Let’s hear it for the girls!
For so many years, the realm of the action hero, both on film and on TV, has been almost exclusively made up of males. Yet the last couple of years have seen a significant shift, with female superheroes and leading ladies coming at us from all directions.
The unexpected trail-blazers of the new wave of girl power were led by Melissa McCarthy in the all-female Ghostbusters reboot in the summer of 2016. Taking on the classic supernatural men’s “buddy movie”, many expected the gender switch remake to fall flat. As it turned out, it did well both critically and at the box office, with McCarthy, Kristen Wiig and the irrepressible Kate McKinnon busting every bit as hard as Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray and company.
And if Ghostbusters blazed a trail, then Wonder Woman burned that trail to the ground. DC’s first female led superhero movie starred Gal Gadot as the legendary Diana, Princess of the Amazons. It was also the first Marvel blockbuster to be directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins, with a largely female crew. Made for just $149m, it has so far grossed almost $800m, with the DVD and BluRay releases still to come in time for Christmas.
Even the bastion of the male ego, the James Bond-style super spy, has been cracked by the recent release of Atomic Blonde, starring Charlize Theron as MI6’s top agent. Hard as nails and taking on all comers, she is a stark contrast to the typical tuxedo-clad James Bond in Diamonds are Forever, who was constantly hanging out in the casino surrounded by beautiful women who barely got a line, let alone any sort of character to work with.
Perhaps the best thing about this new wave of female heroes is that they are not trying to fill the same shoes as the men, but instead doing things in entirely their own way. Wonder Woman was a significant departure from the ego driven, macho, tough guys who had typically lead Marvel films; Charlize Theron’s character very much challenged the male characters on her own terms, giving every bit as good as she got, and then some — all while retaining her own uniquely female style.
There is plenty more to come, too, with Marvel announcing last year that Captain Marvel will be played by Oscar winning “Room” actress, Brie Larson. The announcement was made long before the huge box office success of Wonder Woman, and it shows a real commitment to strong female roles from one of the biggest movie franchises there is. Add in strong roles for Zoe Saldana and Karen Gillan in Guardians of the Galaxy, and things are really starting to shift away from the days where all superheroes were “something-man”.
Perhaps the biggest leap forward for women on screen was the recent announcement of Jodie Whittaker as the new Doctor Who in the long-running British TV sci-fi series. After twelve straight male Time Lords, Whittaker will break the mold in spectacular fashion when she arrives in the Christmas special to replace Peter Capaldi.
The series has been building up to this for some time, with the only other remaining Time Lord regenerating from The Master to Missy, played by Michelle Gomez. This clearly set the precedent for female Time Lords and opened the door for the groundbreaking announcement, made dramatically (and somewhat ironically) by the BBC at the end of the Men’s Final at Wimbledon.
It is still far from a level playing field, especially with so many movies based on comic book characters from another, less enlightened era. Nonetheless, it is refreshing to not only see studios and TV channels taking these risks, but also to be rewarded by the kind of critical and commercial success that will encourage them to keep doing it.