In an industry that's constantly attacked for its poor representation of women, it's always exciting to see signs of change. The Hollywood Reporter recently published a survey of over 1,800 Hollywood insiders — male and female — asking them to vote for their favorite female fictional characters.
Considering how many superhero movies are coming out right now, I think the most disturbing thing about the survey is that only one female superhero appeared on the list. Congratulations to #Marvel, though — it's their very own Jessica Jones!
Who Is Jessica Jones?
Created by Brian Bendis in 2001, Jessica Jones is a powerhouse superhero who fell on hard times. She was the star of the book Alias, a detective series that brought her face-to-face with her own personal demons. Under the alias of Jewel, Jessica had come to the attention of Kilgrave, a powerful telepath who can control the minds of others. This led to the horrific end of her crime-fighting career, with Jessica's mind damaged both by Kilgrave's actions and the fact nobody noticed her missing, in therapy, for eight months!
This classic, disturbing story was directly adapted for 2015's popular #MarvelNetflix series Jessica Jones. Played by Krysten Ritter, Jessica was shown as a deeply scarred woman with a very real sense of vulnerability. Stewart really managed to bring home the conflicted, agonized nature of the role. Meanwhile, a plot that focused on Kilgrave's terrifying, stalker-esque obsession with Jessica forced her to confront the horrifying abuse & rape this psychopath subjected her to. The series was only strengthened by the powerful dynamic between Ritter's Jessica Jones and David Tennant's terrifying Kilgrave.
Why is Jessica Jones Hollywood's Favorite Female Superhero?
Although superheroes are popular culturally, Hollywood insiders rarely seem to be fans of the genre. As Daredevil showrunner Steven DeKnight observed of the Academy Awards:
“When you sign on for genre, you definitely accept that fact that you are playing at a disadvantage when it comes to awards season. I think once you get to the Academy level, there is an inherent snobbery against genre shows.”
Thus, it's not surprising to see female superheroes under-represented. It may come as shock to some to see no mention of Melissa Benoist's Supergirl, whose show on The CW has garnered rave reviews, or Wonder Woman, who was recently appointed UN Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women! Neither of those characters seems to have impressed Hollywood overmuch, though — in Wonder Woman's case, perhaps because we've yet to see more than a glimpse of Gal Gadot's latest incarnation of the character.
That said, I do think there's a reason Jessica Jones stands proudly above the rest of the superhero genre; it's due to the strength of her character arc. Jessica Jones Season 1 shows the character struggling to recover from rape, and it shows a real, intense awareness of trauma triggers. As one woman who had suffered from abuse wrote stirringly over at The Mary Sue:
"While it masquerades as a show about heroes and villains, ultimately, Jessica Jones is not a fantasy. It’s the reality of existing in a patriarchal society that does everything it can to silence, dismiss, and ignore women—that strips power and agency from us at every conceivable level: domestically, romantically, politically, legally, and in the media."
Fundamentally, Jessica Jones Season 1 is the story of a woman who has been abused, and of a man who delights in his power to abuse. It's a deep, troubling exploration of the psychology that underpins these things, and as such, it's frankly a cultural phenomenon. At its best, Hollywood uses fiction to hold up a mirror to society and ask the most troubling of questions, and Jessica Jones does just that. This, I think, is why the character of Jessica Jones shines brighter than other female superheroes.
A Lesson for DC and Marvel
That said, as a comic book fan, I confess to being heartbroken that more female superheroes haven't made the list. But do they really deserve to? Scarlett Johansson's superb Black Widow has been sadly underdeveloped over in the #MCU, and we're yet to hear word of that much-wished-for solo film. Captain Marvel, the first Marvel movie to star a female superhero, isn't due until 2019 — more than a decade after the MCU was launched!
All too often, female superheroes are all about sex appeal, and female characters are relegated to sidekicks or love interests. That reality has changed dramatically over in the comics, with characters like Batwoman, Spider-Gwen and Kamala Khan's Ms. Marvel, but those improvements have yet to have a real impact on the MCU and the #DCEU. It's telling that even Margot Robbie herself was uncomfortable with the sexualization of Harley Quinn in #SuicideSquad, and there are rumors Quinn will wear a far less sexualized outfit in Robbie's own spinoff film.
The one outlier, though, has to be The CW's Supergirl. As far as I'm concerned, Melissa Benoist's stirring portrayal of Kara Danvers, a.k.a Supergirl, is simply phenomenal. The character is redolent with hope, presenting a strong, powerful woman who's learning what it means to be her own person. Meanwhile, the supporting cast of Supergirl — including Chyler Leigh's Alex Danvers — are equally tremendous, and Alex's current character arc is fascinating to watch. For me, Supergirl stands alongside Jessica Jones, offering hope for the future of female superhero shows and films. Although she's not portraying a superhero, Emily Bett Rickards's Felicity Smoak in Arrow is also surely worth an honorable mention.
Check out our picks of the most badass women in pop culture:
- Hermione Granger Voted the Best Female Hollywood Character of all Time!
- The Top 10 Female Superheroes!
- The Villain of Iron Man 3 Was Gender-Swapped - For A Reason You Won't Believe!
For now, though, superhero fans can celebrate that, in the character of Jessica Jones, Marvel got it right. They succeeded in creating a character who, in Hollywood's own estimation, stands alongside the great and good - alongside characters like Mulan, Ripley, Eleven, and — voted the most popular female character of all — Hermione Granger. Marvel can take a moment to bask in pride. But when that moment has passed, Marvel and DC alike should take this list as a challenge.
The next time this survey is carried out, let's see if we can't flood it with superheroes.
Do you agree that Jessica Jones is the most important female superhero?
(Poll Image: Netflix. Source: The Hollywood Reporter)