Female superhero comicbook character wearing a tight blue onesie, a red belt, gold epaulets on the shoulders. short blonde hair very spiky against a blue sky with clouds

Since Pepper Potts in the very first Iron Man movie in 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has given us solid, well-written women – in supporting roles. And when it comes to feature films, that’s where it’s kept them. Even the testosterone-saturated DC Comics movies managed to give Wonder Woman a movie of her own – and one that stood out from the mediocrity of the rest of them – before Marvel Studios did the same for any of their women.

But there are signs that they’re slowly getting the idea: The fans of the MCU deserve movies about women, too, and not just as friends and teammates and love interests to white guys played by men named Chris.

We’ve gotten a couple good woman-led TV shows out of the MCU so far – the Captain America spin-off Agent Carter and the Netflix exclusive Jessica Jones – and the Wasp gets to share title billing for Ant-Man and the Wasp, but until recently there was only one upcoming movie on their slate with a solo female character. That would be Captain Marvel, which is already filming with Brie Larson as the title character, scheduled for next year.

As exciting as a Captain Marvel solo movie is, it’s a single movie on a slate otherwise full of men and male-led teams. It can no longer be argued that women don’t watch superhero movies. They may not be a full fifty percent of the audience yet, but the margin has been steadily shrinking. And when geek women are excited about something, they tend to get very excited, driving cosplay and fanfiction and opening weekend ticket sales. They’re not an audience to ignore.

Now Marvel is finally moving ahead with a well-deserved solo movie for Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, who has been supporting male heroes since Iron Man 2. While she’s been a standout in every movie she’s been in – especially Captain America: The Winter Soldier, though the way some of her backstory was presented in Avengers: Age of Ultron rubbed a lot of fans the wrong way – she’s long overdue for a feature of her own. According to Variety, a writer has been hired, though the movie has not yet been officially greenlit. But it’s a good sign.

Given the timing, it’s worth asking if the overwhelming success of the recently-released Black Panther convinced Marvel Studios that it pays to diversify and allow marginalized people to make movies about their own heroes. Black Panther, a movie made by and for Black people that does not care what the colonizers think, made more money in its opening weekend than last year’s Justice League movie made in its entire theatrical run.

There’s also the success of the new Star Wars movies, which share most of the same audience. Shifting the focus to women and non-white characters has revitalized a series that had gone stale after the prequels. Having a more diverse cast and crew isn’t just right, it’s successful.

Superhero fans will support good, quality superhero movies even when the characters don’t look like them. It’s taken them a decade to figure it out, but Marvel Studios seems to finally be catching on, slowly but surely.

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