Birds of Prey May Emancipate Superhero Films from the 'Male Gaze'

Suicide Squad left a sour taste in many people's mouths, but even its most staunch detractors would probably admit that Margot Robbie's performance as Harley Quinn was one of the film's saving graces. Despite the effervescent charm Robbie oozed, the film never repaid her efforts. Leering shots of her getting changed in front of a gaggle of male onlookers and the fluffy romanticization of her abusive relationship with the Joker -- the psychopath who persuaded her to give up a promising career to pursue a life of villainy -- hung a lurid cloud around her performance. Even worse, it made the idea of potential sequels and Harley and/or Joker-focused spinoffs equally unappealing.

This kind of mistreatment of female characters has never been right, but would have skirted under the mainstream radar more if the film had come out in, say, 2006 instead of 2016. It's also the kind of treatment we've been used to for female characters who come from pulpy origins like comic books, which are filled with physically improbable proportions, clothing that defies that laws of science and rampant objectification.

RELATED: Birds of Prey Introduces the Entire Cast in First Teaser

But a radical shift in cultural and political attitudes over the last decade or so has made consumers more discerning than ever when it comes to how people are presented in media. Thus, those sensitive to the issue of fair and equal representation found it hard to swallow the sight of a beloved character waltzing through a warzone in a push-up bra and hotpants next to her fully-clothed, predominantly male teammates.

You could argue this was fully in-character for Harley; certainly, playfulness, confidence and a keen sense of style are her hallmarks. The problem -- other than outright sexism -- was director David Ayers handled these qualities with the same degree of subtlety that led him and Jared Leto to tattoo the word "damaged" across the Joker's forehead. This is why news that Robbie would be taking the creative reigns from Ayers for her character's solo project seemed like a step in the right direction. Much like her comics counterpart, who better to break Harley away from her controversial origins than Harley herself?

NEXT PAGE: Why Harley Quinn is the Perfect Character to Nullify the Male Gaze

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