Guardians of equality

by Anya Jaremko-Greenwold

Superheroes are superhuman, but they are also flawed – often fatally. Problem is, it’s tough to find female characters in mainstream entertainment who are realistically imperfect, complex and strong – often they’re cast as mothers, hotties or girlfriends. Admittedly, that’s been changing in recent years, with an onslaught of feminism, the loud discussion surrounding gender wage discrepancies in the film industry and the public call for more female directors. We’re seeing intelligent, female-centric comedies up the wazoo (“Bridesmaids,” “Girls,” “Broad City”). But until somewhat recently, women superheroes were still lagging behind the times.

Lindsay Wagner’s “Bionic Woman” arguably launched the trend of a more thoughtful, compassionate lady champion back in the ’70s. There have been other girl warriors – for example, Charlie’s Angels, in the same decade – but although empowered, their sexiness was emphasized first and foremost. “Xena: Warrior Princess” in the ’90s was a welcome further addition to the trend; Xena was attractive, but her fierceness and unrelenting morality took precedence. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” followed a similar theme, later in that decade. There have been failed contemporary attempts, too; Halle Berry’s turn as “Catwoman” in 2004 was widely disdained (the film was dull with bad special effects and worse dialogue), and Jennifer Garner’s “Elektra” was critically disparaged (equally boring, with a one-dimensional protagonist and a terrible script).

Luckily, things are on the up and up. Women are becoming more prevalent in the superhero universe, especially on television (a medium that’s often more advanced in racial and gender representations than film). We have Marvel’s “Agent Carter” on Fox UK, DC’s “Supergirl” on Sky1 and Marvel’s “Jessica Jones” on Netflix. “Jessica Jones” in particular has been a hit, as Jones is truly a heroine for the modern age. She gets drunk during the day, enjoys casual sex and has a sour, sarcastic disposition. Jones’ storyline is also topical; she’s a victim of PTSD following psychological and physical torture by super villain Kilgrave (David Tennant). On the show, Jones seeks not only to retrieve her sanity and health, but to protect other women from Kilgrave’s insidious games.

It’s unsurprising that “Jessica Jones” is so good at portraying the female perspective – three out of its six directors are female, an unusual ratio. A 2012 study by the Geena Davis Institute On Gender In Media found that having just one female writer on a script increased screen time for female characters by an average of 10 percent. The upcoming “Wonder Woman” film and the all-female “Ghostbusters” reboot have made marked attempts at hiring as many women on their crews as possible. “Wonder Woman” will be headed up by DC’s first female director, Patty Jenkins. It seems fictional superheroes aren’t the only ones winning their long-waged wars for justice.


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