Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A Reel Opinion: Where are the Female Superheroes?

Last week, Disney and Marvel Studios’ 11th entry in their series of superhero films, AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, opened to a massive box office take and good-to-great feedback from fans and critics. With the fans on their side and further films in their series planned well into the next decade, it seems Marvel can do wrong. Until…

A leaked email from Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter, dated last year, has surfaced on the internet courtesy of WikiLeaks. In that email, Perlmutter shoots down the idea of greenlighting any female-led superhero movies. He cites past critical and financial flops such as SUPERGIRL (1984), CATWOMAN (2004), and ELEKTRA (2005) as reasons to stay away from the idea. 

Women in superhero films as a whole tend to get stuck in supporting roles. As of this writing, there are only two (2) female-led superhero films on the way; Marvel’s CAPTAIN MARVEL in 2018, and Warner Bros./DC Comics’ WONDER WOMAN in 2017. Outside of that, women who are given the chance to fight alongside, or against the men, are never given the lead role. Perlmutter seems to be following a trend in Hollywood and it is full of holes. 

To begin with, it isn’t fair to use past examples as a basis for staying away from a lady in the lead. SUPERGIRL was made during a time when no one knew how to make a good superhero movie no matter who was in the tights, and CATWOMAN and ELEKTRA were done during a time before the genre became legit at the theatre. Perlmutter also seems to be ignoring the popularity of his own products; Marvel’s cinematic version of Black Widow, Lady Sif (THOR), and Agent Carter (CAPTAIN AMERICA) have been immensely popular among all fans…with Agent Carter earning herself her own TV series. And speaking of the small screen, Marvel has developed a mini-army of strong female characters on their movie-connected AGENTS OF SHIELD show, and most recently introduced a female supervillain with powers. These characters are popular with fans, and it isn’t just limited to Marvel; DC Comics has developed strong characters in their ARROW TV show and have a new SUPERGIRL series on the way. Perlmutter seems to be overlooking this, and is passing by a great opportunity to capitalize on great characters flying under the radar. 

With such faulty logic, the situation with Perlmutter’s attitude perhaps points to a bigger issue going on; sexism in Hollywood. There is a lack of female-led films outside of superheroes, women are paid less than men, and there is a troubling shortage of female directors (DC Comics has been struggling to find a female director to helm their WONDER WOMAN film)…and the issue was brought up by Patricia Arquette at her Oscar acceptance speech this year. The issue is bigger than superheroes, so Perlmutter may just be one small nut in the bucket. 

Back to the immediate topic, it’s also unfair to have such a narrow definition of what a female hero should be. Should they be limited to super-powers? Certainly not. Cinema has given us very strong female heroes in the past in the form of Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley in the ALIEN films, Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor in THE TERMINATOR, and recently, Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss in the immensely popular HUNGER GAMES franchise.  But if it has to be about superheroes, Marvel would be wise to stick to the philosophy that has gained them so much success and that is to embrace your characters and give the fans what they want. The popularity of the characters today point towards a demand for them, so it’s fair to say that if Marvel builds it, they will come. At the very least…the ladies should be given a chance to show what they can do. 


WONDER WOMAN arrives in theatres June 2017. CAPTAIN MARVEL lands in 2018. 

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