From 1998’s “Blade” to today’s release of “Ant-Man,” Marvel Studios and Marvel Entertainment have made 36 films. Only one of them, 2006’s “Elektra,” has a female protagonist. At least 20 future Marvel films have been announced. And only one of those, 2018’s Captain Marvel film, will feature a female protagonist.
So that’s two films out of 56 (and counting) with a woman at the center of the story — mostly likely both white women, by the way. And for this grand accomplishment, Kevin Feige, Marvel Studios President of Production and face of the company, would like some fucking credit.
Marvel has always “gone for the powerful woman versus the damsel in distress,” Feige boasted during a recent interview with The Straits Times, likely part of the publicity blitz for “Ant-Man.” Incidentally, Marvel’s latest film features, according to reports, a highly capable would-be superheroine (Evangeline Lilly) being shunted aside so that Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man can play the hero. Feige himself admits, “The entire movie is essentially her saying, ‘I could do this, I could be this hero,’ and her father for some reason saying no, even though she’s more capable than [Paul Rudd’s] Lang initially.”
Because Feige knows that Marvel has an indisputably gender-imbalanced track record of relegating female characters, no matter how strong or smart or badass, to the sidelines so the white dude in tights can be the center of the story, his conversation with The Straits Times is just another boring and tiresome rehearsal in all the ways execs generally deflect questions about why they’re perpetuating a sexist status quo.
Here are the steps in Feige’s dance of deflection:
–Affirming the demand and marketability of female-driven movies, even if he’s not pushing for more than a token film himself: “Look at ‘Mad Max.’ … It’s called ‘Max,’ but Charlize is the hero of that movie and it was a giant hit and she was great. Or look at ‘The Hunger Games’ movies, or’ Frozen,’ or ‘Lucy’ last year with Scarlett Johansson. They are just as viable as any movie.”
–Pretending to miss the point that a great female side character is not the same as having a great female main character: “If you go back to look at our movies — whether it’s Natalie Portman in the ‘Thor’ films, Gwyneth Paltrow in ‘Iron Man’ or Scarlett Johansson in ‘The Avengers’ — our films have been full of smart, intelligent, powerful women.” Feige adds that Marvel has “gone for the powerful woman versus the damsel in distress,” which, again, distracts from the actual issue at hand of where the hell are the films about women.
–Mentioning fans’ desires for a female-centric superhero film, as though his recognition of an objective fact is in any way the same thing as actually delivering what fans want: “There has been a shift in the press and the public in terms of a very vocal clamoring for stand-alone female character films.” Yeah, but what is he gonna do about it?
–And then there’s always the “some of my best friends are women” defense: “I don’t want to see misrepresented women in our movies. The majority of my bosses and my mentors have been women. And on a personal level, my daughter is six years old now. She just lost her two front teeth, just like Scott Lang’s daughter Cassie in ‘Ant-Man,’ and is beginning to learn what Daddy does and about the different types of heroes. She has red hair and is constantly pointing at Black Widow and wanting to learn more about that. So it is incredibly personal and important to me.”
Lots of other writers and directors talk about how having daughters changed their outlook toward gender relations. And some of them actually do something about it. Judd Apatow, a father of two daughters, is coming out with his first female-led film, “Trainwreck,” this weekend. Guillermo del Toro, another father of two daughters, intended his upcoming film, “Crimson Peak,” starring Mia Wasikowska, to be “gender-liberating.” Kevin Smith, a father of a daughter, is at least furthering the discussion on the need for merchandise for female fans. But Marvel is even screwing up the production of Gamora action figures.
Oh, and by the way, the releases of the Captain Marvel and Black Panther movies were recently pushed back to make room in Marvel’s release schedule for another straight-white-dude Spiderman movie. But fans shouldn’t get upset because, according to Feige, we’ve still got Natalie Portman playing Thor’s love interest.
No one said making a movie was easy, but the hilarious video below about “Marvel’s first female superhero movie” shows that greenlighting a female-led film is a lot easier than Feige is making it look.