In my last article, I talked about the negative portrayals of women in media geared towards geeks. Specifically, the movies and TV shows where the creators don’t think, and when there’s no thinking, there’s no effort to change things. And if there’s no effort to change things and be different from the regular status quo, then things will stay the same.
Fortunately, we’re not stuck with that same old story in all of our media. There have been several movies and shows where people did think and did put effort into their portrayal of female characters. And the best example of this is one of the most popular franchises in current geek culture: The big cinematic shared Marvel universe movies.
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Of course, female representation in these movies is not exactly perfect. Unlike the Star Wars movies, where they’re starting from scratch and can write whatever they want and include plenty of female characters (though they probably won’t), the Marvel movies are working off an already established world from the comics, where certain characters have a long history and you can’t just gender-switch them without having hordes of fans take up pitchforks and torches and gather at your front door.
However, in spite of all that, the Marvel movies are at least making an effort in regards to including women in their movies, and right now they’re doing a lot more than most major studios. There are plenty of instances where their films could have gone with the status quo, and simply cast white men in these roles because that’s the Hollywood default. Instead, each and every one of their movies has at least one female character who plays a much larger role than just being an empty love interest for the hero.
Pepper Potts may in fact be my favorite female lead in any superhero movie I’ve ever seen. And that’s not praise I hand out lightly, since she’s basically competing against such names as Lois Lane and Vicki Vale. Pepper not only capably takes over as CEO of Tony Stark’s company, she’s ultimately the one who defeats the villain in Iron Man 3.
The Black Widow, a rather empty vessel upon her first appearance, has over time been allowed to develop, with her latest appearance in Captain America: The Winter Soldier by far being her best. Which just goes to show that sometimes, simply introducing a female just to have a female character (and pander to male geeks with a hot actress) can pay off later.
Maria Hill is another woman who was introduced in The Avengers. Let’s face it: they could have given her few lines to a nameless male SHIELD agent, but including her has given us another recognizable female face and someone to use later on, like in the Winter Soldier where she also appeared again.
But out of all the Marvel movies, the ones that have the best representation and have put forth the greatest effort so far are the Thor movies. They manage to have not just one, but four different and identifiable women in them, all with distinct personalities and purposes in the plot. Frankly, that’s twice as many as most regular superhero action movies.
The fact is, they didn’t need to include Frigga or Sif or Darcy. Heck, Darcy is a complete invention of the movies, as such a character never appeared in the comics. And they didn’t have to let them any of them play such large roles; Darcy could have just as easily been a male researcher working with Jane Foster.
But just having them there is a huge positive and it shows the movies are making an effort to have realistic female representation. This, however, does pose an interesting question for the future of Marvel movies, a question that’s been asked and discussed a lot: When will they take the next big step and have a female superhero as the central character of one of their movies?
Sure, their shared universe is still growing, and then there are many more female characters yet to be introduced. Gamora and Scarlet Witch are soon to make their movie debuts in Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: Age of Ultron respectively, but only as part of larger ensembles.
Things on the TV front look slightly more optimistic: A limited series focusing on Peggy Carter has been just been picked up by ABC, to air during Agents of SHIELD’s second season hiatus. Jessica Jones is also supposed to get her own miniseries on Netflix leading up to a big Netflix crossover event for the Defenders, which, like Agents of SHIELD, will exist in the same universe as the movies.
But a female-centered Marvel movie would be a huge deal and really move things forward. And fans have a lot of different wishes for which female character they want to see finally get her own movie.
The Black Widow seems like the obvious choice, appearing in three Marvel movies so far. There have been rumors floating around for years about a standalone Scarlett Johansson-led movie, but nothing official has ever been announced. Still, it would be exciting, though a bit of a letdown if Marvel’s first female lead turns out to be someone with no powers.
The Wasp seems to be another big contender, mostly because she’s in fact known for being one of the original Avengers in the comics, and is the love interest of Ant-Man, another Marvel character who will be getting a movie soon. Even before Edgar Wright parted ways with Marvel, there wasn’t any indication that Wasp would appear in the film, beyond Evangeline Lilly being cast in an as-yet-undisclosed role. Now, it’s even more questionable (who knows if the movie itself will happen), but an appearance by the Wasp is certainly something a lot of people are hoping for.
She-Hulk is yet another strong contender that fans have been asking about for a very long time, and why not? Now that they’ve finally managed to make the Hulk actually work within a movie, maybe it’s time to have his musclebound cousin appear as well. That is, if the audience can handle it. And despite what a certain screenwriter thinks, she’s a lot more than a “giant green porn star”.
Maybe the Enchantress could appear in the next Thor movie, as she is indeed Loki’s established love interest. Even more than that, she’s the person he uses and abuses in the same way the Joker uses Harley Quinn. She’s also a great sorceress and has very rich stories in the comics, so it’s not out of the question that the character could perhaps be the basis of her own movie.
But the biggest question for many fans (yours truly included) is when will Ms. Marvel AKA Carol Danvers AKA Captain Marvel show up? She’s pretty much the Marvel equivalent of Wonder Woman, in that she’s a female superhero who ranks up there in powers with the toughest of the men. And now that the Guardians of the Galaxy movie is coming up just two months from now, there are rumors that it might feature an appearance by Ms. Marvel, or at least a cameo from Carol Danvers. After all, Ms. Marvel got her powers from Kree technology, and the Kree will most likely factor into the movie in some way. (Also fueling speculation is her upcoming appearance in the Guardians comic book.)
Obviously, there are other female Marvel characters who might be good choices for a movie, like Spider-Woman, the Invisible Woman, or various mutants like Rogue or Mystique, but of course with the rights to those characters held by various other entities, they won’t be showing up in the Marvel movie universe anytime soon.
All of that is of course neither here or there; Marvel has put forth a valiant effort in this area and it’s worth applauding. However, that doesn’t mean it’s time for them to sit back and do nothing. They’ve got to keep on putting in that effort, and no, there’s no end goal where they can just stop. Because if they do that, things will just regress and nothing will have been accomplished. And a good way for us all to feel a sense of accomplishment is by finally having a female-led movie. If Marvel can take a chance on a movie starring a talking raccoon, then certainly they can take a chance on a movie starring a female superhero.
I personally am very excited for the future of Marvel movies for many reasons, but one of them is that it’s an extra bonus for me to see what other females they’re going to introduce or create from scratch, and how they’ll be used in these movies.
[—Editing/cleanup/revisions to this article provided by Dr. Winston O’Boogie and Elliot Hodgett.]