cross, she’s told that she will not make it. As Vers, she’s told to master herself through limitations, by not playing into her emotions, by way of proving herself worthy of those around her. Does that sound familiar to you, as it does to me?

How many times have I been told to take a step back in order to fit into society? It’s from the little things, such as being reminded to take as little space as possible in a public place, to the bigger things, such as being told to reconsider higher education for fear that being too educated might make it difficult to find a husband.

In Captain Marvel’s narrative, her humanity is what supposedly made her weak. At her most challenging moment, she was able to see her humanity and embrace it, while counting on the fact that she has persevered against all odds, and eventually believing in herself to unleash the incredible power within her.

In my personal, ordinary human narrative, I saw a deep parallel. Like any other person, I am deeply flawed, with lengths of learning still to go. Yet there is always room to improve, and room to embrace – Captain Marvel showed me that to be your best self is not an act of being molded into society’s idea of perfection, it is to recognize what makes you you, and how you can rise above and thrive. Honestly, even the little ways Carol/Vers revel in her triumphant moments, whether with a smirk or a righteous “Yeah!” is hella empowering.

In case it still needed to be said: yes, Captain Marvel is an extraordinary model of empowerment. It gives me a surge of hope for all the young girls who are now growing up with this kind of representation, something that was hugely lacking in my younger years, but also for all the women in the world who are still making sense of themselves and their place in this life; I think we can all agree that Carol Danvers just told us that we’ve got this.

Illustration by Sarah Arifin

Sheany is a Jakarta-based journalist who uses her free time to learn about social justice issues, play with her four dogs and capture ephemeral wonders on her camera. On Twitter, she is @sheanyyas.