Sunday, 5 January 2014

Where are our Super Heroines?

I was watching a SourceFedNerd video the other day on YouTube (if you haven't watched any seriously check them out - I absolutely love them!) about the teaser still for Guardians of the Galaxy and an interesting point was raised by one of the hosts regarding the fact that we are getting a "talking racoon with a machine gun before we get Wonder Woman on the big screen." (SourceFedNerd Guardians of the Galaxy and the Future of Marvel Movies click for the video - it's pretty interesting)

It's a valid point and, although I am definitely still going to see the film when it comes out, it is concerning that we still don't really have a strong base for female led action or super heroine films. This idea isn't new, people have been talking about this for a long time but it is becoming more widespread, especially with the constant stream of media that we devour on a daily basis. So, where are our strong leading women? (I avoided the obvious alliteration there because it's cliched...) I mean, I'd pay to see a Wonder Woman film or Black Widow film.

Before I continue I just want to mention that I am not here to "stir" the pot or anything. I love my action films and any comic book/graphic novel adaption - hell I'll watch nearly any kind of film but this doesn't stop me from noticing the lack of female led films that don't revolve around a love triangle or some bizarre rescue-damsel-in-distress model. And, if I'm not seeing them, then others aren't as well.  I also understand how big movie companies work. They are after butts in seats and, more often than not, male led films are the draw card. But this needs to change and one big reason for this is we want to ensure that we show the strength that women can bring to a film - not just as sex objects, manic pixie dream girls or distressed damsels - but as equals who have similar ideas to our male counterparts. Not to mention similar strengths, motivations, desires and dreams...

So, where are our female led Marvel or DC films? (Or Vertigo, Dark Horse, Image or what have you.) I am actually going through the films that I have seen recently and trying to recall one that has a strong female role model who doesn't fail the Bechdel test. (I know that the test isn't a perfect way to gauge films but it's a start so I'm going with it.) Obviously, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire does. It's a great film and a great 'start' but what about other films that are led by women who aren't all about trying to "capture" a man.

There is one other film that stood out to me last year and, unfortunately, it can't pass the Bechdel Test but that is because it only starred one female character: Gravity. Alfonso Cuaron has been a favourite of mine since directing the third Harry Potter film. I know that many people disliked that film but I have a soft spot for it and I don't need to defend it. Anyway, Gravity was brilliant and Sandra Bullock had the gravitas (intentional pun...) to pull it off. Just as Tom Hanks was able to carry the weight of Castaway Bullock easily carried Gravity. She also gave people (especially women) the idea that women can be astronauts. I know that many people go through the stage of wanting to be doctors or nurses or astronauts but, unfortunately, these are stages for many because, as we grow older, we find ourselves moving toward more feminine jobs...even that is wrong. We find ourselves moving toward jobs that have been labeled 'feminine'.

Gravity and Catching Fire (or The Hunger Games films in general) prove that female led stories can be hits. Heck, even Bridesmaids proved that women can carry comedy films. However, it's not the comedy films that I'm too worried about, it's the action films. Where are the women proving on the big screen that they can keep up with and, sometimes, do better than the men in the same universe? I asked my students last year to name five superheroes. Just five. Care to take a guess on the first names that came up? If you guessed all white males or even just males then you win. I don't know what you win but you win none-the-less.

When I mentioned characters such as Storm, Shadowcat, Wonder Woman, Sif, Black Widow and so on many of the students gave me a blank look. Now, I am more nerdy than most of my circle of friends and definitely more so than my students but for many of them not to even think of female characters tells me several things. The most obvious is the lack of representation on the big screen. People can't name these characters because they haven't heard of or seen them. But, secondly, it makes me question who are the characters that we look up too? I have included myself in that because I'm trying to recall who my childhood idols were (are?) and, so far, most of them are male aside from April O'Neil, Jubilee and Princess Leia. Even then I have issues with her Highness - especially in Return of the Jedi. (Fact: The Empire Strikes Back is the best of the Star Wars films.)

Maybe it is because of the amount of media that we are saturated with now-a-days but I do find myself wondering who my students look up too? Who are the strong female role models in their lives and, for them, what is considered a strong female role model? Of course I don't think everyone should be idolising Wonder Woman or just comic book characters. There are real life people out there who have done amazing things; male and female. I also guess that this is a small aspect of a larger problem surrounding ideas like equality and stereotypes. After all that's said and done there is more to this question than we give it credit. Although I would like there to be one single answer I can say with certainty that there can't be. But, maybe this bit of writing can be seen as food for thought. And, as there a millions of thoughts about this running through my head I will address this topic again. Maybe focusing on one point at a time. Until then I leave you with the following final note:

What I would be really interested in seeing on the big screen is a Harley Quinn/Poison Ivy/Catwoman film. I know they aren't technically super heroes but I still think it would be an interesting choice and, this time, Batman, the Joker et al can be relegated to background characters. Plus, think about the mischief they could get up too.

Question: Who were your childhood cartoon idols and which female super heroine or villain would you like to see with her own movie?


  1. I grew up with Wonder Woman and would totally love to see her hit the big screen. If it ever sees the light of day. And agreed that a Black Widow movie would be awesome. I'm not sure why women aren't bigger in super hero/action films. Just look at Kill Bill. That's a classic, and Uma Thurman was badass as hell.

    1. Kill Bill is awesome and mainly woman led - and totally kick ass. Actually, I feel like I need to re-watch it. :)