Women of Color in Marvel Live Action Properties is an essay series that will look closely at the portrayals of female characters of color by actresses of color in Marvel’s various franchises. I was inspired by the fact that a lot of these female characters don’t get anywhere as much love as white female characters in similar roles and that we’re not as likely to see fandom analyze why they’re empowering. They don’t get meta-fandom or essays unless it’s about placing them in relation to white characters. I want to celebrate the women of color that inhabit the same worlds as our favorite superheroes while looking at how and why they’re important to fans like me.
Sometimes, if you want justice you have to get it yourself.
Claire Temple in Luke Cage Season 1/Episode 7 “Manifest”
Claire Temple is too good for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Claire Temple is one of the best characters in the MCU and she’s one of the few recurring female characters of color the franchise has had in the almost ten years of its history. She’s also Afro-Latina – as is actress Rosario Dawson – making her one of the few Black women to have a major recurring role in the MCU following Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s Raina.
In a genre that’s spent much of the past decade finding newer and more popular white male actors (often named “Chris”) to play their heroes rather than focusing on female characters or characters of color, Claire Temple is an extra awesome rarity.
First introduced in the second episode of Daredevil’s first season, Claire is a character who takes absolutely zero shit from anyone and becomes multifaceted in ways that few other characters in the MCU get to be. She goes from a character who has no idea what she’s doing and where she fits in a world where vigilantes and superheroes come to her to patch them up to standing shoulder to shoulder with her heroic friends and almost-lovers and fighting to protect them.
And Claire does this in a matter of episodes. I mean, by the end of her second episode, she’s already decided that Matt’s role as a vigilante isn’t entirely unnecessary. She sees the good in what he does, but also calls him out on his shit – and there is so much shit to call Matt out on – when he gets too enmeshed in his glorious manpain to realize that he’s hurting people.
However, while Daredevil introduced us to the gloriousness that is Rosario Dawson playing a character that is just as super as the heroes around her (and infinitely better oriented when it comes to morality and common sense), the series drops the ball on her in a major way.
Claire goes from a potential love interest to Matt and one of his close allies, to someone that basically shows up to stitch him up and complain about how he’s not doing the right thing. She becomes, for better lack of a term, a nagging nurse that I suspect was moved out of the way so that Karen/Matt can become canon.
And I am not about that shit.
Thankfully, Luke Cage was so good to Claire.
Not only does she appear in eight of the show’s thirteen episodes, but she has some of the best characterization out of everyone in the franchise. The first time we see Claire in Luke Cage, it’s at the start of the series’ fifth episode (“Just to Get a Rap”), when she gets off the train in Harlem and promptly gets her bag stolen by some dude with no sense.
Juxtaposed against images of series villain Cottonmouth in his club, Luke Cage digging through the rubble of his former home and rapper Jidenna performing his song “Long Live the Chief”, we see Claire Temple dressed down in comfortable clothes, chasing down her would-be mugger in order to (as she tells her mother later) “beat his ass”.
The song is a power anthem, a callback to Jidenna’s past and how he got to where he is now, works well with the way the scene puts Luke, Claire, and Cottonmouth up against each other.
Of the three, Cottonmouth is the character with the most social, political, and financial power. He’s just succeeded in drawing Luke out into the public eye and destroying his house, leaving Luke temporarily adrift and disoriented. In his head, there’s no one that can take him off of his pedestal.
He’s supposed to have all the power. That’s what we’re supposed to get from the combination of Jidenna’s verses about his climb to the top and how Cottonmouth looks, staring down from his perch and taking the role of a king surveying his kingdom.
But then there’s Claire –
Claire who, despite how dangerous it is, beats the actual hell out of her would-be assailant. She even hits him while he’s down, kicking him in the groin before beating him with the very purse he was trying to steal.
While Claire has undergone a similar shakeup to Luke in losing her space (and being blacklisted) and witnessing the death of someone she was close to, her return to Harlem seems to give her back some of the vitality and confidence that her time in Hell’s Kitchen tried to take from her.
With an intro like that, it’s no surprise that Claire quickly becomes one of the most important and interesting characters in this show? She was everyone’s favorite character in Daredevil (everyone that had sense, that is) and stole the show in the one episode of Jessica Jones she was in.
How could you expect her to do anything else on Luke Cage?
One of the things that I loved about the show was that it gave a little meat to Claire’s backstory. She’s the way that she is – determined, brave, always out to help people – because of her mother Soledad.
Yes, we meet her mom. Her mom has a name. That’s more than we can say for a whole host of Black characters in fiction.
After decades of Black characters who only seem to exist when they are put in relation to white characters and who never have families, seeing Claire’s mom and getting tidbits of backstory about her mom’s views on things like Santeria (which is how she frames her understanding of the world post-Chitauri), looking at the apartment where Claire probably grew up, and oh yeah, the loving relationship Claire has with her mother who is clearly there for her every step of the way.
Look at this conversation that Claire has with her mother and tell me that it’s not something absolutely new and novel to superhero films/television shows:
Soledad Temple: I’m glad you came home.
Claire: I kinda had to. Metro-General pretty much made sure I can’t work anywhere else in New York.
Soledad: What would make you happy?
Claire: I’ve seen a man a blind man who can see, because his other senses are so amplified. And this other man who survived a shotgun blast to his head and recovered from a brain hemorrhage in a few hours. And they both needed my help. I think that’s what I want to do. Is help people with abilities.
Soledad: You know what your abuela said about these things?
Claire: Well, you know I don’t believe in that Santeria mumbo jumbo.
Soledad: She was a curandera, not a priestess. The world isn’t the world anymore, mija. Aliens coming out of the sky. People with silver hammers. Green monsters. All I know is everything happens for a reason. And now, somehow you’re a part of it.
You can literally feel the love in this exchange.
I love how Soledad has her daughter’s back and how she sees Claire’s purpose in the world almost as clearly as her daughter can. I love how she puts the world in relation to her experiences and her mother’s experiences and how it’s just… a look into a life that we might not have seen without Luke Cage’s introduction to the MCU and Claire getting to be on a show where she isn’t playing a sidekick.
What other Black character in the MCU has a family that we see them interact with onscreen? I can only think of one character, Deathlok from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and I have no idea where he’s at these days or if he’s even living with his kid.
What other character gets to have love interests who love them? Sure the thing with Matt didn’t end well, but have y’all seen Claire’s connection with Luke Cage. Talk about a slow burn.
They fall for each other over the course of Luke Cage‘s first season, inspiring and protecting one another from the world. The relationship that they have is so good and so right, that I can’t imagine them being with anyone else. Unfortunately, I just know when the time comes and they inevitably end the relationship so that Luke can have his happily ever after with Jessica Jones, I will probably cry from anger.
Claire Temple isn’t “just” anything.
She’s a nurse and a person whose nature is to help people. However, she refuses to let herself be hurt in the process or get drained by the people around her. She leaves Hell’s Kitchen, not just because she was blacklisted by the hospital she worked at, but because she needed to find herself again. She is super explicit about the fact that she’s figured out what she wants to do with her life and how that involves helping people like Matt, like Jessica, and like Luke but not letting them do whatever in the process of saving the world.
One of the things that stands out to me about Claire’s character is that, she could’ve gone in a completely different direction. Think of what we know about other Black characters in comics and comic book media properties. They get next to no screen time, no backstories, and they are rarely shown as love interests who get treated properly in their narratives.
(It’s been almost a decade since Rhodey was introduced in Iron Man and we still know nothing about him aside from how he relates to Tony. That movie came out in 2008 and Rhodey literally has nothing going on aside from being played by Don Cheadle and his status as Tony Stark’s de facto best friend.)
Yes, Claire’s role in Daredevil came pretty close to messing her up.
The series positioned her and Elektra (a character who’ll get her own in-depth look in a later essay) opposite the white fragile femininity of Karen Page and told viewers that Karen was the only character that was “right” for Matt. The second season of the show had her basically sidelined unless someone (Matt) needed a good shouting at or stitches and in the end, she just… leaves the series.
But in so many ways, her appearances on Luke Cage and the relationships that we see her have in the series (the friendship-turned-romance with Luke, the enmity-turned-something with Misty, and her close bond with her mother) are all kinds of relationships that the MCU – and, dare I say, all of Marvel’s various film and television properties – has refrained from showing a Black character have to such an extent.
Claire hits a lot of firsts for the MCU because she is one of the best fleshed out characters in the franchise and one of the few Black women in nerd media to have the kind of arcs that she gets. She’s the only Black female character in any of Marvel’s live action properties to have the amount of screen time and quality characterization that she gets.
Claire holds her own against undead “ninjas”, uses her brilliant brain on the fly to figure out how to save Luke Cage twice, and never backs down from a single fight – especially when it comes to trying to protect the people that she cares about. She was my first choice for this essay series because she is literally the girl next door archetype dropped into a world that seems strange at first and then sucks her in.
She goes through the hero’s journey just as much as any of the white guys played by “Chrises” do, and she does it all as a Black woman with no superpowers and that doesn’t even carry a weapon on her person.