Much as I like big flashy action movies, I have to accept that they don’t like me. It’s the same problem I have with comic books – the lack of any kind of meaningful female representation that doesn’t actively insult my intelligence or body shape is exhausting. So I didn’t go to see Transformers. I didn’t go to see the third Batman movie. I didn’t see Star Trek Into Darkness, the second G.I. Joe movie. I will not go to see Captain America 2.
The list of movies I didn’t go to see is quite long. I will give new franchises a chance, up to a point, but once they show that they’re all about the white guys doing stuff, my interest flatlines. Where’s my Aliens, my Wonderwoman, or anything to do with the female X-men?
Here’s the usual explanation, from an interesting article over at NPR.org:
You can apparently make an endless collection of high-priced action flops and everybody says “win some, lose some” and nobody decides that They Are Poison, but it feels like every “surprise success” about women is an anomaly and every failure is an abject lesson about how we really ought to just leave it all to The Rock.
When a movie with a white guy lead flops, it’s because of a whole range of factors – bad writing, bad marketing, bad direction, etc etc. When a movie with a female lead flops, it’s because ‘people don’t want to see women’. And all those movies with female leads that DID succeed, well, they’re all flukes, never to be repeated, or something.
Don’t tell me that’s not sexist.
The Problem with Superman
Now, let’s be clear – I have nothing against Superman. I thought Red Son was pretty good, after all. The problem with him – or, should I say, my problem with him – is that he’s not Wonderwoman, or Scarlet Witch, or Phoenix, or Jenny Sparks. He’s yet another white guy superhero who saves the world.
At this point, just about every superhero movie made in the last ten years is ‘white guy superhero who saves the [insert location here]’. Let’s take a look at a list of Marvel and DC movies since 2000:
- X-Men – ensemble cast dominated by men. Location: New York.
- Spider-man – male lead. Location: New York.
- X2 – ensemble cast dominated by men. Location: the world (or at least, all the mutants in it).
- Fantastic Four – ensemble cast dominated by men. Location: the world.
- Spider-man 2 – male lead. Location: New York.
- Batman Begins – male lead. Location: Gotham City.
- X-Men: The Last Stand – almost balanced ensemble cast. Location: the world (or at least, all the mutants in it).
- Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer – ensemble cast dominated by men. Location: the world.
- Spider-man 3 – male lead. Location: New York.
- Ghost-Rider – male lead. Location: the world.
- Iron Man – male lead. Location: the world.
- The Incredible Hulk – male lead. Location: New York (I think)
- The Dark Knight – male lead. Location: Gotham City.
- X-Men: Origins – male lead. Unusual in that there was no saving involved; Wolverine was just out for revenge.
- Iron-Man 2 – male lead. Unusual in that it was really just a pissing match between Tony Stark and Justin Hammer.
- Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance – male lead. Location: the world.
- Thor – male lead. Location: Asgard.
- Captain America – male lead. Location: Europe (during WWII)
- Green Lantern – male lead. Location: the world.
- X-Men: First Class – almost balanced ensemble cast. Location: the world.
- The Avengers – ensemble cast dominated by men. Location: the world.
- The Amazing Spider-man – male lead. Location: New York.
- The Dark Knight Rises – male lead. Location: Gotham City.
Let’s see what others I can find…
- Elecktra – female lead. She saves Abby (another character).
- Catwoman – female lead. Location: not entirely sure, I’ll say New York. The plot revolves around stopping evil cosmetics so who knows.
- Tank Girl – female lead. She saves her friend Sam.
- Super Girl – female lead. Location: the world.
- Barb Wire – female lead. Apparently the plot is loosely based on Casablanca. She eventually helps save one of the other characters, a scientist called Cora.
Much as I’d like to get better sample size of super hero movies with female leads, there aren’t any. Really. I can’t find any other live action mainstream superhero movies with female leads. And it looks like there are none due to come out any time soon.
There’s a Pattern Here
Specifically, there’s a pattern that bores me to fucking tears and then some, and it’s not by chance that my interest has been lost several times over. Hollywood is making the same tired bullshit over and over and OVER and good gods, I am not paying money to see yet another iteration of White Guy Saves X. And I’m angry – furious even – that I’m expected to like these movies on their own merit, that I’m told that Man of Steel is a good movie and don’t be stupid, you can’t dismiss a movie just because it’s got a white guy lead, and isn’t that sexist too?
No. That is not the fucking point. I’m not dismissing it because it’s got a white guy in it – I’m dismissing it because of that pattern up there, because today in the year 20-fucking-13, I cannot go to a movie theater ANYWHERE IN VANCOUVER and see a mainstream film with a female lead, superhero or otherwise. I’m sure Man of Steel is good, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that it wasn’t made in a fucking vacuum. It got made, while Wonderwoman/Scarlet Witch/ANY female superhero gets ignored, because Hollywood is still dominated by the kind of vicious, creeping sexism that thinks female-lead failures say something about women, and male-lead failures say nothing about men.
It’s because of that double standard. White male leads have the luxury of being judged on their own merits, if a movie fails. White male is the default, so the thinking goes, and there’s no possibility that the audience might have disliked the movie because it’s got a white male lead. The female lead of a failed movie has her gender held up as either the sole reason, or the main reason. Not direction, marketing, scripting – not even her own acting talent, most of the time. Just ‘people won’t go to see a movie with a woman as the lead.’
The worst part about all of this is that I can’t vote with my dollars, as people sometimes say. With no female-lead movies available, I have nothing to pay for that shows my preferences. So now I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place – my lack of attendance means I’m not interested in superhero movies, so there’s no reason to pander to my taste, and without a female-lead movie to demonstrate my taste, I have no way of showing Hollywood my preference.
So what can I do? Well, nothing. I will not go to the movies tonight to see Man of Steel, at least, and I will wait to see what action movies come into the cinema with female leads and then throw my money at them. The Heat is the next on my list that looks like fun.
This is what I ask, of anyone reading this – do not, for even a second, ask me why I’m so angry, or say ‘it’s just a movie!’ The fact that you don’t think sexism in Hollywood is such a big deal doesn’t make it any less real. Frankly, if your gender was ignored, trivialized, or treated like either a sex object or an alien species by one of the biggest entertainment mediums on the planet, you’d be fucking angry too.