It’s an undeniable fact that superhero movies—the most popular and lucrative genre in the filmmaking world at the moment—are overwhelmingly driven my male characters. You could try and make an argument that more female-driven superhero films don’t exist because of past failures (ie. Catwoman, Elektra), but that argument is, frankly, bullshit. As we’ve seen at the box office over the past three years or so, when a studio makes a genuinely good tentpole film with a three-dimensional female lead character, audiences will turn out in droves. From The Hunger Games to Frozen to even The Fault in Our Stars, female-driven films are doing spectacular business, to the point that movie studios can no longer wave off these kinds of movies as “too risky”.
A couple of days ago, an interview with Joss Whedon surfaced that was recorded from the set of Avengers: Age of Ultron last summer by the folks at Digital Spy. A select quote in particular stood out among the rest, one addressing the lack of female characters in superhero movies:
“It’s a phenomenon in the [film] industry that we call ‘stupid people’. There is genuine, recalcitrant, intractable sexism, and old-fashioned quiet misogyny that goes on. You hear ‘Oh, [female superheroes] don’t work because of these two bad ones that were made eight years ago’, there’s always an excuse.”
Now obviously since that time the two biggest superhero studios—Warner Bros. and Marvel—have announced their own female-driven superhero films in the form of WB’s Wonder Woman, arriving in 2017 (with a female director no less), and Marvel’s Captain Marvel, arriving in 2018. Yes, after 18 (18!) straight male-driven superhero movies, Marvel Studios has finally decided to grace us with one starring a woman.
Now, at the time that Whedon offered up those comments on the set of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Marvel had yet to announce its Phase Three slate. Speaking with Buzzfeed yesterday, the filmmaker added a bit of an addendum to his previous comments:
“[Captain Marvel is] something that [Marvel Studios chief] Kevin [Feige] has been working on for a while. And I obviously was a cheerleader, but he had to get all the ducks in a row and get all the minds in agreement. I think being a part of Disney maybe makes it easier, because they’re open to it. And Marvel now is in a position to shake up its own paradigm, because it’s got such a success record.”
“Honestly, you know, Guardians [of the Galaxy] might have helped it, just because that was outside what was considered to be their box and did so well that— Well, let’s put it this way: If a raccoon can carry a movie, then they believe maybe even a woman can.”
As studios are starting to put together these female-led films, Whedon looks to YA adaptations as smart ways to tell female-driven stories:
“The superhero story — and I do consider [the YA adaptations] to be superhero stories — it doesn’t have to be about one tortured billionaire. It can be a girl and her community, her crushes, her fears. We can evolve that genre more quickly if we come at it from different ways. It both makes sense commercially and artistically. Not all the movies are going to be good. That never happens. But it’s going to open up the avenues.”
“Lucy was a huge step, in a way. Because it was such a massive hit, and because Scarlett [Johansson] is amazing in it. Her in the first 40 minutes of that movie is just — she’s giving a powerhouse, emotional performance as a terrified and evolving person. It’s not just, ‘Oh, we’re going to pay lip service to this idea, and then get to the endless ass-kicking.’ It really is a character piece. She’s what you’re looking at the whole time. I mean, [she and I] don’t even talk about movies, and I had to tell her how great she was. So to deal from that place, instead of just ‘here’s a genre idea that will sell toys,’ is dynamite.”
All of Whedon’s comments here are kind of spot on, and I’m glad that studios are finally starting to “take a chance” on female-driven tentpoles. Hopefully this leads to even more diversity in this massive superhero genre, and I’m not just talking about the gender or race of the lead character. Tackling the genre from a wholly different perspective allows for a different kind of story to be told, and since we’re going to start getting exponentially more superhero movies every year for the foreseeable future, variety is going to be paramount.