Ending the Superhero Gender Gap

Following the release of the wildly popular and notably light on women “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and comments about Black Widow’s (Scarlet Johansson) “slutty” behavior, a slow backlash began to build. The hostile responses then crested after Wikileaks (say what you will, but at least they keep corporate America honest) released an email detailing the reasons Marvel Execs continue to pass on female superhero films. The controversy about gender biases in the film industry, and the comic book industry, is far from new, but well worth reexamining.

Now I know what you’re thinking: comic books can be sexist? Seriously? You mean with all the half-naked gals in spandex, the 60 or so years of “women in refrigerators,” and women used as eye candy damsels in distress? That stuff? No way is that sexist. Yes way.

In the email between Marvel executives Ike Perlmutter and Michael Lynton, they discuss the demerits of three critically panned and universally ‘meh’ superheroine films, “Electra,” “Catwoman,” and “Supergirl” (yes, 1984’s “Supergirl”). In it, they list some of general budgetary concerns behind their lack of interest in creating new superheroine movies. Aside from saying “a very bad idea,” with regards to “Electra,” they mention little else.

One of the largest fallacies not addressed or not covered in the now-infamous email is the fact that, while a few ladies in tights films have been serious bombs, they’re greatly outnumbered by their male spandex counterparts. Their superhero brethren have contributed some of the worst stink bombs of the cinematic world: lest we forget the wretchedness of “Judge Dredd,” “Superman Returns,” “Steel” (thanks in part due to Shaq’s one small attribute—his acting ability), “Green Lantern,” “Daredevil,” and the list goes on and on.

The real problem stems from Hollywood’s standard treatment of female roles. It’s not that female action leads don’t sell. Their dramatic and monetary power has been revealed in films “The Hunger Games” and “Underworld” series. And how quickly we forget classics like the original “Alien” and “Barbarella” (okay, bad example). What weighs down films, even those featuring extremely popular genre icons of any gender, but especially women superheroes, is this antiquated scripting which either camps up or dumbs down the characters. This lack of quality characterization is evident in each of the films mentioned in the email and in almost any failed superhero film.

Even the most easygoing movie-goer can smell a pathetic trope or hackneyed backstory a mile away. And guess what, it’s bad writing, bad directing, and miscasting that always kills the beast. It also suggests the very real problem at the heart of the superhero gender gap: male ego issues.

Theoretically speaking, women-in-tights films should have a lock on the male 13-55 demographic—what with attractive women in very very tight clothing, nonstop action and violence, and popular comic books as their source. And with many women and girls now reading comics, that’s another major audience group out there, waiting to fill movie seats.

So what’s the problem? Perhaps it’s similar to the issues many men still have with women in power. Whether a CEO, an athlete, or a female president, some men seem to be desperately afraid of women with power. Does it have something to do with being worried that the gasping remnants of those age-old myths about male superiority might just shrivel up the rest of the way and finally die? Don’t worry, gents. I’m sure we’ll still be able to corner the market on grave digging and mustache growing.

With the popularity of the superhero films in general, and with a “Supergirl” TV show in the works, the time is right for super-women to return to the limelight. With a halfway decent script, a solid director, and a little character development, boffo box office is sure to follow. What do you say, Marvel? It’s 2015. How about dropping the “Mad Men” act?

[Sidebar: So you may ask, what’s the divide looking like? Well, it goes a little something like this: (chart with male/female superhero movies or just numerical? M – ~159 F- ~10 –this is my own count based solely on American live-action feature and dtv films. List does not include animated and foreign films currently released. Does not include upcoming releases or proposals. Note: films featuring one male and one female lead are counted tentatively for each side. Films featuring ensemble casts are ruled as male superhero films unless there are an equal or greater number of women in the cast (i.e. none.) This list is far from all-inclusive.]

Source: List of American Superhero Films: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_American_superhero_films and http://flightstightsandmovienights.com/review-index/the-list/

(Originally published on GeekSnack)


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