While fans continue to fight for more diversity on the big screen, Marvel Television, and more notably, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., have done a rather fantastic job of adding more diversity to the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not only do we have two television shows led by females – Agent Carter and Jessica Jones – but we have a show like S.H.I.E.L.D. in which the female lead is a not only a superhero with powers, but also a woman of color, something that is still, unfortunately, rare these days. Which is one of the many reasons Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is one of the most important titles within the MCU. (And it doesn’t hurt that it’s consistently enjoyable.)
Another reason the show is important to the MCU? It has done a fantastic job over the course of two and a half seasons of crafting fully realized female characters. They kick ass, sure. (And they do so a lot.) However, they also allow the characters to showcase weakness, to be vulnerable, and to screw up from time to time. This makes this personable, it makes them relatable, and it makes them wonderfully rounded characters, something that the leading ladies of S.H.I.E.L.D. don’t take for granted. In a recent interview with the folks over at IGN, Chloe Bennet (Daisy “Quake” Johnson), Elizabeth Henstridge (Jemma Simmons), and Ming-Na Wen (Melinda May) talked about what it’s like working on a show like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and being able to work under a co-showrunner like Maurissa Tancharoen.
Before the show even started filming, Joss Whedon, who helped not only create the series, but write and directed the pilot episode, promised both Bennet and Henstridge that he’d make sure that the show wouldn’t portray the “cliched, catty relationship” that we often see displayed with a series containing multiple female leads. For both actresses, this was a huge selling point.
“That’s the first thing that Joss said to me and Elizabeth. The first thing. I will never forget it,” Bennet recalled on the eve of Agents of SHIELD: Season 3’s mid-season premiere.
“He made that very clear, and I was just so grateful and thankful,” Henstridge remembered. “Female friendship is a sacred, beautiful, wonderful, supportive thing, and to be able to portray that, it just raises the stakes somehow if you really care for each other and you’d do anything to save them.”
Wen, who portrays Melinda May on the series, echoed their words, going on to explain that she loves that they allow these characters to be many things, and how they allow them to truly come into their own – figure out who they are. (A good example of this being Bennet’s Daisy Johnson, who struggled with her true identity at first but came to accept it over time, and has since fully welcomed the change.)
“I just love all the various aspects of our female characters,” said Ming-Na Wen, who plays Agent Melinda May. “They can be vulnerable and emotional in dealing with things that every human being has to deal with, and the struggles and indecisions about love and work. But at the same time, each and every one of them have a great sense of self, and if they don’t, they’re always in search of that in trying to become a better person.”
And although all of the women on S.H.I.E.L.D. have proven to be fantastic characters in their own right, there’s one than stands out from the rest of the pack: Daisy Johnson. There’s no denying the amount of growth this character has undergone since the first season. The leader and agent she is now is a far cry from the hacker she was in the pilot. For Bennet, seeing her character grow into this role as a hero, it’s something she’s proud of.
“My character’s story is so grounded in being so vulnerable and having so many imperfections,” she said. “Then for her to grow from this character to be someone that can help someone, I think that speaks for anyone who feels like they’re not good enough to make a difference.”
Of course, while the writers room deserves a good amount of praise for the work they’ve done with these characters, it’s hard to deny that co-showrunner Maurissa Tancharoen, who runs the show alongside her husband, Jed Whedon, plays a large part in things. For Henstridge, getting to work with someone like Tancharoen, who she calls “one of the strongest women” she knows, is “wonderful”. (Side note: For those unaware, Tancharoen has been battling lupus for some time, so she is quite the bad-ass herself to not only serve as co-showrunner on a show like S.H.I.E.L.D., but battle something as terrible as lupus on a daily basis.)
Calling Tancharoen “one of the strongest women I know,” Henstridge said being surrounded by powerful, empowered women is “not something that seems unusual to me.” “I guess it just shows how far we’ve come that I don’t get to work and go, ‘Oh my God, Mo is such a strong woman,'” she said. “I just think she’s such a strong person and so intelligent and I’m so glad that I get to be led by someone so wonderful.”
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns to ABC tonight at 9 PM EST! Be sure to tune in!
— Agents of SHIELD (@AgentsofSHIELD) March 8, 2016