The Necessary Impact of Captain Marvel on the Military

Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, Air Force Recruiting Services commander, tours the STEM demonstration prior to a screening of the movie “Captain Marvel” in Washington, D.C., March 7, 2019 (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Rusty Frank)
Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, Air Force Recruiting Services commander, tours the STEM demonstration prior to a screening of the movie “Captain Marvel” in Washington, D.C., March 7, 2019 (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Rusty Frank)

Emma Moore is a research assistant at the Center for a New American Security.

"Captain Marvel" is behind the times for the military and for superheroes; and it is the movie we deserve. It tells us what we already knew: that women serve (admirably, successfully); that white women, black women and single moms are patriotic and want to serve in the military; that women save the day even when they are sassy, irreverent and confused. The movie's critical and box office success points out trends the military must acknowledge: women and girls want to push themselves and want to serve.

Without deliberate efforts to recruit and retain women, half the population will remain out of reach and the military will miss out on top talent.

"Captain Marvel" fills a gap in the Marvel and film universe: everyone deserves to be told they can be a superhero. Carol Danvers (DBA Captain Marvel) is not set up to be, and doesn't try to be, a female superhero à la Wonder Woman, who is enigmatic, just, and selfless. Grounded in warrior ethos, Carol "scoffs at authority, drives herself to extremes and sometimes loses her temper ... and she is not here to play." She is angry, she is confused, and she is much more relatable for those emotions. This runs counter to the criticism that "what's missing [in Captain Marvel], though is what helped make 'Wonder Woman' an exemplary figure of female empowerment two years ago: unforced warmth, along with strength, and flashes of delight."

In short, Carol experiences a cocktail of emotions not unfamiliar to many young girls and women, but she perseveres. Captain Marvel's origin story not only demonstrates a woman finding herself but finding her power (after all her call sign is 'Avenger'). Carol is neither romanticized nor sexualized, either wearing the same flight suit (Kree or Air Force) as her teammates or in normal civilian clothes. She wants to win, and she wants to do it her way: higher, further, faster.

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Not only is "Captain Marvel" the film girls need, it is one the military community needs. The film instills the idea of military service: 50 percent of young women say they have never considered military service. The Air Force has been toting the film as their "Top Gun" with superheroes, releasing a complementary campaign "origin story" that features female pilots. The Air Force has provided significant support, hosting screenings attended by the Secretary of the Air Force and inviting the cast and crew to Air Force Bases.

However, the film is not truly congratulatory toward or critical of the military. First, very little aircraft or Air Force training is shown. Second, the movie is pretty clear-eyed about sexism in the aviation community (including taunts of "you know why they call it the cockpit, right?"). Women have been able to fly combat missions since 1993, though at the time Carol and her best friend Maria Rambeau go through training they are limited to test-flying planes. The film never fully addresses the shift in policy, instead focusing on the adversity the two friends faced while getting their wings. As a result, hope that the film can serve as a recruiting tool may be misplaced.

Each of the services should make concerted efforts to capitalize and latch onto Captain Marvel. Only 18 percent of young women think "people who become officers are people like me."

"Captain Marvel" shows two female warriors (one white, one black) achieving success despite hurdles. Young women desire a job where they can succeed and make a difference, but do not see the military as such an opportunity. The military services must respond to growing interest among young women by sharing knowledge and making themselves relatable.

Hollywood should be more willing to produce movies on the real life experiences of women in combat. Possibilities could include a female version of "Top Gun", accounts of combat search-and-rescue pilots, a pararescue "G.I. Jane," and films featuring linguists, Female Engagement Teams, and Cultural Support Teams.

When Hollywood does make blockbusters highlighting military women, the services should follow the Air Force's lead in promoting such stories and what they represent to women and society. Fans clearly identify with "Captain Marvel" characters; the services must demonstrate there is a place for these girls and women in the military by continuing to put forward female recruiting teams and include female stories in advertisements.

-- The opinions expressed in this op-ed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of If you would like to submit your own commentary, please send your article to for consideration.

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