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Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel & Female Superhero Movies – There Were None. Now There’s Two. And We’re Not Done.

“There were none. Now there’s one. And, so, we’re done,” sang Kate McKinnon and Kenan Thompson from the stage of the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles at last night’s 70th Emmy Awards. It was part of an opening musical number making light of the industry’s tendency to pat itself on the back and call “job done” with diversity initiatives even though the statistics show TV and film is as old, straight white male dominated as usual. The exact quote is in reference to Sandra Oh’s history-making nomination for Killing Eve – first Asian woman nominated for a lead acting award – but it’s such a general phrase it can be used to apply all sorts of other categories in the diversity push.

I’m thinking of it here specifically in reference to superhero cinema:

There were none (black-led or female-led superhero movies, either ever or in this current era). Now there’s one (Black Panther and Wonder Woman). And, so, we’re done.

Except we’re not. Done, that is. Captain Marvel’s first trailer is upon us, announcing Marvel’s long-awaited inaugural entry into the female superhero game. Ant-Man and the Wasp was a half-step in that direction, a two-hander, not a solo showcase for Evangeline Lilly’s titular badass. Captain Marvel is jumping into those waters all the way. So, thanks to Marvel and DC, there used to be none, but now there’s two.

For anyone confused, EW recently ran a cover story explaining everything: Captain Marvel is set in the 90s. It’s not an origin story and will instead open with Carol (Brie Larson) already having her powers and serving on her own Green Lantern-style outer space police force. As seen in the trailer, however, she’ll have little grasp on who she was before she became Captain Marvel, and after landing on Earth she’ll interact with CGI de-aged Nick Fury, Clark Gregg’s Coulson (who are each in the trailer), and Cobie Smulders’ Maria Hill (who is not, unless I missed her). The Kree-Skrull hostilities hinted at in Guardians of the Galaxy will be front and center here. Jude Law appears to be playing Carol’s boss-turned-enemy.

The trailer is perfectly pitched and opens on a wonderful period-setting shot of Blockbuster Video. I imagine there will be lots of “What’s a Blockbuster Video?” from those audience members too young to even fathom the concept of a video store. My God, we’re all so old.

Anyway, the closing quick-cut montage of Carol at various stages in her life, starting as a little girl on a beach and standing up into a badass adult woman only just coming into her full potential and clenching her fist in battle preparation, is the type of inspirational messaging we see more and more these days. It wouldn’t be out of place in a Google commercial, for example.

Other notable moments: Carol punches an old lady on a bus for mysterious reasons, and Nick Fury sports a rather familiar-looking pager.

The world is big enough for Diana and Carol Danvers to have their own movies and for those movies to be directed by women (Patty Jenkins and Anna Boden), co-directed in Captain Marvel’s case (Boden is joined by longtime directing partner Ryan Fleck). Plus, world events continue to fuel the desire for stronger female representation. Wonder Woman arrived as women were marching in the streets in protest of Donald Trump and his administration; Captain Marvel might very well arrive after a record number of women are voted into public office.

Who knows what will have happened by the time Wonder Woman 1984 is released, which will just be 8 months after Captain Marvel. Carol Danvers will have likely helped defeat Thanos by then. Maybe the real Wonder Women and Captain Marvels of the world will have defeated their own metaphorical Thanos’s as well. and I don’t even mean that as a direct hit on Trump – there are a lot of villains around not named Trump.

However, Captain Marvel doesn’t even need any of it that zeitgeisty IRL material to appeal to audiences. It already has a wonderful lead-in from Avengers: Infinity War and appears to be a movie we’ll have to see to fully understand who this woman is and how exactly she’ll prove so crucial in helping the Avengers put right what Thanos put so very, very wrong.

I once wrote that true, long-lasting diversity in Hollywood won’t be achieved through initial success but instead by being allowed to fail. The all-female Ghostbusters reboot, for example, flopped, but that didn’t stop its co-financier, Village Roadshow, from moving forward with and making smarter financial decisions on Oceans 8, which ended up tripling its budget worldwide. In the past, the Ghostbusters flop would have been enough to kill Oceans 8. That it didn’t is a sign of progress.

We’re not there yet with female superhero movies. We have been before when Supergirl and Catwoman/Elektra killed the genre in their day. But in this current era, Wonder Woman is the only female superhero movie that has mattered. All it did was end 2017 as the third highest grossing film at the domestic market of the year, tenth highest worldwide.

Captain Marvel may or may not reach or exceed those same heights, but it’s highly unlikely to fail at the box office. Outside of the Ant-Man sub-franchise, all Marvel Studios does is produce colossal, often record-setting hits. If Captain Marvel hits the way most Marvel movies do, we might enter into a territory where we can stop talking about them as female superhero movies and just consider them, you know, movies.

That would be great because thanks to Wonder Woman there are already plenty of them in the development, mostly at DC – Supergirl, Batgirl, and Birds of Prey. There have similarly been hints of further diverse superhero films on the Marvel side, but Infinity War-Part 2 spoiler reasons they can’t say what those films will be yet.

There were none. Now there’s two. By the end of 2019, there will be three. After that, there will be many more. It shouldn’t have taken this long, but here we are. Let’s enjoy the moment, and, ya know, hope Captain Marvel is a good movie. This trailer is a good opening argument for that, I’d say. What about you?

Captain Marvel is due March 8, 2019. Wonder Woman 1984 is due November 1, 2019. Supergirl, Batgirl, and Birds of Prey are still in development.

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21 comments

    1. Technically, I can’t even say “there were none” about female superhero movies either. Elektra and Catwoman both came after Blade, for example.

      But, honestly, none of that matters to current Hollywood. What matters is everything that’s happened since 2008. Dark Knight cracking a billion worldwide was a complete game-changer as was Iron Man’s independently-produced, cinematic universe-establishing first film which turned into a bigger hit than anyone in the industry expected. So, while the old guard at Marvel (Ike Perlmutter, mostly, until the film studio was taken away from him) stuck to the old wisdom that black and female-led superhero movies simply don’t travel or sell based on stuff that happened before 2008 Wonder Woman and Black Panther are the first in this era to call bullshit on that and thus seem like the first of their kind.

      1. I honestly think there’s only a relatively small part of the US population that decides whether to see a movie based on the gender or race of the stars. For me, it doesn’t factor in at all. It’s all about whether the story interests me and if the story looks like it will be very well presented. I think most people feel that way.

        The Ghost Busters reboot, for example, tanked because it was crap, not because it had female stars. Wonder Woman did great because it was an amazing story with stellar production values. Same with Black Panther. Neither did well BECAUSE they starred a woman or a black man. Only social activists care about that at all.

      2. I’ve previously written about what you’re getting at. It was last year when Detroit came and went without much fanfare, box office, or awards consideration. A female-directed film about police brutality released into a world that was still reeling from all the YouTube videos of police brutality? Surely the social activists will want to support that. They didn’t, though.

        https://weminoredinfilm.com/2017/08/08/box-office-detroit-and-atomic-blonde-illustrate-the-limits-of-treating-ticket-buying-decisions-as-social-activism/

        And Scott Feinberg at Forbes repeatedly comes back to the argument that we can’t claim to want one kind of thing from Hollywood and then not support it when the people in charge actually make it happen. Otherwise, we end up with the type of programming we deserve. That doesn’t even have to mean something political or socially motivated. It can be as simple as “an original movie not based on anything or sequel to something or rebooting something” or an “an old-fashioned star-driven vehicle.” When those kinds of films arrive, like maybe The Nice Guys to pick a random example, and the world acts with indifference then what are the money people in Hollywood to think? But that happens because most normal people just want a good movie to see, and the marketing people didn’t do a good enough on selling them on that (or the filmmakers simply failed to deliver a worthwhile movie).

        So, I get it. I get what you’re saying and there’s some truth to it.

        But, I think to disassociate Black Panther and Wonder Woman from the realities of the exact historical moments in which they arrived misunderstands what exactly made them hits. They delivered the goods as individual films to sustain their success and appeal to all audiences, but the spark of their cultural moments was born from a pent-up demand from women and people of color to see themselves on screen. You can see that in the various exit-polling data indicating record numbers of women seeing Wonder Woman and record number of black people doing the same with Black Panther. The fact that Black Panther still endures today in the Black Panther salutes being delivered by black athletes indicates there was something more going on there than just a normal big movie that became big because it was good.

      3. Sure. I can see why black athletes — or any black person — might use the Black Panther salute. But I still maintain it was because the movie was awesome, not because it was black. I mean, yeah, black athletes probably wouldn’t be using a salute from a movie of white stars. But this is more about blacks grabbing a hold of something great that stars another black.

        But, had the movie sucked, having black stars would neither have gotten the massive box office nor inspired salutes by black athletes.

        Frankly, I find it baffling that black leaders and celebrities claim they want to stamp out racism while constantly focusing on the differences between races.

      4. Sorry Map (I’m not trying to argue with you, but I do have a request).

        You don’t get to say why Women loved Wonder Woman or speak for Blacks about why we liked Black Panther. I think you should let us speak for ourselves and stop assuming you know why we do what we do. Just because you do a thing a certain way doesn’t mean you can speak for us, and all things being equal you’re more or less right about having a good story and stuff, although I posit that you don’t know if the story is good until you actually watch the movie. I’m going to talk about what ATTRACTS us to a movie, tho’.

        Being both of those things (Black, and a woman – who didn’t care for Wonder Woman) I can say it was VERY important to me and my friends and family to see Black Panther. And when I spoke to all the Black people I know, who showed an interest in seeing it, the race of the participants seemed to be a really big deal for them. They weren’t attracted to it because of the story. They were attracted because of the cast and the director, and they just HOPED it had a good story. For us and many other Black people, it was a big family affair, and yeah some of us are still doing the salute in our regular lives as non-athletes.

        Hell, the only reason I got my mother to see it was because it had an all Black cast. She is otherwise completely indifferent to superhero movies, unless there are Blacks in the cast, (whereas I , being an avid comic book reader, will watch almost anything), and so she generally doesn’t watch them, and I can get her and my family members to watch movies, and shows they would otherwise never care about, if it has a Black cast or lead character. I managed to get her to watch Wonder Woman, too, which she also loved. I took my entire superhero indifferent family to see Black Panther and from all the blogs and people I know, this was a normal thing to do. People dressed up for the event and had parties for it. If you don’t run in those circles, then no, you wouldn’t know anything about all of that.

        Incidentally, the reason a lot of Black people gave for NOT seeing Detroit, was the very reason Kelly gave. As a general rule Black People are really really tired of movies involving Black pain and torture, so if we do go see something like that, it will depend very very heavily on who the star is , it will not be a family event, and John Boyega was not a big enough star in the Black community to warrant putting up with any of that. Also, some of us are loathe to sit through movies about Black pain that are too close to our memories, or some other, more recent trauma.

        Bottom line is: it is very important to women and PoC to go see movies about ourselves that doesn’t involve us being killed and tortured by White people (or sometimes each other). Sometimes we just want fun and action and Detroit fell right into that hole of being not that.

        One of the primary reasons Latinx people lost their minds over Coco, and Asian Americans went kablooey over Crazy Rich Asians, was because of their representation in a movie that didn’t involve their violence and trauma. I wasn’t attracted to either of those movies because of the story, but because it was an opportunity to get a peak into culture I know absolutely nothing about (and I probably wouldn’t walk away from those movies traumatized, which is a real big deal right now.)

        And, as I’ve said before, sometimes it all comes down to just the timing of a movie’s release.

        So unless you took a poll about it, or know a ton of Black, Asian, and Latinx people, please don’t speak on our behalf regarding why we might or might not go see a movie.

      5. Sorry, but box office numbers indicate what you’re describing is not widespread. If that were the case then nearly every movie with a strong black cast would be a blockbuster.

      6. I don’t care about box office numbers. That’s irrelevant to what I’m saying. You’re assuming to know what entire communities of people are thinking based on how much money a movie makes.

        All I’m asking is for you to please not speak for whole communities of people, if you are not a member of that community, which is what you just did. Im a fully enmeshed member of the Black community, who tries to be informed about what’s happening in it, and all I’m asking you to do is not to speak for people like me, and talk over me about what I’ve actually experienced.

        But I suspect you just like fighting with people. I do not. So I’m cutting off this discussion here. I said what I said.

      7. “I said what I said.”

        I’ll just add a thank you for saying what you said. I found your initial comment to be rather moving. Thank you for sharing your personal experience with these films as well as the experiences of those in your community.

    2. The thing with Blade is that most people who aren’t nerds aren’t even aware that it is a superhero movie. It was sold as a vampire movie during a time when vampires were in-trend, with a black lead actor who was already pretty successful.

      1. Agreed. It’s always been a harder one to categorize. Some view it as more of an action-horror movie than superhero. Some, as you referenced, probably just think of it as those Wesley Snipes vampire movies

  1. Dissapointed by the trailer. Maybe i was too excited by her arrival following that post credits avengers scene. I watched trailer and thought i have no idea what powers she has and what she wants or needs to do. Is she like marvels shazaam? Ps coulson was in trailer de aged. Not colbie smoulders but then she would be 10 or something.

    1. Give them time. As per movie marketing tradition, this is the tone trailer. The plot trailer with more answers to your questions is a couple of months away, maybe attached to a big Christmas movie.

      She’s not Marvel’s Shazam, I can tell you that. Origin story wise, she’s most comparable to Green Lantern – US Air Force pilot, comes into contact with alien, ends up inheriting their powers and traveling to space to join a glorified police force/military unit. Powers wise, she’s super strong, she can fly, and she has some Dark Phoenix-like fire powers. She’s supposed to the strongest person in the entire Marvel Universe. You can read more about it here (beware, though, this article has some Avengers 4 fan theories about Captain Marvel which might just turn into spoilers): https://www.express.co.uk/entertainment/films/954902/how-powerful-is-Captain-Marvel-strongest-character

      “coulson was in trailer de aged. Not colbie smoulders but then she would be 10 or something.”

      You’re not wrong. Coulson, Fury, and Hill’s inclusion in the film has been so well known for so long that people have just accepted it and moved on. But, Cobie Smulders is 19 years younger than Clark Gregg and over 30 years younger than Samuel L. Jackson. Her being around for their salad days makes no real sense. I’m sure it’ll just be her as a green-as-any-rookie-can-possibly-be partner. Maybe instead of de-aging her they’ll just re-use old footage from season 1 of How I Met Your Mother. Coulson’s gonna be so confused why his new partner keeps talking about Canada and some guy named Ted.

      Seriously, though, the idea, I’m sure, is to tie the bow on her Infinity War death scene alongside Fury and establish that she knows Captain Marvel as well.

      1. Wow that is like green lantern. Dc should have sued. Ok good point re tone trailer. Will waot and see. Although slightly hipocritical as if this was DC movie people would be signalling failure already. See aquaman for reference. Anyway Colbie colbi Colbie. She was a dish on how i met your mother but think she would be way younger than that show. Could be a quick nod to another kid actress in training like you say. Everyone wants to see young coulson. Anyway has marvel got shares in the de age technology. I cant believe how much they advocate it in theor movies. Cant be cheap and isnt technically necessary althpugh everyone loves it as a gimmoc except for some reason disneys peter cushing rogue one for reasons i dont agree with. They got consent people and he was kind of key to the story. Why dont you focus on xmen 3 magnito or brad pitt in Benjamin button if you have a gripe. Marvel disney have it polished. Heck if Fisher was good in her brief stint and laurence fishbourne and michelle phiffer in antman 2

      2. Re: Cobie I was right there with Ted in falling totally in love with Robin. Odd thing now, though, is when you re-watch HIMYM early seasons you can see that for as gorgeous as she was from the start Smulders still looked closer to an actual normal person. She’d just moved to Hollywood from Canada. She was only like 22 or something. That was really her first big thing. So, she still had some baby fat in her face. It’s long gone now, though. She’s been in impeccable, Hollywood actress shape for quite some time. I always just think of it as “clearly someone could finally afford an intense personal trainer.” She’s been so fit for so long at this point that she was actually one of the names Joss Whedon was throwing out a decade ago when he was writing his Wonder Woman script, which is partially how he ended up casting her as Maria in the first Avengers.

        Re: Green Lantern. We haven’t even started talking about the Ego Stone yet, either. SPOILER Short version: there might be a secret Infinity Stone out there that Captain Marvel gets and turns her into the most powerful being in the universe, even stronger than Thanos. So, it’s possible Captain Marvel might end up with a similar origin story to Green Lantern AND a power set dependent on a ring. Luckily, she won’t just imagine crazy things that then emerge from said ring. That’s always been the dealbreaker for me and GL.

        “Anyway has marvel got shares in the de-age technology. I can’t believe how much they advocate it in theor movies”

        Not surprising, I’m sure, but they’ve invested quite heavily in this. X-Men 3 was one of the pioneers of this back in the day, and what LucasFilm did with Rogue One was groundbreaking. Marvel Studios is just taking the ball and running with it, and as you pointed out they never seem to suffer any of the blowback that Rogue One endured.

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