I recently took my nine-year-old daughter, Norah, to see Captain Marvel at the small theater in our hometown. It was the opening weekend. We went to an afternoon showing, in 3D. It was just the two of us. I picked her up from a pajama-themed birthday party, so she was wearing a tiara, and pink Disney princess PJs, her brown hair a little snarled from a pillow fight. Despite what she was wearing, I can say confidently that Norah is a tried and true Avengers fan. Over the years, we’ve seen all 800 hours of them, but none of the films from the Avengers world hit her like Captain Marvel.
We sat near the middle of the theater. It was packed. She had a bag of popcorn in her lap, 3D glasses on, just tall enough to see over the seats in front of her. She laughed at the Flerken (that seemingly harmless cat with the tentacles behind it’s face.) And she asked me what a Blockbuster video was, but on the whole, she just gazed at the screen, transfixed.
Now I don’t want to make this a Marvel versus DC thing, because I simply don’t have the credentials to argue on that level. But what I can say is that when Wonder Woman came out, it played at the same small hometown theater as Captain Marvel, and I couldn’t get Norah to go. I don’t exactly know why, but I think it had something to do with the fact that she’s not seen nearly as many DC movies as Avengers movies. So does this mean we were subject to a well-built brand? Probably. Would Wonder Woman have had a similar impact on my daughter? Possible. I’ll let you know once I finally get her to see it.
But let me tell you what I do know. Norah and I have watched all three Avengers movies. We’ve watched every Iron Man, and Captain America, and Guardians of the Galaxy. None of them caused her to look at the screen like Captain Marvel.
She was speechless. Near the end, she wiggled in her chair. I asked her if she needed to use the restroom, and she didn’t answer me, unwilling to leave the theater for even a moment. One scene in particular hit her hard. You know the one I’m taking about, the montage, where Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel) falls down, and gets back up, over and over. Comic writer Kelly Sue DeConnick sums up the scene perfectly in this quote from Polygon, “Carol falls down all the time, but she always gets back up — we say that about Captain America as well, but Captain America gets back up because it’s the right thing to do. Carol gets back up because ‘F*ck you.’”
During that scene, I looked at my brown headed, small for her age, skinny daughter, and her right hand was gripping her pant leg in white hard fist. Her shoulders were ridged, lips in a flat line. I know her pretty well, so I can say confidently that she looked empowered. It was awesome.
There are a number of things that I want for my daughter’s future. I want her to become educated. I want her to understand and value the importance or family and community. I want her to look her boss in the eye, and demand a raise. I want her to feel confident and safe and empowered. I want her to bust down all the glass ceilings. Hell… I want her to become an Avenger if the opportunity presents itself. I know that my little girl is bright and communicative and wonderful, and the last thing I want is for her to feel like she needs to fight with “one hand tied behind her back.”
But it’s difficult to teach that on my own when cinema (and the world in general) places a spotlight on powerful male characters time and time again. For my daughter, Captain Marvel was more than just a movie, it was a new example. It showed her that women can be superheroes. It showed her that she has options outside of princesses. That she can fall down, and get back up, and be stronger for it. And as a father of a daughter, that changes everything.
As we left the theater, her left hand in mine, her right holding a half-eaten bag of popcorn, I asked her if she liked the movie. She stopped walking, looked up at me, and said, “It was awesome.”
I smiled back at her. Then I went to walk again, but she didn’t move. She just looked up at me and asked if she could be Captain Marvel for Halloween. This would be the first year that she hadn’t asked to be a princess. I gave her a high five and said, “heck yes you can.”
She smiled, pumped her fist, and we finished our walk to the van.