Back in 2015, Marvel made history with the release of #AgentCarter, and catalyzed a sea-change in how networks treat female superheroes. Nowadays, it's common to see strong female characters in shows like Arrow; we have Melissa Benoist starring as the outstanding Supergirl; and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Chloe Bennet has pretty much become the show's lead. At Heroes and Villains Fan Fest (#HVFF) in London, one fan asked Hayley Atwell what it feels like to have been so important in the rise of female superheroes. Her answer was pretty surprising...
Hayley Atwell Downplays Her Role
Clearly embarrassed at the idea that she redefined the superhero genre, Hayley Atwell argued that we should view television slightly differently. As she explained, ultimately, she's an actress — she doesn't create the roles, she simply takes the jobs she's offered. Atwell insists that she really doesn't have control over her career; she simply turns up and does the job, and is simply blown away when the role turns into a chance to connect to such a powerful fan-base.
In Hayley Atwell's view, the rise of female superheroes is the result of what she describes as a "conversation" between TV execs and the viewers. Viewers reveal what they love — most visibly through ratings, but also through countless different forms of engagement. From cosplay to Facebook groups, fans demonstrate their views and values. They show exactly what they want to see, and the TV execs respond, testing the waters, judging how viewers and fan communities respond.
It's a fascinating take. I freely admit that, as a fan of Agent Carter, it wasn't the answer I wanted to hear; I do view Hayley Atwell as a trailblazer, preparing the way for shows like Supergirl. And yet, Atwell's point is a good one. Superhero fans are primed to focus on individual superstars, believing that just one woman can change the world. Instead, Atwell points to an industry that's ever-evolving. She, as an actress, is just a small part of that picture.
And yet, there's also something beautiful in Hayley Atwell's perspective. If she's right, then the truth is that female superheroes are becoming more prominent precisely because society is changing. In response to changes in viewer-patterns, the network tested the water with shows like Agent Carter and Supergirl; they've been received with joy, and as a result the networks have begun to change their habits. Gone are the days when the female lead would be a helpless love-interest or a wondering companion; we're now in an age where society accepts women can be superheroes in their own right.
It's a wonderful thought, signalling a sea-change in contemporary culture. If Hayley Atwell is right, then we're finally seeing female superheroes get the chance to shine because society is ready for it. With movies like Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel on the horizon, this is an idea whose time has come. And I couldn't be happier for it.
Do you want to see more female-led superhero shows?
(Poll Image Credit: Marvel Comics)