Following the world premiere of Eternals on October 18, 2021, the newest team of talented immortals suited up for the Eternals’ press conference.
It was a virtual conference made for the history books, as it marked a celebration of one of the most diverse and well-developed casts in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). With gender-swapped characters that differ from the comics, Black and Brown main characters, the first deaf main character in the franchise, the use of American Sign Language, the first openly queer character, actors from around the globe, and more — the Celestials better move out of the way because Eternals really is a larger-than-life film.
The press conference featured director Chloé Zhao (Nomadland), cast members Gemma Chan (Sersi), Richard Madden (Ikaris), Salma Hayek (Ajak), Angelina Jolie (Thena), Barry Keoghan (Druig), Don Lee (Gilgamesh), Kumail Nanjiani (Kingo), Lia McHugh (Sprite), Brian Tyree Henry (Phastos), Lauren Ridloff (Makkari), and Kit Harington (Dane Whitman), along with Marvel President Kevin Feige.
Disney’s Eternals is the 26th film in the MCU and was co-written by Zhao, Patrick Burleigh (Ant-Man and The Wasp), Ryan Firpo (Ten Years), and Kaz Firpo (Refuge).
It tells the story of an alien race known as Eternals that has been fighting creatures called Deviants for thousands of years to protect Earth until something happens, which changes everything. The movie’s casting tells an additional story, one about people who have waited years to see Black people and people of color be well-developed, multifaceted, and epic characters they always dreamed of seeing.
Some of the key moments of the press conference were centered around diversity, representation, and trust, and family, showing that Eternals is vastly unique compared to other Marvel movies.
Hayek explained, “Everything is possible,” when referring to herself as a 50-year-old Mexican woman cast as a superhero in the MCU.
“It’s a really humbling experience because I dreamed big, and if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have gotten here at all. But in my big dream, I wanted to be a superhero, and I wanted to work with the best directors in the world and have big blockbuster movies and also movies that are art, that are made from a very deep place with great directors. You cannot ask for more,” she continued.
Hayek shared that over the years, she’d been turned down for roles because she lacked the “right look” or didn’t fit mainstream beauty standards for certain roles, including superhero roles. She referred to the people that overlooked her as “dumb,” and she’s probably right, as Eternals’ growing success proves that she was always the right kind of beauty and talent for a major film.
She boldly stepped into her crown saying, “I’m a superhero. I’m Mexican. I’m Lebanese. I’m Arab. Also, [I’m] in my 50s. [The team] let me do my own action — it’s just beautiful.”
Nanjiani also added his own appreciation of the film’s cultural representation, expressing that he had both anxiety and excitement when discovering there would be a Bollywood dance routine.
“I’m going to put Chloé [Zhao] on the spot. I can’t swear. So, put in a swear word here. Chloé lied to me when we first talked about the movie. She was like, ‘There’s a Bollywood dance sequence,’ and I was like, ‘Chloé, I don’t think I could do that.’ She’s like, ‘Okay, we’ll make it a Bollywood action scene,’ and as soon as I got to London, she’s like, ‘It’s a dance sequence.’ I was like, ‘Give me a dance teacher right now,’ ” he said as laughter erupted from everyone.
He shared that the challenge of learning the choreography really came down to building a trusting team. It was also an opportunity for Nanjiani to combine the finger-gun powers of Kingo with the cultural dance and music of Bollywood.
Brian Tyree Henry
For Henry, the significance of his role truly hit home and tugged at everyone’s heartstrings as he explained what it means for him as a Black man to portray Phastos.
“I remember when I was coming to this project that I, Brian, had kind of lost faith in humanity, just looking at all the things that we’ve been through and just what the images of Black men were and how we were being portrayed and how the power was taken from us — like the lack of feeling powerful. What I really love the most about Phastos is that through all of that, him being an Eternal, him never being able to die — he still chose love. He still decided to have a family, even though he may have to watch them perish.”
Henry continued, explaining his character, “He still tried to find a way to bring heart and love to everything he did, even though his genius was used against him. It just really resonated with me. My place in society was how we can be kings and queens, and at the same time, they’ll take our pedestal and take our superpowers from us. So what I love the most about Eternals is that Chloé [Zhao] really just reinstalled that power back in me again.”
He also went on to mention that when discussing the role of Phastos, one of his pressing questions was to ask how much weight he’d have to lose for the part.
“Chloé was like, ‘What are you talking about? We want you exactly as you are,’ and again, to be a Black man, to have someone look at you and say, we want you exactly the way you are is unlike anything that I’ve ever felt. So, it just triggered me to being an eleven-year-old kid who’s watching these superhero movies and not ever seeing anyone like me reflected, and how I’d take these posters and put them in my locker and just hope that one day there would be somebody representing me in the way that I am.”
Little did he know, Henry would become the hero who he not only dreamed of but the one whom so many Black and Brown people hoped for too. He described the Eternals team as a “beautiful palette of people” and a “family” and agreed with Nanjiani about how trust made everything come together.
The Overall Takeaway
Nanjiani had a standout line about authentic diversity in the film that resonated with everyone, as he made it a point to mention that this is “the way things should have always been” when it comes to casting, writing, and directing.
The defining message of the press conference was that films with multiple Black people and people of color directing, writing, and acting can be box-office breakers, game-changers, and move makers if Hollywood is willing to believe and invest in their talents, especially since that investment has been an uphill climb for years.
However, in the case of Marvel’s Eternals, it looks like Disney is ready to soar to new heights when it comes to meaningful representation in the MCU. Eternals will open in theaters on November 5, 2021.
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Danielle Broadway is an English Literature MA student at California State University, Long Beach. She has been published in Black Girl Nerds, LA Weekly and Medium, is a writer for CSULB’s the Daily49er, is a managing editor for Watermark, her school’s academic literary journal and is an assistant editor at Angels Flight • literary west. She’s an activist and educator that is inspired by her family to make social change both in the classroom and beyond.