Female-fronted superhero movies are finally on the horizon, with both Marvel and DC announcing their own superwomen (Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel (squeee)) and Sony getting in on the game as well with a female Spider-verse character taking front and center. But first, we're getting a female-led tv show, which looks like it's going to be making some serious commentary about equal rights.
I'm talking, of course, about Agent Carter, the Marvel TV property and Captain America spin-off that starts in the early months of 2015. Set in the 40s, after the First World War and the events of The First Avenger, it follows Cap's love interest Peggy as an agent of SHIELD.
The official synopsis pulls no punches about the importance of the female lead, with language that makes it clear that the role of women in the 40s is going to be a key part of both the character and the plot.
Years before Agent Coulson and his S.H.I.E.L.D. team swore to protect those who cannot protect themselves from threats they cannot conceive, there was Agent Peggy Carter who pledged the same oath but lived in a different time when women weren’t recognized as being as smart or as tough as their male counterparts.
But no one should ever underestimate Peggy.
It's 1946 and peace has dealt Peggy a serious blow as she finds herself marginalized when the men return home from fighting abroad. Working for the covert SSR (Strategic Scientific Reserve), Peggy finds herself stuck doing administrative work when she would rather be back out in the field; putting her vast skills into play and taking down the bad guys. But she is also trying to navigate life as a single woman in America, in the wake of losing the love of her life, Steve Rogers – aka Captain America.
"Women weren't recognized as being as smart or tough as their male counterparts", "Peggy finds herself marginalized", and "trying to navigate life as a single woman". These are all key phrases, and this kind of focus has me really excited about the possibilities within the show, more so than with many of the upcoming movies. While it's phenomenal to see Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel and <insert female spider-character here (I'm hoping for Black Cat)> take center stage, these don't necessarily mean that feminist issues will be brought to light. In fact, I would rather that they didn't. Not every movie which possesses a female lead should make a big fat deal out of it. I would love to see these movies be about the story, and not necessarily centered around the gender of the lead.
However, that's what makes Agent Carter so exciting. The basis for the story doesn't just allow for a really interesting feminist exploration, it all but requires it. The changing roles of women during and after the second world war are fascinating, and other TV successes (like Bomb Girls) show that it's a viewer-friendly time period. Taking such a powerful female character and removing her from active duty, forcing her to hide her other activities (for Howard Stark) and pretend to be happy as a glorified secretary is bound to make for a juicy show.
The show will undoubtedly include shades of "Mad Men" with Peggy trying to find her way in a male-dominated field (hey look, another Peggy!), and we've already seen elements of that in the Marvel One-Shot. The big difference (and the one that makes many of these issues relevant today) is that while Mad Men's Peggy was working her way up, Peggy Carter was already there, and has been forced back down. Her experience, training and capability is on the same level as the men who are still in the field, and yet, she is required to do admin because she is a woman. The feeling of being marginalized despite equal experience is one that still echoes today, and this is a great forum to bring it to TV.
Then of course, we have the wonderful contrast between people's expectations of Peggy, and her abilities. It's something that she will both have to fight against, but can also use to her advantage. Being underestimated in the work place is going to be an uphill battle for her, but being underestimated by her enemies can actually give her an edge. Seeing female agents use their womanly wiles to succeed on a mission is usually fun, but in a time when gender is a barrier for many, there will be whole new levels to explore within this topic. I'm sure it will still add the usual element of sex appeal, but it may do much more.
One of the other characters that is going to be really fascinating is that of Peggy's best friend, Angie Martinelli, who is an aspiring actress. I'm glad to see that the show will have a wider focus than just agent-business, and a "civilian" character like Angie means that we can see how a more average woman deals with and reacts to the same issues Peggy faces. It means that Peggy won't be presented as a total anomaly (hopefully).
I'm also hoping that Angie can be something of a major character herself, as her position creates space for even more discussion. Actresses in the 40s were not always looked upon as upstanding members of the community, and I'll be looking forward to seeing if the two of them bond over their decisions to pursue somewhat rebellious careers. It would also be really interesting to develop the similarities and differences in issues; they will both be dealing with judgement for being "unladylike", but on very different levels. It would also be a phenomenal tangent to see even a minor discussion of the kind of slut-shaming that actresses dealt with at the time.
Overall, there is the possibility for a cornucopia of women's issues to be discussed, surrounded by all the explosions, intrigue and Marvel names that ensure this is a show that will appeal to all genders. The historical element also means that points can be made without the viewer (hopefully) feeling defensive about their own lives - distance is an advantage here.
From all I've seen and read so far, it seems as though these are issues that are front and center for the creative team, and I cannot wait to see where they go with it. Of course, there is the slim possibility that these concepts are not treated carefully enough, and the point is made a little too obvious, but I have faith in Marvel that that will not happen.
It's a new era for women in comic books and comic book adaptations, and it makes perfect sense that the first female SHIELD agent, Peggy Carter, is going to be leading the charge.