Hollywood seems to be perpetually afraid of women. According the New York Film Academy’s Top 500 films, only 30.8% of speaking characters are women, with the average ratio of male to female actors being 2.25:1. The infographics released displaying these facts (and more) feel very disheartening.
Look at it this way: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire grossed $71 million on opening day, and is the highest grossing November release of all-time. Higher than Thor: the Dark World (which was also outsold by the female-led Disney film Frozen). Yet movie studios, especially DC Entertainment and Marvel Studios, are still afraid of female-led action movies.
Sure, superhero movies like The Avengers, Iron Man 3, The Dark Knight Rises, and Man of Steel all feature strong female characters, sometimes ultimately saving the hero themselves (see: Pepper Pots in IM3), but overall, the focus of the movies, the merchandising, and the posters is – “strong man saving the world while holding a pretty woman.”
Maybe it’s that Hollywood has been “burned” too many times. Catwoman was a box office flop, reviled by comic fans and moviegoers alike. Marvel consultant and Avengers director Joss Whedon has spoken on the subject many times, but his words feel hollow to me; as someone who has a fair amount of creative control over much the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Whedon seems to remain more vested in featuring characters he likes (Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver), than expanding the universe with classic female Avengers like Wasp, Captain Marvel (Monica or Carol), She-Hulk, or Mockingbird. I concede that Scarlet Witch and, to a lesser extent, Quicksilver are both significant Avengers, but the choice is baffling, considering the fact that Fox retains the right to the majority of Marvel’s mutants (and the term “mutants”), included Magneto, the father of Wanda and Pietro.
Worse still, Marvel Studios has no plans for female-led movies before 2017, according to president Kevin Feige, who says the studio is fully booked until 2017:
Frankly, you can look at what Jane Foster does in [Thor: The Dark World], look at Pepper Potts literally saving the day and defeating the bad guy in Iron Man 3, and I’d say we already have great female heroes that are showcased and play major roles in our universe now. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, as you will see, features Black Widow in her biggest role yet in any of our films. In terms of a solo stand-alone female hero, I’m not sure when that will be. We make two movies a year, we’ve planned through 2015 and we have some ideas of what we’re doing in 2016 and 2017, so we’ll see what happens.
Meanwhile, DC Entertainment just announced the casting for Wonder Woman earlier today via Variety, but the role, to be played by Gal Gadot, seems to only be a tag scene in Batman Vs Superman, which will likely lead into the upcoming Justice League movie. DC has yet to announce any plans for a female-led movie or TV series, but has announced a movie and TV series for the Flash, as well as TV series for both Constantine and Hourman.
Film critic MaryAnn Johanson sums up the whole situation succinctly:
“The reason we’ve had so few movies about female superheroes is the same reason we get so few movies about women at all. Hollywood has decided that it is going to cater to the tastes of adolescent boys and young men, and it doesn’t believe that audience wants to see a movie about a female superhero (or any female protagonist).”
Beyond that, studios seem to assume that women don’t “like” superheroes or superhero movies. But that’s just not true. 48% of the opening night audience of Thor the Dark World were women. 61% of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire‘s opening weekend audience were female (and let’s face it, right now, Katniss is the closest we have to a starring superheroine). Women make up half, if not more, of the people actively viewing superhero movies. It doesn’t matter if they are going to see Tom Hiddleston, shirtless Henry Cavill, or ScarJo kicking butt: the fact is, they are going, spending money, and watching and enjoying the movies.
Hollywood needs to get their act together. There are small glimmers of hope, like the just announced release date of the Veronica Mars movie and Jessica Jones Netflix miniseries, but these are small. I want to see Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman on the big screen, or Stargirl and Misty Knight on the little screen. It would just be the icing on the cake if we could get that before 2017.