Recently there has been a lot of talk about how great a year 2013 was for women in film. There was the blockbusting mega-sequel The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which has grossed over 400 million in US box offices and features a resilient lead played by Jennifer Lawrence. There’s also Disney’s Frozen, which totes two leading ladies in the spotlight, not to mention claims that it has some of the best Disney music in years. Lastly you hear about Gravity, which only had two characters, and Sandra Bullock’s held screen time over George Clooney’s by almost 3:1. So yes, a number of the year’s largest movies featured female leads; but is that criteria alone sufficient? Is the success of these films related that significantly to the main character?
The Hunger Games franchise has had a lot of momentum, much of which is unrelated to Jennifer Lawrence. Sure, she’s become a bit of a Tumblr icon since receiving her Oscar, and has starred in a number of strategically varied films, but there are other factors to be considered. The Hunger Games had the hype from the books to carry it successfully onto the silver screen, so if nothing else, a great deal of the credit goes to the trilogy while it was still in the print medium.
Some may have seen the film because they love J-Law gifs, some may have seen it because they were a fan of the books; how many can say they saw it because they wanted to see a tenacious female lead on big screen? Hopefully at least a few, but pinning box office success on the lead character’s gender seems a little inaccurate.
Gravity is not so much about Sandra Bullock’s character as it is everything else on screen. It was little more than vehicle for effects, so again its a stretch to credit Bullock with any major role in the film’s success.
Now I’m not trying to rain on Katniss’ or anyone else’s parade, but the fact remains that this year also saw DC Warner Bros refuse Wonder Woman her own film. 2013 had many indications of progress, but still saw a great deal of hesitation when it came to taking a chance on a female driven plot.
For those not keeping up with the hype, the Man of Steel sequel will star not only Superman, but Batman and Wonder Woman as well. With Supes and Bats both having a number of films under the belt (not to mention very recent films at that), Wonder Woman seems a little out of place being introduced in a movie already packed tight full of heroes.
What’s more, there is already fearful discussion over the likelihood that Wonder Woman would end up in a predictable love triangle/square with the other heroes and Lois Lane. Fans who have known Diana as a strong and independent character in her own right fear that she may only be used to as an interest for one of the male leads, or simply to take part in dialogue with Lane that would fail the Bechdel Test in a heartbeat.
What you hear at comic-con panels and in press releases is that Wonder Woman won’t get her own film because audiences just aren’t that interested in a female lead. I’d argue that in the rare cases when we, the audience, were presented with one, we became somewhat obsessed with them. Whether its Buffy, Khaleesi, Leslie Knope or any of Jessica Lange’s characters from American Horror Story (though, albeit, those are all TV characters), when we were shown a female character that departed even slightly from the formulaic treatment we’re used to, we fell head over heels in love with them. Simply due to their rarity, a compelling female lead becomes instantly more engaging than the males at her side.
Audiences are interested in female leads, just not the ones we’ve been given so often. Those with the power to do so need to take more chances to see how refreshing a female character is when given her due.