For over half a decade, superhero characters have dominated our television and movie screens. However, aside from Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow (who, it should be noted, still has not been given her own solo film despite numerous fan petitions), the ladies of the superhero world have largely been sequestered into one-note love interests for their male heroes, oftentimes appearing as the dreaded stereotypical damsel-in-distress. Fans, both male and female alike, have expressed their outrage at this lack of strong, leading female superheroes, and it seems Hollywood is finally starting to listen. Sort of.
DC Comics has been leading the charge to incorporate female superheroes into this new renaissance of superheroes, starting with freshman show “Supergirl,” which airs Mondays on CBS. The show, which was just picked up for a second season, follows Superman’s cousin, Supergirl (played by Melissa Benoist), and chronicles her becoming her own as a superhero, separate from her cousin. The first season has been praised for its pro-feminist stance, with Supergirl and other female characters often dealing with sexism and comparisons to their male counterparts in a way that manages to shed light on society’s lack of strong female role models, while also empowering viewers as Supergirl herself becomes more confident in her abilities.
Diana Prince a.k.a. Wonder Woman made her first ever big-screen debut in this year’s “Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” In it, Wonder Woman (played by Gal Gadot) serves as a level-headed counterpoint to the two titular heroes, who are battling against each other in the film. Wonder Woman is featured heavily in the trailers for the film, seen saving Batman from a fatal explosion and criticizing the two for fighting, saying “you know, it’s true what they say about little boys: born with no natural inclination to share.” Wonder Woman will also be seen headlining her own solo film next year and be a main character in 2017 and 2019’s “Justice League” films.
2016 isn’t just a big year for the female heroes, though. DC’s new film, “Suicide Squad,” tells the story of popular comic book villains who are brought together to form a team to take on threats even worse than them. When the film was first announced, fans assumed Jared Leto’s The Joker would take center stage in the film. However, most of the film’s trailers and press releases have focused instead on the maniac Harley Quinn (played by Margot Robbie), the former doctor turned psycho by the Joker. Fans in particular have taken to Harley with a fevered zest that has made The Joker almost inconsequential. The film may be about multiple villains, but make no mistake, Harley Quinn will be the one running the show when “Suicide Squad” releases Aug. 26.
Compared to D.C., Marvel is noticeably lacking in female characters, at least on the movie screen. A “Captain Marvel” film, which would be the first Marvel movie ever to headline a female superhero, has been pushed back for a second time to 2019 in favor of more new “Spider-Man” movies. With no director or actress in talks and a reportedly unfinished script, fans are starting to wonder if a Captain Marvel movie is ever going to happen, or if it was just written on paper to appease fans.
On the flip-side, Marvel has made some strides in their television and comic female superheroes. “Spider-Gwen,” which flips the well known story of “Spider-Man” so that Gwen Stacy is now the one who is bit by a spider and given powers, was a breakout comic series of 2015 alongside “Ms. Marvel,” which features the first ever Muslim superhero, Kamala Khan as the teenage hero.
Netflix found great success last year with Marvel’s “Jessica Jones”. The story followed private investigator, Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), who after her attempt to be a superhero ended in tragedy, is now a boozy, hardened shell of her former self. When her former tormentor, Kilgrave, makes a reappearance, Jessica has to decide whether to run and hide or fight back, knowing she may lose. The show itself has been praised by many for its strong portrayal of women as well as the spotlight it shines on abuse, sexual assault, sexism and control in today’s society. However, where many shows nowadays focus on the acts of assault or abuse themselves, the showrunner of “Jessica Jones” wanted instead to focus on the aftermath. Sadie Gennis of “TV Guide” summarizes it best, saying, “without showing a single rape onscreen, showrunner Melissa Rosenberg captures the atrocity of Kilgrave’s actions with a single word: “Smile.” Each time Kilgrave orders Jessica to smile, the threat feels chillingly familiar. It’s something every woman has experienced in her life walking down the street.” “Jessica Jones” then becomes a show about a survivor, not a victim. With all the success and praise the show has had, it is no surprise a second season for the show was just announced.
Before you get too excited though, remember that there is still a long ways to go. In the new aforementioned “Superman” movie, it once again looks like Lois Lane (played by Amy Adams) won’t be given much to do. The character has been largely absent in trailers for the film, aside from one quick scene where she appears to be held kidnapped by Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). Still, 2016 is shaping up to be a record year for female superheroes with an unprecedented amount of females who are more than just damsels in distress: Sharon Carter, Scarlet Witch and Black Widow (“Captain America: Civil War”), Elektra (“Daredevil”), The Enchantress, Katana, Harley Quinn (“Suicide Squad”), Negasonic Teenage Warhead (“Deadpool”). There will also be a plethora of female characters both good and bad in the latest “X-Men” movie, “X-Men Apocalypse.
2016 may just be a historic year for female superheroes. And the best way to ensure that this trend continues is to see the movies and television shows, buy the comic books and show the world just how much we want strong female superheroes!