The Rise Of Feminism In The Superhero Movie Genre

Warner Bros

By Hannah Waters

For years the onscreen superhero universe was dominated by male characters. Men were at the forefront, saving (or taking over) the world while women played a supporting role, if any at all. Fortunately, recent years have seen a positive shift in gender representation within the comic-book-inspired cinematic world, with female characters such as Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel and Harley Quinn finally receiving their much-deserved airtime. What’s more, they’re strong, kickass characters at that!

A recent piece by Currys PC World estimating the financial worth of superheroes and super villains calculated that, thanks to her medical training, Harley Quinn would be worth twenty times more than her male counterpart the Joker, and that Captain Marvel out-valued all but one on the list (there was no competing with Black Panther’s reserve of vibranium, unfortunately!). So while they’re certainly not free of all challenges that come with being a woman in the modern age, the gender pay gap fortunately doesn’t appear to be one of them!

So, does this mark the dawn of a more feminist age? We explored the representation of some of the top female superheroines and super villainesses to investigate further.

Wonder Woman 

As DC’s first female-led superhero movie since Elektra in 2005, and their first female-directed superhero movie ever, there was a lot weighing on the release of Wonder Woman in 2017. Magnificently, it went on to become the highest-grossing superhero origin film of all time (until Captain Marvel came along!); all while successfully turning sexist Hollywood conventions on their head.

While Wonder Woman has been a household name and a feminist icon for many decades, Gal Gadot’s portrayal of the superheroine takes it a step further, embodying femininity combined with the physical strength you’d expect from a male superhero. Sure, she can more than hold herself in a fight – wiping the floor with any man that dares challenge her – but it’s her emotional intelligence and empathy that proves her biggest strength. In fact, these traditionally ‘feminine’ traits fuel her power, rather than being suppressed in place of more masculine behavior.

What’s more, she is surrounded by other powerful women – The Amazons are depicted as honorable, hard-as-nails fighters who give as good as they get. All this is what makes Wonder Woman such a fantastic symbol of feminism.

Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios

Captain Marvel 

Meanwhile, over in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel is also making feminist waves. Her character, a former Navy fighter pilot and NASA engineer turned superheroine, was originally devised as a direct response to second-wave feminism in the 1970s. Unfortunately, she’s remained somewhat unheard of until recent years. The 2019 film adaptation of her origin story (cannily released on International Women’s Day) and her debut in Avengers: Endgame placed her firmly on everyone’s radars, and, according to Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige, she is “more powerful than any character we’ve introduced thus far.” 

Like Wonder Woman, the Captain Marvel story is one of empowerment and self-determination. Not only is Carol Danvers incredibly powerful, but she’s also very human. She is told to rein in her emotions from the very start of the movie, yet, through her journey of self-reflection, she realizes her emotions are a potent source of power in itself.

Harley Quinn

As a quirky sidekick and lover to the Joker, Harley Quinn offers a sensitive portrayal of mental illness and survival in an abusive relationship. Her origin in Suicide Squad sees her going insane as a result of cruel experiments by the Joker, but despite this (or thanks to this), she has the relentless drive to go after what she wants – and she generally gets it. 

Ironically, what makes her such a feminist icon is that she can be just as evil as any male villain. Now that’s equality! And while she is madly in love with the Joker, there’s potential for her to be very much independent without him by her side.

In fact, Harley Quinn made such a huge impact in Suicide Squad in her own right that the baseball-bat-wielding antihero has been granted her own female-written, female-produced and female-directed movie, Birds of Prey, which is set for release in 2020. The movie, officially titled Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), will see her after she has departed the Joker to do things on her own, alongside a girl gang made up of badass vigilantes, Black Canary and Huntress. 

It’s undeniable that the comic book movie genre has historically been a man’s world. But, hopefully, as we see more strong female characters such as Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel and Harley Quinn owning the screen, we’ll see positive changes in gender representation. Plus, with box office figures breaking records, it’s clear that female-fronted superhero movies are a big hit with men and women alike – and rightly so!

Warner Bros

Hannah is a freelance writer covering topics related to technology and society. She has worked extensively with many leading lights and advocates in the small business world, and has a particular interest in how the technological revolution can be used to improve all of our lives. She is based in London.

One Comment

  1. Pingback: Lights, Camera, Action: The Female Producers Bringing Their Visions To Broadway - GirlTalkHQ

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.