So apparently the CEO of Marvel, Ike Perlmutter, doesn’t believe it’s possible or profitable to make superhero films centred on female characters because women are incapable of carrying a film in the lead role.
Yeah, I’m just going to go ahead and call bullshit on that.
Perlmutter’s “evidence” behind that claim are the admittedly poor examples of female led Marvel films from the dark days when most Marvel films were ‘meh’ at best – Catwoman, Elektra, and Supergirl – but I feel he’s being a little short sighted in his claims. Let’s face it, those films were going to be a flop long before female actors got involved; the scripts were lazy and the direction awful, and coincidentally predominantly done by men.
Apparently there’s a real problem with good roles being written for women, and that may have something to do with the severely low numbers of women working behind the scenes in the film industry. A recent study found only 11% of the writers and 7% of directors behind 2014’s films were women. Hollywood might want to balance out those numbers before trying to tackle a female superhero film again because clearly something is going wrong. Scripts for films are getting better, and women no longer get saddled with just the do-nothing-sit-pretty-and-be-the-love-interest role, so I’m confident a brilliant superhero film is possible for women, they just need to iron out the creases from their latex suits.
A lot of people speculate that female actresses just can’t handle a lead role. For fun, just go ahead and imagine a great male actor in the role that Halle Berry had to play in Catwoman. Imagine Robert Downey Jr. playing, not the morally grey and independent Catwoman from the comics, but a Catwoman who has to face a 2D villain who plans to take over the world using makeup… or something along those lines… I don’t know, the premise for that film was super forgettable. Imagine James MacAvoy being directed to rub that ball of catnip against his face, purr like a cat, and make it look believable. Imagine Martin Freeman squeezing into that ridiculous shiny-leather skin tight suit and being told by the director “Let’s try that again, Martin, but this time really swing those hips.” (I hope that mental image I created for you brings you years of joy as I’m sure it will bring me.) Plop a man into the lead roles created for women and they still suck. Why? Because they were created sucky.
The three superhero films brought up in the letter as “evidence” are terrible, but they can’t be generalised to mean all films with leading ladies are bad. That’s like picking out films like Daredevil, Ghost Rider, Batman and Robin and saying “Oops, looks like men can’t carry a film in lead roles either, guess we’re just going to have to stop making superhero films all together.” Come on now, at least give women a fair fight to prove we can do it. Little tip for Hollywood, write a decent script for a superhero film with a leading lady, get a proper director, find a talented actress, then step back. If that’s too hard for you, write a film for a male lead role then just cast a women instead. It won’t make a difference.
A great film does not have to be fuelled by testosterone. The Hunger Games is a wildly successful action film and is brilliantly lead by a woman: the difference is the content and how it’s treated. The Hunger Games is too busy trying to illustrate a dystopian world fuelled by the murder of children to care if Jennifer Lawrence looks sexy enough for the audience from this camera angle. Alien was chilling and suspenseful and led by a kickass Sigourney Weaver who managed to carry four films from that franchise! Granted only two of them were actually good but that was again due to the shoddy content, not the acting. Even though there aren’t many good examples in Marvel’s history for female leads, there is elsewhere in the action genre and maybe the ones in charge should search a little harder before they declare women unsuitable for action leads.
There are loads of female comic book characters for Marvel to take inspiration from; the cry for a Black Widow film still rings through Marvel fan circles. Marvel has given us some great female side characters but I think it’s time the people in charge stop wimping out and give women a deservedly awesome lead in film.