The first midnight premiere I ever went to was a Marvel movie. This was back in 2004. I was 13, and my dad let me stay up late and drove us out to Winamac, Indiana -- a small town about 40 minutes away from my hometown -- so that I could see "Spider-Man 2" with him.
Superheroes have been a connection point with my comic-book-loving dad since I was a kid. But my love of superheroes has always been a place where I've had to create space for myself.
That is, until recently.
The release of "Captain Marvel" has been one that I've been looking forward to since the announcement in 2014. Along with "Black Panther" and DC Comics' "Wonder Woman," I finally felt like I was authentically connecting with some of the characters. Over the last half decade, representation for women and people of color has consistently improved in superhero films.
Within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), "Captain Marvel" is the culmination of the company's commitment to showcasing women in the universe, and hopefully a signal for what's to come post- "Avengers: Endgame," which releases in April.
My relationship with gender and superheroes has always been a little challenged. When I was in kindergarten, my dad sat me down to have a serious talk before my first day of school. My father is black and I'm biracial, so before he sent me to school in rural Indiana, where I would be one of three children of color in my grade (the other two were twins), he talked to me about dealing with bullies, who might target me for being different. He said, "Don't listen to those people."
So I went to school wearing my cute little outfit and my Spider-Man Velcro shoes. I loved my Spider-Man shoes. I insisted on wearing them all the time, even to church, with my little dresses. But then recess happened. Some older kids were hanging around, and they made fun of my shoes. Told me my beloved sneakers were for boys.
When my dad picked me up from school, I climbed into the van with tears in my eyes. He turned around to look at me with a concerned look etched across his face, and my father said, "What's wrong?"
I pouted in my seat and buckled the seatbelt. "I met some of 'those people.'"
I told my dad about trying to make friends and being teased about my shoes. I was blubbering and crying, distraught that anyone would try to take Spider-Man away from me. "Do you like Spider-Man?" my dad asked me. I nodded yes.
"Do you think Spider-Man is only for boys?" I shook my head no.
"Then you tell them that," he said.
Of course, my dad was right. Spider-Man and superheroes in general have never been just for boys and men, but it hasn't always felt like that. The only woman of significance in "Spider-Man 2" is Mary Jane Watson, Peter Parker/Spider-Man's love interest. That was a similar theme for many superhero films over the course of the past decade. Natalie Portman's character in "Thor." Gwyneth Paltrow's character in "Iron Man." Was there a love interest in any of the "Hulk" films? Were there any women at all?
Of course, there were notable exceptions to this trend. The ill-fated "Elektra," starring Jennifer Garner, and "Catwoman," which starred Halle Berry, come to mind. Made in 2005 and 2004, respectively, those films were held up as examples of why women-led superhero/action films don't work. As much as I love Garner and Berry, those movies were bad, which is why no one watched them. Women being in the lead had nothing to do with empty storytelling.
When the first Avengers film hit theaters in 2012, there was literally one female character on the poster: Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow. Now, within the MCU, there are almost too many women to count. There's Gamora, Nebula, Shuri, the Dora Milaje, Hope Van Dyne, Scarlet Witch, Valkyrie and, now, finally, Captain Marvel will get her own film.
And not only that, but she's supposed to be the most powerful of superheroes. It's an exciting moment for all of us who have sat through countless superhero flicks, observing incremental change and just waiting for the moment to see a film where women aren't just love interests or supporting characters. In this film, a woman just gets to be the center of the storytelling, a first for the MCU.
And the best part? My dad is excited, too.