Women power their way to leading hero roles

Alekya Raghavan | Staff Writer

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Wonder Woman!

Female superhero movies have been a rare phenomenon in Hollywood. But recently, the superhero industry has expanded to incorporate more women into leading roles. The highly anticipated “Wonder Woman” hits theaters next June and will be the first female-led film of the two major superhero studios, Marvel Studios and DC Entertainment. It will also be the first modern superhero movie directed by a woman.

Last month, the popular DC superhero turned 75 and was named a United Nations ambassador for the empowerment of girls. Number five on the U.N’s list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals is gender equality, which includes the adoption of policies for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls at all levels. This ambassadorship will feature Wonder Woman in social media campaigns and other initiatives.

Junior Megan Ledford said that strong, female characters in leading roles are important influences for young girls and women.

“I think it’s important, because when I was growing up, we didn’t have (female role models) in the same capacity as we do now,” Ledford said. “So, when I got into acting, I didn’t really have anyone to look up to that wasn’t male. (Women) weren’t in roles that were demanding or that needed training.”

But that’s about to change. Marvel’s first female-led film, “Captain Marvel,” is set to release in March of 2019. Kevin Feige, president of Marvel studios, said the film version of the character will be the most powerful superhero to date, with her strength and abilities surpassing her many male predecessors.

A discussion is also in the works about giving Harley Quinn, a fan-favorite character that debuted in DC’s “Suicide Squad,” her own spin-off movie.

The big screen is not the only place women are flexing their muscles. Female-led, superhero TV shows are also rising in popularity. Beginning in October 2015, the CW started airing TV’s first female superhero series, Supergirl. Since then, the show has had consistently high approval ratings from critics. Senior Jeffrey Som said Supergirl reverses the stereotypical gender roles we are accustomed to seeing.

“In Supergirl, the plot is her defeating bad guys while trying to find herself and her meaning in life,” Som said. “It feels like it levels the playing field. No longer is it like, ‘Oh no, the girl is in distress’. Now, it’s the girl saving the guy.”

Currently popular on Netflix is another female-led series – Marvel’s “Jessica Jones.” The show follows the titular character, an ex-superhero, through the trials of being a private detective.

In October, it was announced that the second season of the series would feature only female directors. “Captain Marvel” is also anticipated to have a directress, a decision that Feige said is an important factor in the voice of the film.

Junior Emma Jenkins said women directors are able to accurately portray a female character’s strengths.

“I think it’s a good thing because they actually know women’s strengths,” Jenkins said. “Some guys will say ‘Women can’t do this, women can’t do that.’ But women know what we can do and we know what guys can do. Being a director is hard and knowing that something was directed by a woman shows that women can rise and be better.”

While Hollywood is preparing to expand gender roles in the superhero industry, many feel  that female characters, such as Wonder Woman and Harley Quinn, do not set a good example for women and girls because of their sexualized appearances in the comics.

The decision to make Wonder Woman a U.N. ambassador has received backlash from those who believe her revealing costume makes her unfit to be a role model for young girls.

Jenkins said that Wonder Woman’s costume does distract from the good she does as a character.

“It tends to make you think differently,” Jenkins said. “I don’t think it makes me feel like she’s not as powerful, but I think it makes her subject to being looked at by men. It makes it seem like they want to draw the eye to (her appearance) rather than what she’s actually doing.”

Despite the mixed opinions on appearance, many are in agreement that women need more front-and-center roles. Film club advisor Thurman Allen said film studios are realizing that stories about female characters are just as appealing to audiences as conventional male-dominated superhero movies.

“Until the new Wonder Woman movie comes out, we don’t have a (superhero) movie where a female character (is) the main character,” Allen said. “But, I think that film studios are finally realizing that just because a woman is in a movie doesn’t mean that boys won’t watch it. It’ll be nice when filmmakers finally realize that stories told about female characters are just as valid and important as the ones that star men or ‘traditional’ superheroes.”

See what Chronicle staff members Ryan D’Souza, Jacob Fulton and Alexandra Lisa think the growth of strong, female characters on the movie screen.