Why no female superheroes? Fear.


Wonder WomanA recent blog post by Sue Archer flags this popular issue: Thanks to years now of excellent and popular superhero movies, the fan world has been rearing up and calling out the obvious missing piece of the franchise puzzle: Why no female superhero movies yet?  Warner Brothers (who owns the DC Comics superheroes) has been held up to the light for producing Superman, Batman and Green Lantern for cinema, and a number of other male heroes for television, but not Wonder Woman.    And Marvel, seemingly doing no wrong with its superhero line-up, has so far passed on super-powered female heroes like Captain Marvel.

One begins to suspect a conspiracy… which, of course, is what the web has pounced on.  Everyone wants to know what’s going on here.

Naturally, I believe I know what’s happening.

I think they’re scared.

I think that, on a real level, they are just plain afraid of female superheroes… and I don’t mean from a masculine standpoint.  I think it comes from a fear of inciting negative reactions from any part of their audience. They are afraid of ticking off the ticket-buyers, their real bread-and-butter, by upsetting their sensibilities.

SupergirlConsider: Female superhero costumes tend to be hyper-sexualized… light and tight spandex, bared arms and legs, and all to be putting those buff bodies on display during insane acrobatics, melodramatic poses and wrestlemania moments that have no prayer of being defined as anything but regularly and distinctly gratuitous.  Sexy girls in body-revealing outfits, getting into cat-fights and punch-ups?  That won’t be looked at kindly in the anti-neanderthal atmosphere that men habitually have to wade through today.  And then there’s the threat: If a woman is even temporarily defeated… beaten… or (gasp!) restrained… especially by a power-hungry, domineering man (pronounced “May-an” by the DAR)… what kind of feminist backlash will there be on that?

So they tiptoe around the issue, and when they capitulate, the public gets weak fare like Catwoman… mostly a result of sad writing and production designed to give a sexy actress a movie vehicle whilst simultaneously avoiding scaring the people whose opinions sway the masses.

Today, both studios are willing to admit that they’re thinking on it… but neither has actually started to work on any female superhero films.  Warner even started a Wonder Woman production, penned by the same Joss Whedon who gave Marvel The Avengers… and Warner rejected it.  (Actually, DC/Warner did give us Birds of Prey, a team of female heroes—and they tried to bring Wonder Woman back to television, however troubled the attempt—so people really should give them a little slack.)

I’d be willing to bet that a great deal of the apprehension comes from a concern of making these super-powered ladies somehow less threatening, but not in a way that suggests they have less power than men… the desire to “soften” them, but not make them stupid or campy… making sure any threats posed to them don’t push any psychological or sociological buttons… and finally, to try to make people believe garishly-costumed cheerleaders can hurt big armed thugs.

XenaUnfortunately, that same male-dominated movie industry is very conservative, and incredibly myopic, when it comes to their perception of their own audience… even to the point of ignoring their own stats, following 50-year-old tropes and attitudes, and somehow not noticing that the popularity of TV characters like Cara Thrace, Xena, Dana Scully, Zoe Washburn and Samantha Carter did not come from soap opera romance storylines.  Even movies like Salt, Hunger Games, Divergent and the Lara Croft movies ably demonstrate that female heroes work and make money.  The problem requires thinking outside of the doily-lined box that the executives seem to have their heads stuck in.

Hopefully better heads will prevail soon, they’ll get over their fears and obsolete attitudes, and be able to give us female superhero movies with teeth in them.  And personally, I’d rather wait for them to do it right than get Catwoman 2: The Electric Boogaloo.


One thought on “Why no female superheroes? Fear.

  1. Sue Archer made this additional comment to me from her original post… I wanted to share it here:

    “Hi Steven, thanks for the comment and linking to my post. I enjoyed reading your follow-up post! That’s a great point about understanding the perceptions of the audience – how can they make a good female superhero movie if they are not in touch with what both the male and female audience members would enjoy – or find acceptable? A lot of women dislike the hyper-sexualized outfits (including me), and fighting styles that are designed to show off physical assets rather than demonstrate true strength. It’s one of the reasons I enjoyed watching the movie Haywire, even though it had its issues – Gina Carano was cast because she was an MMA fighter, and it’s the first time I’ve seen a movie where the woman used brute force to fight rather than fancy acrobatics. That’s how I imagine Wonder Woman would fight – and if she got defeated in that sort of context, I don’t think execs would have to be so afraid of backlash.”

    My reply:
    Gina Carano“I’ll have to look for Haywire and check it out. I’ve said (for, God, years now) that if Hollywood wants to find women to play superheroes, they ought to be looking in the pro fighting and wrestling arenas (however authentic) for girls who not only can fight, or at least are built like fighters, but can act as well… instead of the usual waifs and starlets who barely look like they can lift a chair, much less hit you with one.

    “Even better: Gina Carano LOOKS like a Wonder Woman! Hollywood, what’s your problem?!?”


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