The Superpower of Inclusion
With great power, be more understanding.
Growing up, I was a big fan of all things superhero. When I was not pretending to be a Power Ranger or Luke Skywalker, I was pretending to be a superhero; and growing up in the 90s I had a plethora of heroes to choose from. Keep in mind I was not a comic book kid, there was one comic shop in my town and my parents were not going to drive over there continuously for me to keep up with all the new issues. My knowledge of superheroes was specific to cartoons and movies. So, I would pretend to be Superman, Batman, Spiderman, etc. If i was with a group of friends and there was a girl involved they undoubtedly choose, nay, were told to pick Wonder Woman. She was the one we all knew, we were decades away from Jessica Jones, or Black Widow being household names.
Here is a good exercise, lets start with Tim Burton’s Batman, released in 1989 and see the major superhero movies a tv shows released after that. In order we have The Flash (Live-Action TV 1990), X-Men (Cartoon 1992), Batman: The Animated Series (Cartoon 1992), Batman Returns (Live-Action Film 1992), Lois & Clark (Live-Action TV 1993), Fantastic Four (Cartoon 1994), Iron Man (Cartoon 1994), Spiderman (Cartoon 1994), Batman Forever (Live-Action Film 1994), Superman (Cartoon 1996), The Incredible Hulk (Cartoon 1996), The New Batman Adventures (Cartoon 1997), Batman & Robin (Live-Action Film 1997), Blade (Live-Action Film 1998), Batman Beyond(Cartoon 1999), Spider-Man Unlimited (Cartoon 1999), X-Men: Evolution (Cartoon 2000), Static Shock (Cartoon 2000), X-Men (Live-Action Film 2000), Smallville (Live-Action TV 2001), Justice League (Cartoon 2001), Blade II (Live-Action Film 2002), Spider-Man (Live-Action Film 2002), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Live-Action Film 2003), Daredevil (Live-Action Film 2003), X-Men 2 (Live-Action Film 2003), Hulk (Live-Action Film 2003), Teen Titans (Cartoon 2003), Catwoman (Live-Action Film 2004). Out of 30 of the major movies and tv shows involving superheroes over a fifteen year span there was only one that was starring a female superhero; granted there were the X-Men type with female heroes but they all played second fiddle to a main male character, hell it is called X-Men. I also could have started earlier, the last female superhero star was Supergirl who’s film was released in 1984. That being said neither movie was a success, both failed to profit over their budget in the box office and like Punxsutawney Phil seeing his shadow it called for another twenty years of male superheroes.
There is another thing those two films have in common, both were written and directed by men¹. On top of those two films you can throw in 2005’s Elektra starring Jennifer Garner. This was a spinoff of 2003’s Daredevil which was widely regarded as one of the worst comic book movies ever soooo yeah why not bring a woman down with it. It is downright shocking that the most successful thing about those movies is the marriage of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner. Now we can surely say, men completely understand women. All kidding aside I have not seen Supergirl so I cannot speak to its substance but the latter two are superhero movies, starring women, marketed to men; I can say that with good confidence because I was young enough not know very much and I honestly thought the movie Elektra had something to do with Carmen Electra. These movies never had a chance and they feel like they were made poorly so studio executives could say they tried.
Now, for better or for worse, I say for better, we are in the golden age of Superhero movies. Introduced in 2010’s Iron Man 2 we have Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff the Black Widow. With the star power of Johansson and the writing Joss Whedon who wrote the wildly successful Buffy The Vampire Slayer series; Black Widow truly came to form in Whedon’s 2012 film The Avengers. After that movie all I can remember were outcries for her own film, each of the other Avengers had their own films and even the bad ones like Thor made money. So what did Whedon do with Black Widow in his next film, That powerful female hero who don’t need a man and turned her into a woman crippled by her inability to birth a child, great job buddy. Black Widow however is slated to get her own film now that DC proved a woman can be a star in a comic book movie. I do not know what is in store for this movie, Red Sparrow did take a lot from Black Widow’s origin, but Marvel has shown they can.
Bring in Netflix, in 2015 they brought us into the world of lesser known street heroes with the series Daredevil, this was the first live action comic book tv series that had mass appeal. It takes a darker tone that you see on CW’s Smallville and Arrow and does this things that Fox’s Gotham series does not, like have a good story. A short seven months later Netflix released another dark hero’s story, this was about an alcoholic private detective with PTSD and super strength and was also somehow a woman. The TV series Jessica Jones, created by Melissa Rosenberg, also a woman, broke barriers that should have been broken long ago. Originally to be aired on ABC, Jessica Jones was moved to Netflix because it was too dark for them, but I think that was for the best. Netflix has proven they are not afraid to go where other networks will not. Season two of Jessica Jones comes out today so we will see where they take it, as good as David Tennant was in season one, I for one am hoping she can have a story that is not about an ex-boyfriend this time around.
Wonder Woman has always been the top dog when it comes to female superheroes. In the run up to the movie I held my expectations low, not from the idea of a female-led blockbuster but because of a lack of faith in this run of DC films. I am glad to say this movie was nothing less than groundbreaking, with nearly a $150 million budget Warner Bros and DC swung for the fences in this tour de force from Gal Gadot. A name not known by many prior to this role, her most notable being the role of Gisele in Fast Five which was a surprise hit just not a showcase for her talent and aura. Wonder Woman hit the ground running on the way to becoming the 5th highest grossing superhero movie ever.² This success was also in part to DC handing the director’s seat to Patty Jenkins in her first film since Monster in 2003. It’s safe to say she knows what she is doing behind the camera and the pairing of Jenkins and Gadot has ushered in a new wave of inclusion in film.
Marvel has announced Captian Marvel starring Brie Larson, they are rumored to be working on a Black Widow feature, and DC has a Supergirl Series. Black Panther, released last month was created by a majority black cast and crew and included multiple strong female characters in Nakia and Okoye portrayed by Lupita Nyong’o and Dania Gurira respectively. As well as breakout star Letitia Wright who portrays T’Challa’s younger sister and technology expert Shuri, an excellent role model for young girls, especially young black girls. I would love to see her get her own series involving her future work with the youth in Oakland or just maybe she becomes the technology expert at Stark Industries and continues to work with the Avengers.
Time’s Up, time’s been up, but this is hopefully the start of more stories about female superheroes and superheroes of color. In an age where kids are told they can do anything they deserve to have role models who can do anything and those role models should also look like them. Women should feel empowered to do more with their lives than be the love interest in someone else’s story and I am excited to see what this next generation of women will be able to do.
- Theresa Rebeck is a female who had a hand in writing Catwoman, however three men are credited as well and she did not have a hand in the Screenplay.
- Black Panther outgrossed Wonder Woman pushing it down to 6th all time.