WOMEN IN CINEMA: With the latest installment in The Avengers franchise kicking off the summer with soaring box-office digits and the release of Marvel’s latest superhero venture “Ant-Man” this week, superhero films are aplenty in Hollywood – male superhero films, anyway.
There hasn’t been a major comic book to film adaptation featuring a superheroine (but let’s never forget “Tank Girl“) or a major comic book feature directed by a woman since 2008 when Lexi Alexander (“Green Street Hooligans“) directed “Punisher: War Zone“.
Warner Brothers is currently working on a Wonder Woman adaptation slated for release in 2017 – that is if they can find a director: Joss Whedon (“The Avengers“) and Michelle MacLaren (“Game of Thrones,” “The Walking Dead” and “Breaking Bad“) were both set to direct at different times until both left over creative differences. Currently Patty Jenkins (“Monster“) is directing. It shouldn’t be surprising, though, that before we see Gal Gadot as the Amazon princess in her own film, she’ll first be introduced in Zach Snyder‘s “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” later next year.
Earlier this month, Ava DuVernay told Essence Magazine that she would not be directing the upcoming Marvel film “Black Panther.” The “Selma” director was rumored to have been in talks with Marvel to direct either of their upcoming “Black Panther” or “Captain Marvel” films, which would have made her the first African-American woman to direct a Marvel film. “Black Panther” will star Chadwick Boseman (“42” and “Get On Up“) as the titular character who seeks revenge after the death of his father and is slated for a July 2018 release. “Captain Marvel” will be the studio’s first female-led superhero film and will also be released in 2018. It’s co-written by Meg LeFauve (“Inside Out“) and Nicole Perlman (“Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Thor“).
But before we get any of the aforementioned films, we’ll get “Ant-Man,” a “Fantastic 4” reboot, “Deadpool,” another Captain America film, another X-Men sequel, “The LEGO Batman movie” (yes, seriously), “Suicide Squad,” “Doctor Strange,” another Wolverine sequel, yet another Fantastic 4 film and then we’ll get “Wonder Woman.”
Type in “where are all the superheroines?” into Google’s searchbox and you’ll find dozens of articles expanding on the question. While it’s true that the number of male superheros is nonproportional to female superheros, there’s still plenty of superheroines in comic books. Marvel currently has independent titles featuring Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, Elektra, Black Widow and a rumored Storm title to appear soon. Not to mention Thor is now a female in the new Marvel series. Apart from Wonder Woman, DC also has Black Canary, Zatanna, Starfire, Star Girl, Supergirl, Vixen, Wasp, Catwoman, Huntress and a myriad of other heroines. Elektra and Catwoman have already been adapted to the big screen, but, as always, there’s a double standard. While both adaptations were ostensible failures to the studios, there has been no talks to revive them, unlike Spider-Man or Fantastic 4. So, why does Hollywood refuse to take stock in female-driven comic book characters? It seems to me, there’s an apparent gender bias. Take for example this article from Indiewire, revealing an e-mail exhange between Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter and Sony CEO Michael Lynton, released by WikiLeaks after the Sony hack last year, in which Perlmutter offers the low box-office performances of “Catwoman,” “Elektra” and “Supergirl” as a reason why female superhero films don’t make money. It’s true, perhaps, that all three films underperformed, box-office wise, but so did 2006s “Superman Returns” and 2011s “Green Lantern.” It’s also true that both “Catwoman” and “Elektra” were terrible films, let’s be perfectly honest, but so was 1997s “Batman & Robin,” yet there’s been a handful of Batman films that followed it. The simple yet not so easy answer, I believe, is to have more female producers making the calls.
There’s been a lot of fan chatter about how Avenger’s star Black Widow deserves her own film, but given the current streak of Hollywood giving female superheroines a chance, she’s more likely to get her own Cable series before that happens (especially considering there are more female TV viewers than men). Currently such shows as ABC’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.“, “Agent Carter,” the CW’s “iZombie,” even the first season of FOX’s “Gotham” showcased strong female superheroine and female characters. There’s also the upcoming “Supergirl” series to air on CBS and Netflix’s “A.K.A. Jessica Jones.” With “Gotham,” “Arrow,” “The Flash” and “Daredevil,” male superheroes still outnumber women in the TV arena, but superheroines are certainly more prevalent on the small screen compared to film. One theory could be that there are more female producers working in television compared to film. According to UCLA’s 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report, at the time the report was written, “the corps of CEOs and/or chairs running the 48 networks/TV studios examined was… 71 percent male (compared to 100 percent male for film).” What does this really prove? Nothing exactly, but if you look at the statistics of women working in TV compared to film, women fare better, in terms of numbers, in and on television in acting, writing, directing and producing according to the report. And it’s been heavily reported in the past that when there are more women working behind the camera there are generally more women involved in the production.
There are also more female movie-goers than male. While the percentage of tickets sold were split evenly in the 2013 and 2014 year according to a 2014 study by the MPAA, there were more female movie-goers, by 4 percent, in the same time period. So, with more women filling seats than men in theaters, you would think it judicious for studios to invest in narratives featuring female superheroes.
If you pay attention solely to the ambiguous absence of women involved in superhero films, you would walk away with the fallacy that women aren’t interested in them. As if. As if “fanboys” are all just “boys.” As if the success of “Ultron” wasn’t due to both men and women invested in the series. As if I didn’t grow up watching Spider-Man and Batman on Saturday mornings like other Millenials. As if “Smallville” wasn’t my favorite show throughout my teens (although, Tom Welling might have had something to do with it). It would seem as if women can get invested in the narrative of a male superhero, but when it comes to a female wearing the suit, many are doubtful if men could or are willing to do the same.
When “Avengers: Age of Ultron” premiered earlier this month, it did so to much disappointment from feminist spectators due to what many claimed was a “softened” Black Widow. While such claims are justified, we wouldn’t be having this discussion if there were more female representation in comic book based films. The fact that Black Widow is a side character to Iron Man, The Hulk, Thor and Captain America, who’ve all gotten solo films in recent years, adds further insult. Maybe “Wonder Woman” will be a step in the right direction. I still believe having more gender equality in front of the camera begins with equity behind the camera. Unfortunately, that almost sounds like a catch-22: the answer to less female representation is having more.
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