You’d be forgiven for thinking we’re back in the golden age of superheroes, at least where films are concerned. ‘Captain America: Civil War’ released this week to rave reviews and it was preceded by the not-that-well received ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.’ Before that there was the Christopher Nolan ‘Batman’ trilogy, and pretty much the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe (the various ‘Iron Man,’ ‘Thor,’ ‘Captain America’ movies with the occasional ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ thrown in). Conclusion? There are a lot of superhero movies. So maybe it’s time to start asking the question: Why are so many superheroes men and uh, white?
Yes, yes let’s get the obvious over with. It’s not like there haven’t been female superheroes. We’ve had Black Widow, the various X-Men (Rogue, Storm, Shadowcat, Jean Grey), Wonder Woman, and Supergirl. So it’s not like the big screen hasn’t been graced with female superheroes. It’s just that, apart from Jessica Jones, the focus has never been on them. Why is Black Widow, while a kickass character in her own right, pretty much the only other major member of the Avengers to not get her own movie, despite calls for the same? Wonder Woman shows up as a major member of the Justice League in a movie which doesn’t even have her name in the title: ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.’ With the exception of Jean Grey and Rogue, no other female X-Men has had the focus of any movie like the male X-Men have had (Wolverine, Professor X, Cyclops, or Iceman) and even they pretty much exist to be rescued by Wolverine in both cases.
The comics’ world has fared a little better, surprisingly enough. We’ve had the new female Thor, Batgirl and Captain Marvel, as well as Ms. Marvel (who is, awesomely enough, an American Muslim.) Jessica Jones herself had an excellent run in the comic series called ‘Alias,’ and there has been the amazing ‘Spider-Gwen‘ (a universe where it’s Peter Parker who dies and Gwen Stacy who gets bitten by a radioactive spider). But even with these awesome women, the problem doesn’t go away, because their numbers just don’t compare with the number of male superheroes.
The problem appears to be that a lot of the times women exist in these movies to be the New Age damsel in distress. So we have Lois Lane in ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ who, while a tough reporter, still needs to be rescued and doesn’t really contribute much beyond that.
The influx of great female superheroes is showing that the world wants more of them and that they do, in fact, sell no matter what anyone thinks. In fact, we’ve had female superheroes explore ideas like rape and the importance of consent, as in Jessica Jones. Or Agent Carter, who shows you can be badass while wearing a nice dress. But we still need change and in a big way.
Female superheroes often get sidelined, and often in weird ways. Rey from ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ is an interesting example because despite being the star of her franchise, guess who barely shows up in the Star Wars’ merchandise? And it’s not just her. Other female characters (often non-white female characters) from other superhero films barely show up, such as Gamora from ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and Storm from ‘X Men.’ Like seriously, when was the last time you saw a Black Widow toy?
And it’s not just women’s representation that is lacking. Count how many non white superheroes we’ve had. I’m guessing you’ve come up with a lot of men (Falcon, Black Panther, Luke Cage). This begs the question: Where are all the non white female superheroes? On screen we’ve had just Storm from ‘X Men‘ and Gamora from ‘Guardians of the Galaxy.’ That’s … pretty sad actually. On the comic-book side of things, apart from the two mentioned we have Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel, as well as more low profile heroes like Jubilee (Wolverine’s former sidekick) and Nubia, Wonder Woman’s black twin sister. Nubia is a pretty interesting character, being created from black clay (as Diana aka Wonder Woman was created from white clay). It would be seriously amazing to see her take the stage along with her sister in the upcoming Justice League movie, but as with many other non-white characters, Nubia has mostly slipped off the radar. Of course, there are others, but nobody as much in the spotlight as the many other male/female white superheroes.
Female superheroes work, as the past few years have proved pretty well and honestly, we deserve them. As we’ve seen from the success of shows like ‘Jessica Jones’ (which averaged nearly 5 million viewers per episode in its run), there is absolutely no reason that we can’t have a female superhero going head to head with a male one, especially when they’re stealing the spotlight in films that aren’t even about them. Also, you know we don’t do that “boys’ toys versus girls’ toys” thing anymore right? Somebody should send these guys a memo.