Today I took my 8yo daughter to see The Avengers Assemble. I was a little hesitant, I don’t really do superhero films, all that macho posturing, camp suits and overblown special effects (literally). Plus it’s a 12A would it be suitable? And did I mention the macho posturing?
As a kid I didn’t notice or mind that women seldom took centre stage – Leia reduced to that bikini, E.T. a tale of male bonding, the one token female in the Goonies, Indiana Jones’ trio of sassy sidekicks waiting to fall into bed with him. James Bond. Women just silhouettes and bodies.
Things seemed better as I grew up. First Molly and Ally, Demi and Winona cool, aspirational leading ladies. Then 90s romcoms starring Sandra and Meg, women I recognised , women not reduced to shopping and cocktails robots but fleshed out with jobs, ambitions, life. Later, I didn’t go to the cinema so much, I could stay home and watch Buffy kicking ass, C.J coolly directing the media, the moment Abby Lockhart became the top billed actress on ER. When I returned to the cinema it was to U rated films, small child by my side.
When did kid’s films get reduced to a bunch of stock characters? The jock, the geek, the princess? Should we blame The Breakfast Club? At least there were two female characters in that detention room (am I the only one who much preferred Ally Sheedy pre ‘makeover’?). And why are all the stock characters usually male with one saucily voiced princess? Nemo, Shark Tale, Madagascar, Ice Age, Monsters Inc, Cars. There are exceptions of course, interestingly in films aimed solely at girls we get strong, aspirational lead female characters. But how many boys are going to see Gabriella step out of the shadows on her way to Yale (go Gabriella!) and Hannah Montana learn that fame isn’t everything? I unashamedly adore both HSM and Hannah Montana the Movie for their celebration of strong, talented, brilliant girls.
But Avengers Assemble is written and directed by Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy, feminist (let’s skim over Dollhouse especially as I missed the end so there could have been a point to it). I knew that only one of the Avengers was female and that she was played by the very beautiful Scarlett Johansen, I had to trust that she wouldn’t be reduced to token love-interest-in-need-of-rescuing. Much blowing up, fighting, posturing later we left the cinema. Verdict? ‘The lady was brilliant.’
Further questioning elicited the information that the lady was so cool because she didn’t have super powers like all her male companions, she had to use her brain, kick-ass fighting skills and bravery to win, not a large hammer (no euphemism), an iron suit or gamma ray enhanced strength or something – I got bored during those bits. She also approved of the Shield second in command, another brave woman with brains not super powers. Yay! Okay the percentage of females were small but at least they weren’t token.
Sadly none of the films previewed were so inclusive of 51% of the human race. I only saw one female face in the ten minutes of shooting, exploding and heavy handed one liners. Apparently the huge amount grossed by films like Mamma Mia and Bridesmaids (which for the record I hated, hated. Is this the best we can do? Those women were horrid to each other childish, bitchy, needy.) don’t show how positively women and girls respond to strong, female characters.
Looks like I might have to let 8yo watch The Hunger Games after all.