Guardians of the Galaxy, We Need to Talk

Let me make a few things clear before we get into the grumpy bits. I enjoyed the hell out of the Guardians of the Galaxy movie. Not only I was part of that 44% female audience for opening weekend, but I also plan to see it again. It was the first MCU movie I’ve seen opening day or weekend, and only the second one I’ve seen in a theater (the first was Captain America: The Winter Soldier). The soundtrack has been on repeat on my iPod for nearly two weeks, and half my Tumblr is dedicated to Rocket and Groot being adorbs and Sister Assassins being awesome. I’d pay cold, hard cash for a dancing baby Groot toy, and Groot fanart is my desktop wallpaper. I would give just about anything to have a TV prequel of teenage Gamora and Nebula kicking ass. I will even cover the “Rocket Raccoon,” “Legendary Star-Lord,” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” comics in an upcoming Pull List. TL;DR: I love the Guardians of the Galaxy movie. Well, I love about 85% of it, and have serious reservations about a few key issues.

Spoilers abound…

“You said it, bitch.”
Can we please stop calling people bitches? More specifically, stop having male characters call other male characters bitches, as if it were the worst thing one man could call one another. Having a man take a term that represents a certain kind of person – in this case, a headstrong, independent woman who doesn’t take shit from anyone – and turn it into an invective meant to hurt another man as a slight against their masculinity is unnecessary and misogynistic.Such a comment is right up there with calling something “gay.” Surely we’ve moved beyond this as a culture.

Gamora’s costume
Listen up, superhero creators. There are 3 big no’s in creating costumes for female characters: no boob plates, no high heels, and no boob or belly windows. There’s no reason for Gamora or Nebula to wear something as impractical as 3 inch wedge heels. And no, Drax and Star-Lord being shirtless doesn’t count as a male objectification. They’re propped up as an admirable, desireable male physique, whereas Nebula and Gamora’s skin-tight, revealing outfits sexualize them. If Star-Lord doesn’t need heels or a costume that defies gravity, then neither do Gamora or Nebula. At least we can thank Hera they didn’t use Gamora’s costume from the comics.

Howard the Duck
No, Marvel, you don’t get to reboot a freaking talking duck movie before you give a movie to someone who isn’t a straight white man. You had the perfect opportunity to tease a Captain Marvel or Black Widow movie and you wasted it. Hell, you could’ve used the tag on what happened to Nebula after she jumped out of the spaceship. Presumably she’s still alive, and it would be so cool to see her piecing herself together out of the wreckage. But instead we end up with Howard the Duck? *groan*

Lack of diversity
It’s been argued that Gamora is the real star of the movie, and I’m inclined to agree. But, of course, it can’t really be Gamora’s movie because that would mean having a woman protagonist instead of a handsome white dudebro. That same line of reasoning is what makes Glenn Close’s Nova Prime so disappointing. You’d think the leader of an entire planet would have more to do than to look fretful and/or stern while taking orders from a lusty space pirate. Marvel should be ashamed for wasting the phenomenal Glenn Close on such an ineffectual role.

Furthermore, in a galaxy with a sentient tree, a talking raccoon, a space dog, and Howard the freaking Duck, you mean to tell me that there’s only one person of color worth hearing speak? And no, it doesn’t count as diversity if all but one person of color is relegated to background scenery. Andrew Wheeler at Comics Alliance pointed out that “if Marvel makes Thor 3 before it makes Black Panther, it will have made ten movies headlined by blond white men named Chris before it makes one movie headlined by someone who isn’t even white [or female, or LGBTQIA].” That is utterly unacceptable in a company that prides itself on its diversity

That “whore” joke
There were two, really. The first was Rocket telling Gamora to use her sexuality to seduce the quarnex battery from the watchtower guards, which still doesn’t make any sense to me. How in the world is that plan even remotely a good idea? They just established that everyone in the prison is either terrified of her or wants to kill her. While she flirts with Peter in the beginning to steal the Infinity Stone from him, the difference is that in the prison it’s treated as a punchline meant to degrade Gamora rather than a desperate plan she forms herself. In the beginning, she makes her own choice; in the prison, the male characters decide what to do with her body. In the former, she has all the agency; in the latter she’s a sexual object.

But the more offensive joke was when Drax the Destroyer calls Gamora a whore. Gamora, warrior, assassin, and all-around BAMF, is apparently nothing more than “this green whore.” Drax can only speak literally. So where does this accusation of whorish behavior come from? It is neither implicitly nor explicitly noted anywhere that she has previously prostituted herself. If we’re going around accusing people of slutty behavior, that joke would’ve been more appropriate directed at Star-Lord. He’s notorious for sleeping around, so much so that Gamora – who never met him before this movie – rejects his infamous “pelvic sorcery.” He has so much sex with so many random women that he forgets he has one of them in his ship when he steals the Infinity Stone. (Bereet should be a clever Easter egg tie-in to the Avengers, but here she’s hardly more than a briefly seen sexual conquest.) Peter Quill may have started out as an homage to Han Solo, but in the Guardians movie he’s closer to the rebooted, over-sexed Captain Kirk.

The males around Gamora have simply decided that she’s a slut, without any evidence supporting it. (Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with prostitution or being a slut in the first place, but the movie clearly uses the term in a derogatory sense.) Slutty Peter gets Drax’s gratitude while not-slutty Gamora is called a whore. And to do so as a punchline is even more inexcusable. At best, it’s an unfunny joke that has no place in a light-hearted PG-13 movie. At worst, it reinforces rape culture by attempting to make it funny that women should be thought of only in terms of a straight male’s sexual appetite. I mean, come on. It’s infuriating.

It’s hard to be a comics fan if you’re not a straight white man, given that most of the representative iterations of diversity end up as one dimensional tokens, expendable sidekicks, or fridge-able sex objects. DC’s done a pretty terrible job in their comics and movies at creating female, PoC, and/or LGBTQIA characters that aren’t cardboard plot devices used to inspire the male protagonist into heroic action. To be fair, DC gets good marks on television with Arrow (and presumably The Flash), but since the shows won’t crossover into the movies, it’s more or less cancelled out in the grand scheme of things. 

Not that Marvel is much better. Comics-wise, Marvel is slowly but surely getting more diverse, but the MCU is a more depressing story. While the MCU has been good at not actively excluding us non straight/white/male fans, they haven’t been very good at including us in the content we’re fanning over. Black Widow, Pepper Potts, Agent Hill, Peggy and Sharon Carter, Rhodey, and Falcon are awesome, but they don’t really get to do anything outside of the white male superhero protagonists. We saw Steve Rogers hang out at a coffee shop while off the clock, but what does Natasha do when she’s not SHIELD-ing? Why only three straight black dudes in the movies (with no romantic interests so as to keep them “non-threatening”)? Why not an Asian, Native American, Middle Eastern, or Hispanic character with a major role? Or a trans person? I like John C. Reilly and Peter Serafinowicz a ton, but why not hire people of color for those roles instead? Why couldn’t Corpsman Dey go home to his husband instead of his wife? Where in the MCU are the rest of us?

Here’s the thing. You can’t give me Gamora then spend the whole movie slut-shaming her and locking her into an unnecessary romance, then expect me to grateful a woman was even allowed a prominent role. You can’t merchandise the hell out of your male (and animal, and plant) characters and skip the female ones altogether. You can’t claim Guardians is the first Marvel movie written by a woman when it was so substantially re-written by a man that everything from the character personalities to the main story arc is entirely different. Marvel as a corporation may be winning the race against DC to be the most socially progressive of the Big Two, but that victory is due less to the increasing insistence on diversity and more to DC eagerly hobbling itself.

I’m not calling for a boycott of Guardians of the Galaxy, or even suggesting it’s a bad movie. As I said earlier, I really enjoyed the overall film experience. But that doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to have grave concerns about it, call it on its BS, and demand improvement. I’ll read the comics and buy the DVD, but I’ll be angry about that “whore” joke until the end of time.

Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.


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