Saturday, March 10, 2012

Comic Book Movies Inherit Sexism

With the prevalence of big budget adaptations of popular comics, you would think that Hollywood would put some effort into reducing the sexism that tends to permeate the comic book industry. This summer, the  Avengers movie, the super team-up movie that promises to be the culmination of the last few years of Marvel blockbusters, is due to release and I am quite excited to see it, as are many of the geek persuasion. However, from the trailer and poster, it seems to be quite lacking in the superheroine department. Of the 6 heroes of the film, only one is female (Black Widow played by ScarJo) and she is one of the only two who have not already had their own summer movie beforehand. The fact that there is a profound lack of comic book movies featuring a female hero (I can only think of Catwoman and Elektra, which were both awful) is endemic of Hollywood's lack of faith in actresses to carry films as the lead and the tendency of comics to center on one hero/ine. The fact that the only two superheroine movies have flopped is not because they can't be good, it's because they were poorly executed. Two data points doesn't prove a theory. The problem is that they don't keep trying. None of the Hulk movies have been excellent and several terrible, yet they keep trying because they believe it could work. They need to believe a superheroine could work.

We have talked at length in class about Male Gaze in comics and movies and the tendency of male artists to portray women in unrealistic and sometimes even physically impossible postions to display the maximum amount of T&A for the (presumably male) reader's titillation. This is clearly demonstrated in the Avengers movie poster (at left, top), which shows all of the heroes in dramatic poses highlighting their powers. However, Black Widow lacks any actual super-powers, so she is left punching the air while twisting to show off Johansson's perfect ass and getting some side-boob action in. The image below is an artist's clever re-imagining of the poster if the male heroes were so ridiculously objectified and posed, while the woman takes a less revealing stance. The result is quite humorous (and more than a little over-the-top in the case of Thor and the Hulk), but illustrates the point quite well that even in 2012, the influences of old sexist comics is still quite prevalent.

As we have yet to see the movie itself, we cannot really judge the characters themselves, simply their representations on the poster. Joss Whedon, who gave us Buffy and Firefly, is the director, so there may be hope yet.


  1. Perhaps they aren't executed well because women are poor actors, compared to men. After all, men used to hold female roles in plays. Men have simply been acting longer than have women. Perhaps the old "practice makes perfect" adage applies to the genders' acting abilities?

    Or perhaps they were executed well, but the population simply doesn't want to watch girls kicking butt. This would certainly cause these movies to not make much money. Whether or not you believe this to be unjust, it's simply the nature of today's society. And since it's nature, why fight it? The fact that it comes naturally justifies it, no?

    Perhaps ScarJo/Black Widow IS demonstrating her super-powers, of fighting technique as well as sexiness? (see charlie's angels post for more about sex appeal benefitting their missions)

    Honestly, I don't even know why they included black widow and the archer guy. Were they original avengers? I'm afraid I'm not too well versed in that specific storyline. But answer me this: would it be better for this to be a movie of all men, or a movie of most men and one woman (even if she IS incredibly attractive)?

    1. The internalized misogyny is strong with this one.

  2. I think the fact that all of the superheroes are facing forward and she's the only one turned around (just so you can get a view of "dat ass") is what makes people upset about things like this. I am all for attractive superheroines. I don't think being sexy should be a downfall of being a woman: if you've got it, flaunt it, right? I just don't like how objectivized women become when they get thrown in at the last minute for 13 year old boys to get excited over. I am glad they had at least one woman in there, I just think it seemed like a last minute choice so they could have some sex scenes in there, rather than her being a major character. I think I would rather see a movie without black widow entirely than her being looked at this way.


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