Jul 28 2014 10:30am

SDCC’s “Women Who Kick Ass” Panelists Only Want to Play Male Superheroes

San Diego Comic-Con 2014 SDCC Women Who Kick Ass panel Entertainment Weekly Tatiana Maslany Nicole Beharie Maisie Williams Natalie Dormer Sarah Paulson Katey Sagal gender sexism Hollywood male superheroes

For the last few years, Entertainment Weekly has moderated the “Women Who Kick Ass” panel at San Diego Comic Con. This annual event brings together several impressive women—usually those currently in the zeitgeist—to speak to the female experience in Hollywood, pop culture, and geekdom.

Though past panels had left fans somewhat underwhelmed, 2013’s group stunned and then invigorated congoers with their brutally frank discussions of the sexism they’d encountered in the industry. While nothing could eclipse that, this year’s panel still exposed several uncomfortable gender truths.

This year’s panel included Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black; she was also present last year), Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story: Freak Show), Nicole Beharie (Sleepy Hollow), Katey Sagal (Futurama, Sons of Anarchy), Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones), and Natalie Dormer (GoT and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1). Toward the end of the panel, the ladies were asked which superhero or supervillain they’d like to play, and why.

Maisie Williams said she’d want to play Spider-Man because he’s “agile and... unsuspecting.”

“The psychology of [Batman] is so interesting” was Dormer’s reasoning for wanting to be the Dark Knight.

Maslany’s answer was delightfully specific and timely: “I’d love to play Raphael from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

Beharie picked the Incredible Hulk.

Sagal went recent—Caesar from Planet of the Apes.

Paulson chose Wolverine.

Notice how not a single one of them cited a female hero or villain. No one said Wonder Woman—though, honestly, that’d be a bit awkward to say, this weekend—Catwoman, Black Widow, Storm... Not that they’d be restricted to the classics, either—they could’ve suggested the recently-rebooted Ms. Marvel or the even more recent lady Thor!

In some ways, it’s inspiring that these women talk about male heroes as if there are no barriers to a woman taking on that mantle, as the recent Thor development has taught us. However, it seems more likely that their knee-jerk answers illustrate the profound lack of universally inspiring or realistic female heroes. It’s certainly food for thought.

Though the superhero conversation was the most striking part of the panel, here are other great highlights.

Grappling with and trying to transcend female stereotypes

  • “Katniss Everdeen is as popular as she is because she’s an anomaly,” Dormer said. Though she had plenty of praise for her show’s own spunky heroine...
  • “I watched Maisie Williams on season 1 of Game of Thrones and thought, ‘Wow, this show writes really quality women so well,’” Dormer said. “Male writers tend to write women as either the angel or the whore.”
  • She added that “Game of Thrones shows you all the different ways you can wield power... physically, psychologically, sexually—and dragons.”
  • Beharie was attracted to the role of Abbie in Sleepy Hollow because it wasn’t defined by a man. “There’s a certain strength I have now,” she added, “as being a lead on the show, that I didn’t have before.”
  • Then you have Maslany, who plays several female clones and now, a transman as well: “It was a huge responsibility and a huge privilege to explore gender in that way.”

Kickass moments on-set

  • Dormer: “I’ve been having a lot of fun running around with a semi-automatic weapon in The Hunger Games.”
  • Sagal: “I particularly had fun whacking someone with a skateboard.”
  • Maslany’s favorite empowering moment was “Alison’s intervention” (in season 1) when she “word vomits” all over her neighbors and friends.

Bonding moments among the panel

  • Paulson, who will be playing conjoined twins on Freak Show, told Maslany, “I plan on picking your brain a lot.”
  • How does Maslany get into the groove of playing the different clones? Music!
  • Beharie and Paulson commiserated over Hollywood’s obsession with the size of women’s asses.
  • Oh, and for the record: Paulson thinks her “old lady birdseed boobs” on AHS are awesome, thankyouverymuch.

Role models

  • Sagal looks up to Hillary Clinton.
  • Maslany’s role model is actually Leela from Futurama, aww.

The advice they wish they’d followed

  • Sagal: “Live your life first, and the work and success will follow.”
  • Paulson: “Honestly? Don’t panic.”

Photo: @Ashaa_Mdot/Twitter

1. Ragnarredbeard
"In some ways, it’s inspiring that these women talk about male heroes as if there are no barriers to a woman taking on that mantle, as the recent Thor development has taught us."

With all due respect, the recent Thor change isn't about empowering women. Its about selling comic books written by a guy. A cyncial, and not terribly creative, attempt to generate interest.

Now, if you made an entirely new female superhero that didn't attempt to cash in on a previous big name, that would be empowering.
2. Bluejay
@1: Why does it have to be either-or? Yes, creating new female superheroes would be empowering -- but so does demonstrating that iconic roles can be inhabited by different kinds of people and interpreted in new ways. Making Thor a woman is just as valid as making Starbuck a woman, or making Nick Fury a black man, or casting women and minorities in traditionally white, male roles in Shakespeare's plays. There are lots of ways to increase visibility and diversity, and they're all good.

Would it be awesome if Marvel created new female superheroes? Yes. Would it be awesome if they hired more women as writers? Yes. And we should still push for those things to happen. That doesn't mean that the efforts they ARE making to be more diverse don't deserve to be acknowledged and celebrated. It's possible to say both "that's awesome" and "that's not enough; keep going."

Also, commercial motives and idealistic motives don't always have to be at odds with each other. Is Marvel trying to generate more interest, appeal to a wider audience, and increase sales? Absolutely; that's what a for-profit business is supposed to do. That doesn't mean it isn't ALSO the right thing to do.
3. Tara D.
BlueJay, if I could, I would like your comment. Spot on!
4. Random22
Well said Bluejay. Thank you.
Luis Milan
5. LuisMilan
"In some ways, it’s inspiring that these women talk about male heroes as if there are no barriers to a woman taking on that mantle, as the recent Thor development has taught us."

I'm all for letting someone else take up the power and position of Thor (tho I wish it was Lady Sif, but anyway... ), yet I don't get the reason for someone else taking Thor's _name_. Who will he become now? The Asgardian-formerly-known-as-Thor?

On the other hand, I can't very much complain about the lack of new superheroines and immediately complain that they're not using an old heroine that's already known, so... I guess I'll have to wait and see.
6. Sophist
I think part of the issue is that actors who play these characters don't necessarily read the books or watch the movies or TV shows which give them examples. There are strong female characters to choose, after all: Buffy, Veronica Mars, Katniss, others from GoT such as Brienne or Asha. Then too, maybe they just like the characters they mentioned.
Theresa Wymer
9. Tekalynn
@5: Presumably Thor Odinson remains Thor Odinson. AFAIK "Thor" is more of a bestowed title in the Asgardverse. Or at least some Asgardverses. I have no idea what current continuity says.
10. Ethne88
Though I find it satisfying that this panel has gotten better with time, I wish the panelists had chosen female characters to portray. As some have stated above, there are quite a few awesome women in pop culture that still need their fair share of screentime.
On the other hand... these women already portray amazing female characters! I just hope that kids will grow up with their roles as examples of how awesome women can be!
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
11. Lisamarie
Thanks for posting all this great coverage. I've been on vacation for a week, so I'm gorging on a backlog of Tor posts.

I agree, it IS food for thought. On one hand, they can pick/like who they want and be free to do so. On the other hand, it is a little telling that given the sample size, the characters that came to mind are all male. But I do think we're making progress and steps and there are more visible female characters out there. Who knows, maybe one day some male on a panel will say he'd want to play a female character!

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