Earlier this week I was asked to take part in a group discussion on Huffington Post Live about whether there is a market for a female superhero movie. It was a short conversation, but in the pre-interview I was asked to refute practically every possible reason why someone might feel that a female superhero movie can't be made. I thought you might be interested, so here are the arguments for making a female superhero movie.
Arguing Against the Classic Arguments Against a Female Superhero Movie
(sorry about the confusing title, but it seemed the most accurate description).
1. Female superhero costumes are too revealing.
So are men's costumes. Skin tight is a universal problem in comic books. Nudity is only equated with vulnerability when the subject is a normal human. No one looks at a lion and asks why it has no pants, and in fact putting clothing on an animal is a way to make it appear less threatening. Similarly there is a certain kind of woman who could never be perceived as a merely ornamentation, no matter how she dresses. While implausible costumes have long been an excuse for not making a film about a female superhero, this never held back any of their male counterparts. In the end, it didn't matter that Spider-Man and Superman wore bright colors, that Thor dressed like a pro-wrestler, or that Batman was dressed like a giant rodent, they still kicked ass and they still got people to watch.
2. There aren't any female actors strong enough to play a female superhero.
Superheroes actors aren't born, they're made. Actors don't start out with the superhero physique, they work up to it. Before his role in American Psycho in 2000, Christian Bale was a rather unassuming physical specimen, well suited to the average-guy roles he was playing but certainly not physically imposing. Before Thor, Chris Hemsworth was the boy next door on the Australian daytime soap opera Neighbors. Before he was Superman, Henry Cavill has frequently referred to his overweight childhood. They worked out, they developed their skills, and they grew into their roles. If men can do it, so can women.
3. There aren't any female actors strong enough to play female superheroes. (part 2)
Yes there are. Gina Carano made an incredible action hero in Haywire. Zoe Bell managed to make Uma Thurman look like a talented ninja in Kill Bill, and did a damn good job of her own action scenes in Death Proof. Rosario Dawson and Devon Aoki in Sin City weren't exactly shrinking violets. Gina Torres was easily the strongest looking person in the team in Firefly. While she might have been a frail, writhing, wierdo, Milo Jovovich did an excellent turn in the Fifth Element as a super powered alien, and went on to become a bit of an ass-kicker in the series of Resident Evil films. Katee Sackhoff did a stellar job of out-machoing every single man in Battlestar Galactica. Jennifer Lawrence was very plausible as the powerful Katniss in the Hunger Games...The list goes on, and those are just the woman who've already played superheroic roles. Plenty of young female actors could (and would) develop their bodies to play superheroes.
4. Female superheroes aren't as recognizable as male ones.
Obviously that's nonsense, there are plenty of well-known iconic female superheroes who've already starred in superhero team movies (the Black Widow, Phoenix, Storm, etc), and everyone and their mum has heard of Wonder Woman, even if they've never picked up a comic book. Besides that, there are characters like Batwoman and Captain Marvel who are very easy concepts to communicate to a new audience (easier concepts than Green Lantern, for example).
5. Audiences might not go see a film based around a female lead.
Audiences might not go see any film, that risk is always there. If the film is good, it will have an audience. To assume that giving a woman the lead makes a lot of other assumptions about content which aren't necessarily true. Perhaps if the film is targeted specifically at some kind of old-world, sexist view of what women are supposed to find interesting (i.e. emotional melodrama and gossip) then yes, the film will only have a very limited audience. But then it also won't be a superhero film, female or otherwise. Female superheroes must to be depicted as superheroes in action, just like their male counterparts. It is their work as a superhero which defines them, and this action needs to be the main focus in these kind of films.
6. In the past, female superhero movies like Catwoman or Elektra haven't been well-received.
In every genre of film, there have been horrible, terrible, awful failures. Films so bad that it really doesn't matter what the type of film or what the focus, they're just not going to be liked. Unfortunately a couple of these have been about female superheroes, but there have been bad films made of every shape and form, and this hasn't stopped people from making good ones. It can be done.
7. Women don't read comic books and so they won't go see a superhero film.
Plenty of men don't read comic books but they still go see the films. Before they go see a film, most people don't read the books which films are based on, whether they're comic books or not. A lot of people don't even realize that films are based on books or comic books, it really doesn't have any bearing on it. Putting that aside, the audiences for the most recent Marvel superhero films have been almost half women. Women enjoy good superhero movies.
8. Only Joss Whedon can write a female superhero film and because he isn't doing it, it can't happen.
He isn't, but for the sake of argument, let's examine this. If no one but Whedon is capable of writing a compelling, engaging, universally appealing female superhero, then just do what they did in Salt and write a strong male character, then change the pronouns. It may not be ideal but it is one way to insure that the role isn't stymied by the any subconscious sexist assumptions on the part of the author.
9. Female superhero comics are too sexist to be adapted into a movie.
Whether this is true or not is debatable, but even if it were, it wouldn't matter. The characters and their stories need to be distinct, just as they are in male superhero films where the characters are often completely separated from the comic books currently (or previously) produced. Many of the male superhero movies use story lines specifically created for the films and so must the female superhero movies. What works on the page might not work for film and that is completely understandable. It is less important that the films be faithful to a specific storyline, than that they're faithful to the characters themselves, exposing these female power icons to a broader movie-going audience.