Comic-Con 2014 is here! Costumes have been donned, a female Thor announced, and with bated breath, we are left wondering where the female superhero sits in Hollywood.
Ass-kicking ladies such as Tank Girl, Wonder Woman, and Lana Croft have done us proud. And glancing at the robust 2014–2015 slate of superhero movies, feisty female leads are a-plenty. Now female actors also get to play powerful superhero/action roles: Scarlett Johansson was the Black Widow, Jennifer Lawrence morphed into Mystique, and Zoe Saldana went green for Gamora. But let’s face it, these films are still about men: the Wolverines and Captain Americas take the focus. An argument can be made for comic books long being the preserve of a male audience. But it’s the 21st century, people! Girls are in on the comic book action as much as the next person. The fan girl world is just as vivid and layered as that of the fan boy realm, and yet female leads are fewer and farer between.
Let’s look at Pepper Potts of the Iron Man series. While she offers an intelligent outlook, Stark never pays any heed to her advise, but rather goes about his macho machine-driven business. It seems the purpose of her character is to provide a love interest and to butt heads with Iron Man. At the end of the last film though, Pepper Potts also gets powers—we hope it’s time for Potts to get in the game and show the boys who is boss. But will she get her own film? Highly doubtful. We looked forward to a Phoenix film after Jean Grey transformed in X Men but instead we got Wolverine. In the superhero franchise film trend, it has taken a worrisomely long time to receive a Wonder Woman remake. She joins Batman and Superman onscreen in 2016 but as a supporting character in a film entitled Batman vs. Superman. The films we did get with strong female roles in the past also played heavily on the sex, like Halle Berry’s Catwoman and Jennifer Garner’s Elektra. Granted, Watchmen’s take on the female superhero in a male-dominated environment was an interesting look at both the genre and the different eras in which it was set, but overall it was still a mostly male-centric film.
So why is the superhero world still so male dominated? For one, the focus and the money is going towards the more established character franchises which are more often than not a “something” man: Batman, Superman, Spiderman etc. There’s also an element that revolves around the word macho—a word that seems to be lacking a sufficient female equivalent. It is interesting that the thesaurus’ antonyms to “macho” include “weak”, “shy” and “timid”, and its synonyms are “aggressive, “courageous” and “virile”. The later seems to perfectly define the superhero stereotype. So how does that translate to female superheroes? Should they be aggressively proud of their femininity as their male counterparts are of their masculinity? That’s not a problem. But one would imagine that not long ago such a statement would be translated into a character deeply over sexualised, incredibly prim and proper, or a hard-as-nails man hater—the whole whore/mother/witch trichotomy issue battling it out. And though there are as many interpretations available as there are Arabian Nights, female stereotypes tend to prevail. What is needed is a character who is proud of her feminine strength—physical and mental—along with of her pride, intelligence, and sexuality, without being painted as an extreme in either category. These characters exist. These characters have been written. We want these SheRa-like girls to excel in their own feature films and let the boys take the helm of interesting supporting roles. Here’s hoping for some more Hit-Girls and Wonder Women to meet the big screens soon.