Debate: Superheroes and the Female Fear | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Debate: Superheroes and the Female Fear

Is it a bird? is it a plane? No, it's another male lead superhero film...

There is little doubt that in the last few years, superhero movies have ruled the cinemas. No longer is nerd culture a dark and ignored subculture that hides in comic book shops. It is mainstream, it is extremely popular, and is followed be a ravenous fan base begging for more. Who is this fan base? Nerdy young men who can’t talk to women, circa The Big Bang Theory? That may be the stereotype, but the reality is that roughly half of all attendees to superhero films are, in fact, women. On top of that, for the last two years slightly over half of all movie goers were also women, as found by a Motion Picture Association of America study. So why are most superhero movies about men?

Female - AvengersFemale - Guardians of the galaxy0362

Existing films that have a female superhero as the lead can be counted on one hand. In fact,  since 2000 there have been exactly two: the critically panned Catwoman and the Daredevil spin-off Elektra. Sure there are a few female supporting characters that have received a fair amount of the spot light, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts are good examples, but so far few have been willing to make a superhero movie that are actually about a woman.

Until now, sort of. Sony pictures recently announced it was going to produce a Spiderman spin-off that would star a woman. In the last week both DC Comics and Marvel, the heavy hitters of the superhero world, have also announced their future plans. Between the two companies there was an announcement for 19 upcoming films…and a grand total of three of them have female leads. This means by the year 2020 the world of superhero movies will have gone from a total of 2 female-led films to six since 2000. For Marvel this will mean one female-led movie compared to 19 male-led films since the beginning of their company, just to put that in perspective.

Female - Captain marvelFemale Cap mar 3

This is not good enough. In fact, it is almost insulting that these companies, who are perfectly aware of the high demand for movies about women, think that making one or two films is justified. That representing their female audience does not matter enough for them to actually do anything about it.

According to Kevin Feige, president of Marvel studios, it is because a female lead simply does not fit into the “creative vision” of Marvel. In an interview earlier this year with CBR Feige was asked about the potential future of a female-led movie,

“I think it comes down to timing, which is what I've sort of always said, and it comes down to us being able to tell the right story. I very much believe in doing it… But we find ourselves in the very strange position of managing more franchises than most people … But it does mean you have to put one franchise on hold for three or four years in order to introduce a new one? I don't know. Those are the kinds of chess matches we're playing right now.”

So, to Fegie, Marvel cannot make a female-led movie because it has too many franchises in motion, and those cannot be cut short to make way for new characters. Fair enough. But wait, has Marvel not just announced several new franchises that star men? Ant Man, Doctor Strange, and Black Panther are all brand new characters being brought into the Marcel cinematic universe. But hey, maybe they just don’t realize how many people want a female-led movie. Maybe they, like so many, believe that their fan base is mostly male.

In another interview with ScreenCrush Feige was once again asked about female leads and if he thinks casting of more female characters in the new Star Wars trilogy has anything to do with the pressure movie makers have been under to have more female characters. This was his response...

“Well, yes. I don’t think J.J. Abrams or the ‘Star Wars’ people — I have no idea — but my guess is that they were not swayed by any backlash. We’re not going to be swayed by the backlash. We’re going to keep bringing the movies out the way we envision it and the way we believe in it — and that includes diversity in all of the active films. And certainly, on our development slate of many of the characters — some of which you just named — and always being conscious of that.”

Ah. So Marvel is aware how in demand female-led movies are, they just don’t care. Nothing will get in the way of their vision, which is conveniently almost completely male.

Marvel-lady-superheroesThe plague of movie makers refusing to produce movies about women is not exclusive to superheroes. This past summer there was not a single blockbuster that had a female lead character. Women watch movies. Women have money to pay for movies, and in recent years, women have been paying to see movies more than men. Movie makers know this, and yet they refuse to give female characters the time they deserve. Female nerds across the world continue to be disappointed as the movie industry over and over again tells them that they don’t matter. Only men can be important heroes. Only men are interesting. Only men are worth making films about. Sorry ladies, you are just not important enough to be represented on-screen. By refusing to make more female lead superhero movies, that is the message they are sending, and female viewers are left to wonder, why?


Katie Manzi


5th November 2014 at 2:40 pm

Last Updated

9th October 2015 at 2:51 pm