A Summer in the Right Direction
|September 21, 2012||Posted by Jess under Celebrities, Comics, Disney, Ladytexts, Movies|
This past weekend Women Write About Comics did a Summer Movie Wrap-Up Carnival, and, well, as my friends can tell you, I’m always late to parties. Part of my lateness stems from the fact that this weekend was Rosh Hashanah, and I was busy celebrating with the fam (and baking challah from scratch, WHAT WHAT!) and then recovering from a sudden but intense 24-hour misery cold.
But another, more significant part stems from the fact that, well, gosh this was a good summer for ass-kicking ladies at the movies!
There was The Avengers, which I loved to pieces and saw five times. I’ve already talked about The Amazing Spider-Man here. And I attempted a video review of The Dark Knight Rises, which failed due to technical difficulties, so y’all don’t get to hear my Bane voice, but short version: I kinda liked it, which is saying something since I absolutely loathed The Dark Knight. Plus, as WWAC points out, this spring/summer also gave us The Hunger Games and Brave, neither of which are superhero movies, but both of which feature young female protagonists attempting to change their oppressive societies while displaying better archery form than Hawkeye (sorry, Clint, but you’ve got a serious case of Crazy Elbows). There was also Snow White and the Huntsman, which flawed as it might be spoke very frankly about feminism and handed its female protagonist a sword. Basically, I’ve been to the movies more in the past 6 months than I have in my whole life.1
And you know what? That’s amazing. It’s just, sometimes it’s hard to build a post around “hey, this rocked.”
But I’ll try anyway.
[Potential spoilers for all aforementioned movies below.]
None of the movies listed above are perfect. Most glaringly, they are suuuuuuuper white. Of the six movies listed above, only one had a female character of color: Rue in The Hunger Games. (Katniss, meanwhile, was played by a very fair actress instead of the racially ambiguous “olive-skinned” girl in the books. Other people have covered that issue better than I can.) Maria Hill, who is Latina in the cartoon and could easily have been given the Fury treatment for film, was played by a white actress in The Avengers; Talia, like her father, was whitewashed for The Dark Knight Rises. Brave embraced the proud Disney tradition of erasing minorities from history (Europe has basically never been all-white, and even if it was, if you can accept magic bears, you can accept a diverse Scotland), while Snow White embraced the potentially even grosser tradition of having the one dude of color as a minor, vaguely feral villain. And Spider-Man took place in NYC, which I can attest is pretty much all white. Wait, no, the complete opposite of that. My bad.2
There are further issues, too: I’ve talked before about my issues with Spider-Man and Brave. I’m not sure why the Avengers have to consist of one woman and five dudes. I’m really not sure why Gotham apparently has three women in it, total. And, well, Snow White just wasn’t very good, no matter how much my 12-year-old heart wanted it to be.
Snow White was still a movie about the struggle between two powerful, capable women that wasn’t about a boy but about a kingdom and about justice. It put magic in one woman’s hands and a sword in the other’s and let the men be satellites around them – I don’t think it passes the Reverse Bechdel Test, but it passes the regular one with flying colors. And it topped the box office.
Brave stepped up to concerns that a Pixar movie about a girl would tank because boys wouldn’t see it and performed solidly at the box office with an audience that was nearly 50% male. For a movie about a mother/daughter relationship! A mother/daughter relationship that made $500 MILLION worldwide!
The Hunger Games shattered box office records and led the box office for four weeks straight. Tell me again how female-led action movies don’t sell? (Plus it was basically great. The last book soured me on the trilogy as a whole, but that first one is solid, and the film is a fantastic adaptation thereof.)
I don’t think I need to talk about the financial or critical success of this year’s superhero movies, but in terms of female characters:
The Amazing Spider-Man presented a smart, capable love interest for the hero who saves herself and hundreds if not thousands of other people with her own quick thinking and resourcefulness, and does not put up with the hero’s bullshit.
The Dark Knight Rises gave us Anne Hathaway’s note-perfect Selina Kyle – brilliant, capable, morally ambiguous, and hilariously sarcastic – plus some grand schemery from Talia al Ghul. Yes, Talia’s character was still highly problematic, not just because of her whitewashing, but this is the sequel to a movie that fridged the love interest to give the hero some extra angst, killed off a female judge, turned the almost-but-not-quite-Renee-Montoya cop into a traitor (and then killed her, IIRC), and wouldn’t even give us a solid close-up of Barbara Gordon in favor of having Two-Face threaten Jim’s randomly inserted son, because of course Jim couldn’t love his daughter, don’t be ridiculous. So, you know, it’s a step up for Nolan.
And Avengers gave us capable, competent Maria Hill; Pepper Potts in a loving, egalitarian relationship instead of the mess Iron Man 2 left her with; and…Natasha Romanoff/nov/nova. Who destroyed Russian mobsters while tied to a chair without breaking a sweat. Who kicked the crap out of the guy who practically single-handedly brought down the helicarrier. Who came up with a more effective plan for stopping the battle than Cap, and shut down the tesseract her own damn self. Who TRICKED THE TRICKSTER GOD. And who was allowed to be human, and funny, and sarcastic, and scared, and a person.
(As a side note, this year has also seen the rise of actresses in these movies refusing to play Sexist 20 Questions. Anne Hathaway, Emma Stone, and Scarlett Johansson have all repeatedly called interviewers out on questions about underwear and diets, pointing out that their male costars get asked serious questions about their work (and Andrew Garfield, at least, has joined in on the calling-out). I don’t think it’s these actresses’ responsibility to lead the vanguard of feminist outrage, necessarily, but every time they do I want to high five them.)
This is progress. This is female-led action movies breaking box office records. This is consistently strong writing for female characters in superhero movies, and fantastic actresses spinning already great straw into gold. This, I can only hope, is a sign of things to come.
I want more. I want a female-led superhero movie. (Where is my Black Widow movie, Marvel, seriously.) I want women of color to actually fucking EXIST in superhero movies (and not as the stripper who joins the bad guys, X-Men: First Class) and medieval fantasy universes.3 I want more than one woman on a superhero team.
But I do think things are changing. Last year – before Katniss, before Natasha – a Wonder Woman pilot was filmed for and dropped by NBC. This year, the CW is trying again, when usually a flop with a female character means no one touches her for five years. Super Best Friends Forever merchandise is appearing in Hot Topic (for dudes only, mysteriously, but it’s a start). Female superheroes are starting to be perceived as commercially viable – if not by Marvel and DC, then at least by their parent companies and the movie-going public.
So yes, we’ve got a long way to go. But this summer made me really happy, because for the first time in a long time, I’m starting to feel like we’re on our way.
- Let’s not forget Magic Mike! Not an action movie by any stretch of the imagination, but that is some female gaze going on right there. ↩
- Hey, you know what was gross? That scene where Peter stole a badge from a teenage boy of color who had probably worked his whole life for that internship despite the deck being stacked against him, so that a Latino boy being unfairly escorted from the premises because a white boy had stolen from him could be played for laughs. GROSS. ↩
- Halle Berry has played two superheroes, but Halle Berry cannot carry this load alone any more than Samuel L. Jackson can carry it for the dudes. And yes, she wasn’t great as Storm or as Catwoman, but the woman has an Oscar so I’m pretty sure poor writing and direction are partially to blame for that. ↩