Entertainment

Sexist Superheroes?

Will female-led movies draw a crowd?

Wonder Woman is finally ready for her closeup. What took Hollywood so long?

Cultural critics have bemoaned the lack of female-driven superhero movies for some time. Now, the film industry has two major features in production centering on female heroes — “Wonder Woman” and “Captain Marvel.” Will those films ring up big tickets sales? And if they don’t, will studio executives abandon gender diversity and make male-centered films their focus … again?

Does the ghost of the 2004 flop “Catwoman” haunt Hollywood’s bean counters?

Reelz movie expert Leonard Maltin said the “time is right” for more female superhero films.

Does the ghost of the 2004 flop “Catwoman” haunt Hollywood’s bean counters?

“There’s no rational reason why it shouldn’t work,” the veteran film critic said. The female stars of the “X-Men” franchise, including Storm (Halle Berry) and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) were warmly received by audiences. Action heroines like Ripley from the “Alien” and Sarah Connor of “The Terminator” fame drew plenty of people to theaters.

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Melissa Silverstein, founder and editor of Women and Hollywood, said the fuss over these two upcoming films misses the bigger picture. Out of 18 announced superhero projects from the DC Comics and Marvel universes, only two will feature women as the main character.

“It’s a beginning, a first baby step … It took them an incredibly long time to get there,” Silverstein said.

The introduction of characters like Wonder Woman, who will first appear in the 2016 movie “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” shouldn’t be seen as merely a nod toward gender equity. There’s capitalism in play, too.

“[Women] go and see those [superhero] movies at the same rate that men do,” Silverstein said. “This is good business.”

In today’s geek-friendly culture, superheroes serve as role models despite their fictional status, Silverstein argued. She points to actors Chris Evans (Captain America, in full costume) and Chris Pratt (Star-Lord) visiting a Seattle children’s hospital last March.

“These are heroes to these kids … they know they’re not real, but it’s a very powerful image,” she said.

The first few female-led movies will be put under the cultural microscope.

Silverstein worries that Hollywood’s embrace of female heroes might come with a caveat. Will Wonder Woman and her peers grace the screen in sexualized costumes, she wondered, given Hollywood’s track record on the subject.

Maltin agreed that the first few female-led movies will be put under the cultural microscope. Social media will catch fire should the main character fail to capture certain aspects of the source material, reveal more than some feel is necessary … or even appear as less three-dimensional than their male counter parts.

“This is where female input is crucial,” he said, noting the lack of women in positions of power throughout the film industry.

Even getting to this point has taken time. The “Wonder Woman” project has been in development for years before landing its star, Gal Godot, and a release date (June 23, 2017). The Captain Marvel film hits theaters Nov. 2, 2018, but the studio behind the project hasn’t even named its leading lady yet. There’s still no Black Widow movie in development, even though actress Scarlett Johansson has publicly asked for one, as has “Avengers” director Joss Whedon. The actress’ 2014 action vehicle “Lucy” crushed the box office last year with a $126-million haul.

Maltin said making box office predictions is never a sure thing. Subtle cultural factors also may come into play.

“We still live in a male-dominated society in so many ways. It’ll remain to be seen whether or not the public and the fanboys will embrace this,” he said. “I think what it really boils down to is whether or not the films are any good. That’s all that really matters.”

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