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Damsels no more: Dawn of the female superhero

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Female superhero movies are finally on the horizon, but why only now? Has Hollywood just been lazy?

We are in the middle of a superhero renaissance. Marvel Studios is putting out movie after movie, the X-Men franchise is back on track, the Spider-Man films are about to expand, the Fantastic Four are coming back, and DC is finally making its first steps towards creating its own shared universe. What’s missing from this picture? Diversity. Yes, there is still a lack of superheroes from ethnic minorities and the gay community, but today we’re focusing on the feminine.

Wonder Woman is finally making her debut in a live action theatrical film…as a sideshow to Batman and Superman in Dawn of Justice

Admittedly, some superhero movies have brought us great female characters, like Black Widow, Gwen Stacey, Mystique and Gamora, but none have been allowed to take the spotlight yet. Even the future of the genre is dogged by this – Wonder Woman, the most well known superheroine of them all, is finally making her debut in a live action theatrical film…as a sideshow to Batman and Superman in Dawn of Justice. Yeah, that doesn’t exactly seem balanced.

But the status quo certainly seems to be changing. Peggy Carter and Jessica Jones are about to get their own TV shows, Kevin Feige has on numerous occasions said a female-led Marvel movie is on the horizon, and Sony has even announced that one of its upcoming Amazing Spider-Man spin-offs will revolve around a female character. It’s certainly long overdue, but why has it taken this long? Why, in a landscape almost overloaded with superhero movies, haven’t we seen characters Ms Marvel or Zatanna make their way to the big screen? Well, there are three theories to this answer: the poor quality of the superheroine films of the past, the supposed ‘difficulty’ of writing a female superhero, and the biased nature of the film market. And, to be honest, the first two reasons are absolute bullshit.

peggy carter captain america

Yes, films like Supergirl, Catwoman and Elektra are terrible movies, but that’s all they are: terrible movies. Their main characters’ lack of a Y chromosome had very little, if nothing to do with it. Then again, it is Hollywood nature for the failure of a film to be determined by relatively insignificant details. But the whole ‘female characters are hard’ thing? While certain writers’ failure to understand women seems to be down to pure ineptitude and ignorance (see David S Goyer’s recent comments about She-Hulk), it seems many writers and studio execs seem to forget one simple fact: women are people, not some strange alien society that we’re too primitive to understand.

So why exactly are the seeds of change happening now? It can be summed up in three words: The Hunger Games

There are certainly some accommodations to be made when writing women, but nothing that requires redesigning the whole bloody building. Which brings us to the final reason: the extremely imbalanced landscape that is Hollywood and, to be honest, it’s hard to argue with it. For over a century, the film business has been dominated by men, both in front of the camera, but especially behind it. Plus, who exactly is the target demographic of most big blockbusters these days? Teenage boys and, not to be judgmental, they’re not the ones crying out for more diversity in their entertainment; this is the same group of people keeping Michael Bay rich after all.

So why exactly are the seeds of change happening now? There are certainly much deeper ways to analyse it, but it can be summed up in three words: The Hunger Games. The Jennifer Lawrence-led franchise has raked in huge box office with its first two films but, more importantly, it has connected with an audience beyond just its key demographic of teenage girls and given us a proactive and interesting female icon.

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Considering that, it almost seems natural for Marvel and DC to want a piece of the action. So what exactly can we gain from a female superhero movie? Well, you know how every toy store has that ‘pink aisle’ just for the girls? Yeah, it’s a bit depressing that we’re still shoveling gender roles into our youth like that. But then there was that recent story about a little girl who complained about the rather sexist roles the female LEGO toys were in, and LEGO actually responded by bringing out a new kit featuring female scientists that went on to sell extremely well.

It won’t happen overnight, but the market is starting to change because enough of us want it to

What does this have to do with superhero movies? Well, it shows that not only do some of our youth want to see diversity, but that when offered to them they will eat it up. Like the old saying goes: you can’t judge until you’ve tried it. Past superheroine films failed because they didn’t try hard enough. New films have been halted because Hollywood is afraid to try it. But the market is starting to change because enough of us want it to, and though this is a change that won’t happen overnight, it’s nice to see progress being made.

 

Read more: Positive discrimination? Men already benefit – bring on the quotas

 

Featured image: Marvel

Inset images: Marvel; Lionsgate

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