2017-08-09 / Opinion


Why the world needs (more) Wonder Women

DC Comics’ suffragette soldier “Wonder Woman” starred in her first feature film this summer and was met with both rave reviews and numerous controversies, but the fact that her film exists at all is a significant step toward better storytelling in the film industry.

Lois Lane once wrote an article “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman,” and won a Pulitzer for it. I’m no Lois Lane and the only thing I’d like to win from this article is favor from those who might oppose me. The world doesn’t necessarily need the Wonder Woman because the world is already full of wonder women. What the world needs is for American cinema to tell more heroines’ stories.

The presence of heroines is not a new concept, and in fact, female presence is growing. According to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, female protagonists in films rose by 7% between the year 2015 and 2016.

Silent film actress Florence Lawrence was the first person to be called a movie star. The first full-length animated Disney film was Snow White, focusing on the female titular character. The classic To Kill A Mockingbird, which won a Pulitzer in real life, was written by a woman and told in the perspective of a young girl.

But the presence of female main characters is not the issue. Girls fill the pages of bestselling books and shine on the silver screen, but the majority of these characters are not representative of women as a whole.

According to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, the underrepresentation of females in films and television has a lasting effect on girls’ psyche. Imagine if the only male protagonists we saw were just like Superman, heroes who save the day thanks to their superior physical strength. We would be without the Harry Potters and the Frodo Baggins, beloved male heroes that relied on inner strength to beat the bad guys.

Not all heroines are beautiful, feminine, and gentle. Hermione had bushy hair, a sharp tongue, and relied on her intellect. Katniss was tougher than all the men she came up against, and while sensitivity is seen as a womanly quality, she often lacked it. We cannot only tell the princess tales because those represent a small fraction of women.

When I was young, I used to jump off the living room sofa’s arm and say I was flying. I remember my mom told me I couldn’t be Peter Pan because he’s a boy. I thought, why in the world would I want to be a boy? I wanted to fly. I’m asking for more female heroines in film because girls need to know they can fly, too.

Money often plays into the argument against female-led films. In the 2015 Sony hack by WikiLeaks, an email between Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter and Michael Lynton that discussed why Sony refused to produce more female action movies was made public, citing low box numbers for films like Electra and Catwoman as the reason for his hesitation.

The notion that female-led and produced movies make less than money than male-led and produced ones is an old wives’ tale. The LA Times published an article in 2014 that discussed a report by FiveThirtyEight, a website that analyzes statistical information, in which 1,615 movies from 1990 through 2013 were assessed. The findings proved that movies with leading ladies have a substantially lower budget than all other films, but make more money dollar per dollar.

Slated, an online film financer, performed a similar study, analyzing 1591 feature films— almost every theatrical release from 2010-2015. The company found that films produced, written, or starred by women enjoyed a greater average return on investment than those made by men.

Stephen Paternot, the CEO of Slated, called this a “trust gap.” Despite substantial evidence that women can be financially trusted as leading ladies, directors, and producers, Hollywood does not support them.

Hollywood doesn’t play fair when it withholds female-focused stories in favor of male-focused due to revenue and reviews. Let’s not forget that Batman: The Dark Knight has a 94% approval rating, while the Green Lantern has a 26%, and studios are still green-lighting male-casted action movies.

Wonder Woman currently boasts a 92%, but other female action movies like Sucker Punch only hold a 23%. Does that mean studios will still hesitate to produce more leading ladies in action? Female-led stories should not have to maintain high approval ratings for studios to take them seriously. Better storytelling in the film industry starts with telling all of the stories.

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