It's widely known by now that as more and more superhero films start moving into production, the demand for female-led franchises is only getting louder. Marvel Studios has taken the brunt of the criticism for a lack of starring female roles in their film universe, with 16 films starring men released or in development (not including team-ups) to just a single film with a female lead. The tide is (technically) turning, with Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman announced by Marvel and DC respectively, but it still seems an uphill battle.
One man at the head of the charge is writer/director Joss Whedon, who after attempting to get a Wonder Woman film off the ground switched over to Marvel's Avengers, and helped make Black Widow the studio's fan-favorite female (of which there are admittedly few). But according to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dollhouse creator, the real reason behind the absence of starring women in superhero universes is no mystery: good old fashioned sexism.
Speaking with Digital Spy just months before Marvel and Warner Bros. would set release dates for their first female-led solo films, Whedon admitted that he remains frustrated that no studio was developing a female superhero property, explaining the core problem, as he sees it:
"It's a phenomenon in the industry that we call 'stupid people'. There is genuine, recalcitrant, intractable sexism, and old-fashioned quiet misogyny that goes on.
"You hear 'Oh, [female superheroes] don't work because of these two bad ones that were made eight years ago'... there's always an excuse."
In the current climate, any and all accusations that sexism is to blame for the under-representation of women tends to be met with... passionate opposition (or claims that showcasing a social group besides white males is simply 'diversity' or 'political correctness' for its own sake). Yet it's safe to say that Whedon - overseer of Marvel's Phase 2, and director of both Avengers films - has a better sense of the industry in question than the average movie-goer.
According to him, misogyny among film industry higher-ups remains a factor, even if it is "quiet."
Whedon goes onto explain that The Hunger Games is just one example of a studio finding success in actually building on a blockbuster heroine, explaining that superhero or no, stories of everyday people thrust into greatness are "all part of the same genre." That's a sentiment previously stated by Marvel boss Kevin Feige, whose "hope" of seeing a female-led Marvel film, and claims that a Black Widow film would only be made "if they had a great idea" for one earned as much criticism as praise.
Captain Marvel was announced not long after those comments, promising the issue will finally be addressed (as Marvel also rolls out its first non-Caucasian star in Black Panther). Yet the core issue remains: closing in on a decade of Marvel's cinematic master plan, a female-led story is only now becoming a priority.
Could that be a prime example of, to use Whedon's words, quiet (but no less genuine) misogyny? That's certainly not to suggest that Whedon and Feige aren't in total agreement on the matter, but the director seems to have made his opinion clear.
As if those statements weren't enough cause for comic fans to begin hotly debating their favorite movie universes and heroines, Whedon went on to state that even a small step from Marvel would do wonders - but that their strongest female characters may already be spoken for by a rival studio:
"Marvel is in a position of making a statement simply by making [a female-led] movie, which I think would be a good thing to do... But it has to be a good movie, it has to be a good character, and most of the best characters in Marvel are owned by Fox, let's face it!"
There's little doubt that Whedon is referring to the women of the X-Men universe, currently residing under Fox's banner (and soon to be played by a new crop of actresses). Given Whedon's own work on the "Astonishing X-Men" weaving a memorable story around Kitty Pryde, an opportunity to bring the likes of Jean Grey, Rogue, Storm and Shadowcat to film would be a dream come true for the writer/director.
For the time being, he'll have to make do with Elizabeth Olsen's Scarlet Witch; we'll simply side with Age of Ultron's Cobie Smulders and look forward to seeing "more women on film with all these dudes."
What do you think of Whedon's comments? Does his firsthand involvement in adapting comic book superheroes lend more weight to his opinion, or do you still disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Wonder Woman will be in theaters June 23, 2017, while Captain Marvel arrives July 6, 2018.
Source: Digital Spy