I love superhero movies. I’ve eagerly awaited every new Batman movie, I’ve been following the Avengers franchise for years – and I was very excited, a few weeks ago, to go see Guardians of the Galaxy. I enjoyed it, but in one critical respect, I came away disappointed. Not in the story, or the acting. Not the villains, the special effects, or the super-fun soundtrack. No, I was disappointed to see yet another ensemble-cast movie with a wide variety of male characters, and only one woman.
These movies exist in so many genres. They have the lead character – the “normal,” “universal,” “relatable” person, almost always a white 20 or 30-something guy – plus other types of people, such as the funny man, the smart man, the action man, and the woman, as if “woman” is just another deviation from the “young white guy” norm. As if “woman” is a kind of character trait, rather than representing half of all people in the world.
This problem is absolutely not uncommon, but it was especially pronounced in Guardians because two of the major characters aren’t even people: one of them is a raccoon, and the other is a tree. A male tree. I guess the default setting for sentient characters is male – if Groot had been female, the character would have been “Girl Tree” rather than just a tree.
Of course, it’s not like the movie was made in a vacuum. Groot was male in the comics, so it follows that he would be male in the movie. But it’s also not as if there’s a lack of long-established female superheroes in both comics and movies who could, and should, star in movies of their very own. Incredibly popular movies already prominently feature the likes of Black Widow, Storm, and Rogue – and while the X-Men movies definitely aren’t part of the “all-male revue” problem, Storm has never gotten her own movie. Wolverine, on the other hand, has already gotten two.
But the elephant in the room, I think, is Wonder Woman. As Time points out, she is “the female superhero to most people,” yet her movie has yet to materialize. She’ll feature in the upcoming Batman vs. Superman, but where is her movie? Apparently Warner Brothers turned Joss Whedon down when he tried to make one in 2007, and it’s iffy whether, or when, one might happen now.
You know who finally announced actual plans for a female-led superhero movie? Not the people who make the Avengers, or Batman, or X-Men – but Sony, who only make Spider-Man. It’s unclear which of the Spider-Man-related characters we’ll see come 2017, but I think this pulls the rug out from all the other superhero franchises, full of excellent female supporting characters, that have been too timid to make one of their own characters a headliner. (Though Marvel recently announced a new female Thor in the comics universe – maybe anything is possible!)
So why haven’t we had a female-led superhero movie up till now? Time postulates that making a Wonder Woman movie would just involve too much pressure – it “wouldn’t be seen as ‘just’ a movie about Wonder Woman, but a movie for all female superheroes.”
The assumption that one female character can, and should, represent all women? I think I’ve heard that one before.
Sasha Albert holds a Master’s degree in Gender and Sexuality from the University of Amsterdam, and participates in reproductive health and justice activism in the Boston area.