By: Alisha Sedor
Yesterday, Marvel released the trailer for their much-anticipated 2019 film, Captain Marvel. As the first female-character-led film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), this film was long overdue to provide female superhero fans a headlining hero that looks like them. It’s also being co-directed by Anna Boden. Gender parity in pop-culture representations are arguably just as important as being able to see other women in positions of power in the workplace. They set the tone for girls and young women that they don’t have to be saved, they can do the saving.
Traditionally, however, women have been terribly under-represented in superhero films. The MCU has yet to have a single film in which women were on screen more than 40% of the time. There’s really no shortage of female comic book characters to pull from, including some women stepping into roles currently filled by men in the film universe (see: Iron Man and Thor), but we still have quite a way to go in both comics and film before we’re at parity. Not only is there still room to improve on the gender ratio itself, but how female characters are portrayed has historically also been somewhat problematic. This breakdown shows the gender differences in everything from character names to associated superpowers. Some of those portrayals reinforce troublesome gender stereotypes, limiting what people think women can or should be.
While the need for women in leadership roles goes well beyond the visual, representation alone matters. A Rockefeller Foundation study showed that “85% [of Americans] agree that it is easier for men to reach top leadership positions than equally qualified women (including 79% of men and 90% of women)” and that preconceptions about women’s aptitudes in the workplace contribute to this disparity. Those preconceptions can be combated by actually having women in leadership positions demonstrating their qualifications as leaders. If more junior women don’t see female leadership being modeled, however, they’re discouraged from pursuing it themselves. And round and round we go.
Additionally, representation drives people to act. Eva Longoria opines on this for a piece in Time by noting, “When a girl sees herself as a scientist, or a boy sees someone with his skin color as a law student, it plants a seed that this is possible. Archery suddenly gained popularity with girls in 2012 coinciding with the releases of films including The Hunger Games and Brave. Seven of ten girls said they took up the sport because they were inspired by Katniss or Merida.” The importance of a woman’s perspective in filmmaking was also well illustrated by the Amazon costumes in Wonder Woman vs. Justice League. Exposed stomachs don’t make for great battle armor if you ask me…
If you’re not persuaded by the above, more representative filmmaking is also just good business. Upon its release in 2017, Wonder Woman quickly became the highest grossing superhero origin film of all time, only to be topped in 2018 by Black Panther, both illustrating that people are hungering for characters that represent them.
Finally, Captain Marvel isn’t just a female superhero, she’s THE superhero. Beyond being groundbreaking as the first woman character with a solo film in the MCU, she’s arguably the most powerful superhero we’ve seen to date in that franchise and she’s coming to save them all. How do we know this? Well, producer Kevin Feige noted so explicitly in an interview with Vulture, saying, “she is as powerful a character as we’ve ever put in a movie. Her powers are off the charts, and when she’s introduced, she will be by far the strongest character we’ve ever had." She was also the last-ditch-effort call from Nick Fury as 50% of living creatures in the universe were being wiped out by a snap of Thanos’ fingers. Based on her character’s powers in the comic book series, Bustle writes, “Captain Marvel may have the ability to manipulate the fabric of reality itself with her ability to see how events will alter the universe, changing outcomes and moving between realities to see the full universal picture.” She’s the last hope for some of our favorite superheroes, which means not only are we adding a badass lady superhero to the mix but she’s coming to save all the guys (and gals).
In sum, this post was basically just a reason for me to fangirl out about Captain Marvel. We’ve still a long, long way to go but this film is a big step in the right direction and I look forward to supporting the continuation of this trend by buying my tickets for opening weekend. You should too.
Want to chat more about the representation of women in your workplace and how to model great leadership as a manager? Reach out!