She Has No Head! – Dear Marvel: Please Stop Ruining Everything
Though some of my columns from 2012 have apparently been a bit controversial it’s been a long time since I engaged in a full on rant. Are you ready for it? Good.
Still high from my Avengers viewing a couple weeks ago I was working on a post for today called “Black Widow: Required Reading” when I happened to check out Sue’s DC Women Kicking Ass site and stumbled across this gem from Joe Quesada via Ain’t It Cool News:
In a chat afterwards, Joe told me that he’d love to make a tentpole [sic] movie with a female lead, but that he really doesn’t think there is an actress right now who could carry it, or a character that would work either. I’m thinking I might agree with him on this one actually.
As Sue said, this sentiment from Quesada manages to both insult all of Marvel’s female characters and all actresses everywhere in one fell swoop. But even more impressive is the fact that less than two weeks ago a movie debuted that is destroying box office records everywhere AND getting huge critical and fan acclaim. A movie with a large ensemble cast, that stars, in part, one of Marvel’s greatest female superheroes, and one of Hollywood’s hottest young actresses, and this character and performance are also getting huge kudos. I speak of course of The Avengers, and Black Widow, and Scarlett Johansson.
So how is the immediate reaction from Quesada (and from any sane, intelligent person, that lives on the planet earth) not something more like: “Well, obviously we’d love to build a franchise around The Black Widow and Scarlett Johansson and since Johansson has expressed interest, Whedon has a long history and love for female superheroes, and the fans are responding in kind, I think we all hope that that’s going to happen. And who knows what might happen after that?”
Yes…Marvel, can you please give me a job in your Public Relations department stat. Because this is not fucking rocket science.
You don’t have to study film to come up with that answer. You don’t have to be deep in comics to have that answer. You don’t have to be an advocate for female positivity to come up with that answer. You just have to have a brain, a mouth, and to have seen the Avengers movie.
This is someone IN CHARGE of things. And we wonder why this industry continues to be painfully broken.
I have long proclaimed on this column, and everywhere else, that you don’t have to re-make the comics industry to get women to come along. You don’t have to drape it in pink and ponies and princesses (although ponies ARE cool) in order to bring in more women readers. You have to just stop being so goddamn offensive at every opportunity you’re given. You have to stop saying things that make you look uneducated and sexist whenever you get asked about female characters. You have to stop finding new ways to say “no girls allowed.” Really, you need to stop THINKING things that mean “no girls allowed.”
I wrote a post just after Avengers released about some movies I’d like to see about superheroines on the heels of the success of Black Widow in Avengers. Three of the five films I picked were Marvel based. In fact, had I the time to do my original list of ten, seven of my ten were Marvel based. I even went so far in my post to cast the film and assign directors. I wrote that column over the weekend in my free time, but Quesada, who works for Marvel and is PAID to think about these kind of things, thought enough about this issue to know that there’s not only not a single female property in the Marvel Universe worthy of a franchise, but that there’s not a single actress in the actual universe capable of doing justice to these female properties. I don’t want to get into how that makes no sense…how can there not be an actress capable of carrying a female superhero franchise when there’s not a female superhero worthy of carrying a franchise. If that argument is not the fucking snake that eats itself I don’t know what is.
Let’s just take a look at some of those actresses unworthy of portraying those (also unworthy?) Marvel female characters (and these are just a handful of amazing talented ladies I pulled together on a Sunday afternoon…I think we all know this barely scratches the surface):
Oh yes, we are definitely suffering from a lack of acting talent, beauty, variety, charisma, strength, and power that would be necessary for these non-existent female superhero franchises. C’MON.
Has anyone from DC or Marvel comics said anything quite this stupid lately? Wait…strike that…this is an industry in which people are constantly rewarded for stupidity, so I guess the answer is probably yes. But the person who said this is not some unpaid idiot blogger/fan (like me) or some intern, or some writer or artist off on his own, this is Marvel’s CCO – Chief Creative Officer – not to mention former Editor-in-Chief. How can someone so clueless be in charge of things as important as this stuff…hell, how can someone this clueless be in charge of ANYTHING?
Comics. You have to do better. I’m begging you.
You cannot continue to let the people in powerful positions of your organization say such galactically stupid shit that alienates female fans, fans of your beloved characters, and every actress in Hollywood, including the one you should currently be BEGGING to begin a franchise with at this very minute. I’d like to go so far as to say you should make sure not to HIRE people and PROMOTE them when they obviously feel this way about female characters (and every actress on the planet) since that would make the REAL difference at Marvel…but since that seems unlikely I’ll at least beg you to stop letting them actively promote these ideas to the press and whoever else will listen to them.
This latest “almost quote” is nearly the same as the galactically stupid and offensively sexist stuff Quesada said a few years back that actually first propelled me to writing critically about comics and it’s disappointing to realize that in the last few years he has learned nothing. However, this is far more alarming than the offensive drivel he said during the “Marvel Divas” fiasco, because he’s saying this in direct opposition to the success of a BILLION dollar movie. Sure, Black Widow and Scarlett Johansson aren’t the sole reason Avengers has gone on to make 1.07 billion dollars in less than three weeks, but she’s part of it. The character (and Johansson’s performance) are receiving great praise, and since she’s the only character in the film other than Hawkeye that hasn’t had her own movie (or three) it speaks even more to how impressive the character and performance was.
How can anyone look around at some of the recent successes we’ve been seeing in film – Avengers, Hunger Games, Bridesmaids, etc. and deny that women and girls have media power? They are 50% of the goddamn population. They have a lot of money to spend. And creating great work that speaks to them and doesn’t talk down to them is going to net you the kind of success that some of these films have seen in the last couple years. Reports are coming in that 40% of the Avengers audience is female. FORTY PERCENT. To deny that this is the way things are headed is insanity and you do so at your peril. Sure it’s going to take time, but it’s going to catch up with you. There are signs that this is where we’re heading every day. Rather than fighting it, why the hell don’t you want to get in front of it? Capitalize on it? Make bucket loads of cash by getting their first?
Do you HATE MONEY? Because this is the CONSTANT excuse I hear for why female projects don’t get made – that they can’t make enough money. So make up your mind – which is it?
There’s this frequent refrain when people talk about box office successes and failures that horrible films like Elektra and Catwoman prove that female led action/superhero films don’t work. But that’s patently absurd (as I discussed in a bit more detail here) if we blamed box office failures on the gender of the star we’d simply have no films. There are thousands upon thousands of failing films with male leads, but nobody suggests that we stop making them because people don’t want to see movies with male stars…because that would be INSANE. Sometimes movies are just bad and don’t work. That doesn’t mean you stop making all movies.
I’ve seen some chatter about how it’s bullshit that Joss Whedon is getting all the credit for Black Widow’s role in Avengers and let me just clarify – the performance is absolutely Johansson’s. She did a wonderful job bringing Natasha to life. But there’s a reason people are focusing on Whedon when they talk about this. Because Whedon is going to be the one that gets to drive forward the next project, not Johansson. That’s how this works. Whedon now has a massive undeniable success under his belt and so now he’s going to have some freedom to call his own shots. The creators, the directors, the money men, they’re the ones that have the power to get these things on screen, and since they’re primarily men, it explains a lot about why we have the movies we have and why we don’t have the movies we don’t. And it’s why it’s important to call out someone as talented as Whedon with the values he has for characters and storytellers and yes, feminism, and to celebrate him. Because there are far more Quesadas than Whedons.
And one of them is not furthering this cause at all. One of them is dragging us the fuck down.