After years spent in development hell, Wonder Woman finally made its cinematic debut to critical and commercial success. The film has been hailed as monumental, not just because it’s resuscitated the #DCEU, but more importantly because it’s shattered one of Hollywood’s longest-standing glass ceilings. After the epic failures of Supergirl, Elektra and Catwoman, studios became a little hesitant about releasing female-led superhero stories. All the pressure was heaped on Wonder Woman to finally break the mold. It did so with resounding success.
Imbued with renewed hope, audiences are eager to see how the next female superheroes will fare, and whether they will continue the trend started by the DCEU’s fourth release. All eyes are now turned to #CaptainMarvel, slated to premier some time in 2019. It’s the first time a title in the #MCU will feature a female lead and a female co-director in it’s nearly 10-year existence that has spanned 15 films headlined by white males.
It’s safe to assume #Marvel is going to take some notes from #DC on crafting the ultimate female superhero epic, much like how their rivals already took the Disney-owned studio’s approach of creating crowd-pleasers brimming with levity and perpetual wise-cracking.
My initial idea for this piece was a listicle citing various elements in Wonder Woman that Marvel should use for Carol Danvers’s origin story. I have decided to boil it down to one because this one overshadows the rest: the film should be a feminist allegory. For Captain Marvel to match Wonder Woman’s success, it’s going to have to part take in gender politics, much like how its estrogen-oozing counterpart did.
The Social Commentary In Wonder Woman
Diana Prince lives on Themiscyra, an island populated by scantily-clad, statuesquely beautiful women — the stuff of sapphic fantasies. These ladies are self-sufficient, independent and strong — defying just about every misogynistic stereotype. It doesn’t take a genius to see that this female utopia backdrop was a perfect opportunity to mine some trenchant social commentary. Which is why, among other reasons, DC set the story against a World War I backdrop.
The Great War takes place in the early 20th century. Despite the fact that the suffragette movement has been in existence for decades, women are still second-class citizens. They are oppressed, viewed as weak, and are hugely dependent on their husbands. These beliefs starkly contrast with those of Diana’s, which she’s known all her life growing up in her cloistered paradise. Perhaps what she is most hard-pressed to learn about is that women aren’t allowed to actively participate in battle — a gender bottleneck in diametric opposition to the very essence of who Diana is: a warrior.
This was the perfect setup for Patty Jenkins and her writing team to show how a woman can rise above societal expectations and patriarchal prejudice to save the day. They did it with unrelenting grace and candor. In the hands of a lesser creative team, Diana would have come across as an infuriatingly annoying blond ingénue — à la Danny Rand. Due to her obliviousness about the world, she comes off as a person who, despite having childlike curiosity, is able to have a nuanced grasp of things. She could have been relegated to a side-role, despite being the eponymous character; she’s instead allowed to take charge.
This is what Captain Marvel will have to do, or at least something along those lines. Story arcs in the comic books can be borrowed from to propel the movie’s plot along this trajectory. In Carol’s earlier incarnations, she fought against gender typing in the Air Force to became an officer.
The Format For Successful Shows And Movies Starring Minorities
The fact that Captain Marvel will have to play what some might snidely refer to as “the gender card” unearths a very grim view of the current state of the industry: shows and movies led by actors and actresses who aren’t white males will have to serve as social commentary think-pieces documenting the lives and experiences of the various minority groups, for which they serve as flag-bearers, to enthrall critics and audiences.
Think of some of the most popular female-centric TV shows and movies: Buffy became a cult-classic because it turned the decades-enforced trope of heroic, macho, chisel-jawed men on its head. Sarah Michelle Gellar’s character was a breath of fresh air because, in spite of her femininity, she could kick ass as well as John McClane. Hulu’s relevant-for-current-times The Handmaiden’s Tale is laden with themes on women’s reproductive rights.
If we shift the focus to race: Atlanta, Blackish, and Fresh Off The Boat are critically acclaimed shows that entertain as much as they (without being sanctimoniously preachy) plumb the quotidian ups and downs of non-white people in America. And on the silver screen menu, we have this year’s sleeper hit Get Out, which deals with cultural appropriation in haunting and hilarious ways; 2011’s Bridesmaids, which showed girls are just as funny as guys, and dieselpunk dystopian Mad Max with its band of scene-stealing heroines.
It’s sad that we give movies and shows credit for accurate representations of historically misunderstood people. This is something that should have been done a while ago, and put behind us so that more focus can be put on the characters themselves — who they are that their core — as opposed to individuals identified by their races, gender and sexualities.
Will Captain Marvel be a flop if it doesn’t take this woke approach? Unlikely. Will it be able to scale the heights that Wonder Woman has if it doesn’t? Again, the answer is: unlikely.
What else do you think Captain Marvel must do to match the success of Wonder Woman?