Aug 12 2014 11:52am

This Video Perfectly Illustrates Why We Don’t Have a Female-Led Superhero Movie

female superhero pitches female-led superhero movie video parody Angelfire Alison Vingiano

Female superheroes have no problem kicking ass in ensemble movies, but when it comes to pitching their own solo ventures, they can’t stand up to rampant Hollywood sexism about what does and doesn’t sell. That’s the premise of this funny-but-also-too-real video from the web series Adventures of Angelfire. In Angelfire’s first adventure, the redheaded crimefighter tries to pitch her life story to the big studios, only to come up against more resistance than a vengeful rogues’ gallery.

For all that the feminist studio execs say they’re dying to do a female superhero movie, Angelfire’s only options are to be a co-lead, a victim, a love interest, or a bitch. And to add insult to injury, she isn’t even as cool as Miley Cyrus.

Angelfire’s unmasked alter ego is Alison Vingiano, who co-wrote and starred in a Her parody. The fact that it replaced Scarlett Johansson with Seth Rogen shows her knack for commenting on how men and women are portrayed differently. To that end, I got a kick out of the shot of her glumly eating a cupcake while wandering the streets of New York City.

Vingiano explains the short’s impetus, starting with her friend Jordan’s time working with a production company catering solely to female filmmakers:

Meanwhile, I had just seen Godzilla and was angry about the non-roles for women in that film. I thought Jordan’s idea was a clever, funny, feminist parody of Hollywood, so I worked with him on the script and producing the video. We filmed it before Sony announced their woman-led Spider-Man spinoff, but I imagine if Spider-Woman was a real person, this is what many of her pitch meetings would be like.

And sadly enough, Spider-Woman would probably get called “sweetheart” and “toots,” too.

1. DougL
Well, I am waiting for it. I have watched so many crap female superhero movies (Aeon Flux...ya, you!) but I have really enjoyed movies like Tomb Raider, Underworld and even Resident Evil. They probably all failed that feminist test though, so I am not sure they are what women are looking for.
2. mirana
@DougL What women are looking for is exceptionally easy to imagine. Just take any of your fav superhero/fantasy/scifi films and imagine that the lead male is female. Even imagine the other roles gender reversed. Change not much else. THAT'S IT.

Take a movie with a female lead and change it to a male in your mind and you'll probably be better equipped to imagine what might be offensive in that role as well. Doesn't work for everything, but it's a good starting point.

That Angelfire video is just depressing as hell.
Chris Nelly
3. Aeryl
@1, Resident Evil is one of the most feminist sets of movies I can think of, which is why all the hubbub a few weeks ago about Sony beating DC and Marvel to the female led superhero movie was weird to me, because Sony did that with the RE movies awhile ago.

Alice was always first. She's never defined by a relationship with a man, she's never shackled to motherhood, the movies pass the Bechdel tests, she's surrounded by other competent women, she doesn't become empowered by bringing other women down. No woman is ever viewed as less capable. Ada Wong may have fought in a ridiculous dress, but no one in the movie doubts that she can.

Plotwise, the story went off the rails at Extinction.
Chris Nelly
4. Aeryl
Ooops duplicate
Deana Whitney
5. Braid_Tug
Or we could have more than one token female in the group of good and bad guys per ensemble movie. (Oceans 12, anyone?)

X-men is good at having several females in the cast, but except for Storm, always seemed paired up in the movies and rarely talk to each other without the guys around.

Black Widow kicked some serious butt! Yet her screen time was rather limited in The Avengers.
Chris Nelly
6. Aeryl
She had the third most time, eclipsed only by Cap and Tony, followed by Banner, Thor and Hawkeye.

She is also clearly the main character. She's the first Avenger, NOT ON SITE, summoned, she recruits Banner, integrates Cap to the modern era, interrogates Loki, rescues Hawkeye, makes the call that the Avengers have to be onsite, and figures out how to close the portal.

There were problems in The Avengers(like Maria and Tasha not stopping to talk to each other AT ALL) but BW is not one of them.
7. thekatwoman369
I get trying to make it in hollywood without compromising yourself. But I think we need to start with the line about the nucleur industry sponsoring everything we do. When the money is where you have to start with ideas, no idea is safe. I believe that's why Kickstarter was started in the first place.
8. Random22
If only Whedon had spent more time introducing BW's character than he did her feet. Seriously, if we're just going to gloss over Whedon's foot fetish in order to claim he makes good female characters, then we might as well not bother.
Chris Nelly
9. Aeryl
This is the second time I've seen you do this @8.

What are you talking about. Her feet were in the movie for seconds.

The well known director with a penchant for strong female characters and a foot fetish is Quintin Tarantino, not Joss Whedon.
10. Athreeren
11. Random22
And of course when we introduce Pepper and Tony in the Avengers, Pepper is barefoot while even under the Iron Man Armor, Tony retains his shoes. We even get a nice long shot of Pepper walking across the floor barefoot. I'm sorry, but Whedon has coasted on his '90s Girl Power rep for too long, but even that was just an excuse for him to indulge his fetishes. He's got clever marketing to have labelled himself a feminist despite all that, and his cult like fanbase will always defend him, but his biases are becoming ever more obvious.
Chris Nelly
12. Aeryl
@10 @11, Do people not walk around barefoot at home in your world?

Serenity is their home, EVERY character walked around barefoot at least once I can think of. Tony is established as an OCD personality from the start, he would rather cut his feet off than go barefoot. But Pepper, is relaxing at home. Why would she be wearing shoes?

That, IS NOT, indulging a fetish. Out of 10+ hours of recorded video, someone comes up with less than two minutes of footage? That's ridiculous. And shaming. Which isn't feminist, for all your claim that are trying to do just that.

Robert Rodriguez getting Salma Hayek to pour tequila down her leg and foot into Tarantino's mouth is indulging a fetish. The five minute credit roll into Death Proof of Sidney Poitiers feet, is indulging a fetish(and so long as everyone involved is aware that this is sexually stimulating for the director, which they are as Tarantino is very open his fetish, there isn't any harm).

Happening to have bare feet in a shot where people typically go barefoot is not indulging a fetish.

As far as as Whedon's fanbase, yes I have a problem with them at times, and yes they will defend him against anything, which is terrible. I have no problem holding Whedon to task for the things he's done. He feels that his empowering past means he gets a free pass when it comes to somethings. But you're reaching with this.

And go watch Dollhouse, where imprinting stands for the patriarchal culture we are all indoctrinated into, and then come tell me the man who created that, is not a feminist. That doesn't mean he's always right, or that he doesn't have his own privilege to examine, but it does mean he's coming at the problem from the right direction.
13. Random22
I'm glad that, as a defender of Joss, you are the one that is pointing out the pattern. Joss Whedon keeps writing scenarios where it just keeps happening that women walk around in barefeet. When the filmmaker keeps writing those same it-just-happens situations, then you've got a problem. Why do we need that nice long, loving, shot of Pepper's feet to establish that she just so happens to not wear shoes at home? Why do we need that shot of Black Widow's stocking clad toes that she just so happens to use to kick a mobster in the throat with, why do we need that lovely shot of River's feet as she just happens to pad around the ship? It seems that just happens, happens a lot.
Chris Nelly
14. Aeryl
There is no long loving shot of Pepper's feet, there is a shot of Pepper barefoot, Tasha's torn stocking is a lovely touch that establishes A LOT about her versatility, abilities and sensibilities, and River's foot first dancer's gait establishes much about a character that doesn't speak for herself.

And again, if he does have a fetish, so long as the people involved are aware, who cares? I'd rather long loving shots of feet than ass and boobs any day(which is why the Pepper inclusion is SO weird, that camera lingers more over her other attributes than her feet).
15. ad
Joss Whedon keeps writing scenarios where it just keeps happening that women walk around in barefeet.
Have you considered the possibility that the point of that shot is to convey emotional information to the audience? Booted feet convey, for example, strength and a disconnection from the world they are standing on. Bare feet convey physical vulnerability, but also a connection to the world they are standing on. So River is introduced as someone vulnerable, but very aware of the world around her.

Likewise, having Pepper barefoot, and Stark in shoes suggests that he is more closed off from the world than her. (But I have only really seen Firefly, so I will stop there with examples!)
16. NormanM
@8, 11, & 13, I don't know whether Whedon has a foot fetish or not. Not because I'm his defender or fanboy or some such. Because I don't care. Nobody cares, as far as I can tell, but you. Which is fine, you're allowed to care about whatever minutiae you wish. But when you start acting dismissive and unpleasant to others because of your "Joss's fetish" fetish, we have a problem.

As they say on the tumblr, "stay pressed, haters."
17. Herb25926
Considering "corrupt executive" is the villain of roughly every other movie, and about half of those are oil execs, I think we can safely conclude Hollywood doesn't have that particular fear (not many nuclear execs, but that is a testament to how unimportant nuclear is, not the other way around).
Marc Gioglio
18. Fuzzix
"What women are looking for is exceptionally easy to imagine. Just take any of your fav superhero/fantasy/scifi films and imagine that the lead male is female. Even imagine the other roles gender reversed. Change not much else. THAT'S IT."

I don't disagree.

Male superhero movies fall into 1 of 3 categories.
1) Super hot guy, ala Thor, Captain America, Superman, Green Lantern
2) Attractive self-centered jerk, ala Iron Man, Batman
3) Unattractive Screw-up, ala Kick-Ass, Scott Pilgrim, Green Hornet (A relatively new market if you ask me).
Can you find me 1 successful superhero movie that breaks this mold?
Please tell me you can, but I can't. Anyway...

Reversing these roles we get
1) Super hot girl, ala Alice, Buffy
2) Attractive self-centered bitch, ala Faith
3) Unattractive to Normal Screw-up, (Again, relatively new, but none to date. Let me know if you find one)

Is the argument really for more two-dimensional Thor clones? Heck, the lack of dimension makes it so characters like Superman and Captain America can't even have their own movies and need an ensemble to make the movie watchable.

Or is the argument for more jerk characters, because the only way to show true depth is to make your hero someone who any sane person would avoid? I guess these are historically the most fun to watch, and upon thinking about, I can't really come up with a lead female character for this role, so maybe "Justice is a Bitch" would fill the void. Of course she would still need to be attractive, at least on par with Robert Downey Jr., Christian Bale, or George Clooney.

Or is the argument for the female equivalent of Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim? Of course the plot would need to be focused around her quest to prove herself to a (Zombie, Alien, Shapeshifting) man, as these movies seem to be about the guy having to prove himself to the girl, and I think that defeats the purpose, but maybe...come to think of it, this is Twilight isn't it?

Again, I am not trying to disagree. I just think that when one imagines role reversal, thay fail to see that Justice is a Bitch is Batman; Zombie, shapeshifting love interest is the equivalent of Kick-ass; and Super hot cardboard cut out is the same as Thor; and they are just as enjoyable no matter what gender the lead is.
19. GarrettC
What makes me uncomfortable about Black Widow in The Avengers is her standard mode of operation. Her introduction is that she's in an abusive scenario, but it's okay because she wants to be there. And it's a microcosm of her role in the movie, which demonstrates again and again that her superpower is appearing weak in order to emotionally manipulate men.

It has the classic Whedon flip, of course, that she's not weak and that she's not vulnerable, but it still leaves me feeling icky. We have one strong female Avenger on the team, and her power is putting herself in the way of abusive men and being emotionally manipulative.
20. Craig Forsyth
I'm not about to get into the argument about whether there ought to be more female lead characters in superhero films, but I suspect reasons behind the disparity are a little more varied than simple prejudice.

A number of those which have been made have flopped. Take Elektra, Aeon Flux, Ultraviolet and Barb Wire in relatively recent(ish) years. In fact, why not let's go back a bit and look at the appropriately-named Tank Girl, and Supergirl before that.

While poor execution will have played a massive part in their failure, these films were box office bombs, which I suspect is the main reason studios shy away. Also, I suspect the core audience for superhero films (or at least comic book adaptations) has traditionally been a male group desperately in need of inspirational male heroes.

The world has changed and my anecdotal impression is that many more women now identify with the 'geek' label. Perhaps it's time Hollywood made another foray into this area. I wouldn't hold my breath though, not when dollars are at stake.
Chris Nelly
21. Aeryl
A number of those which have been made have flopped. Take Elektra, Aeon Flux, Ultraviolet and Barb Wire in relatively recent(ish) years. Infact, why not let's go back a bit and look at the appropriately-named Tank Girl, and Supergirl before that.

Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, Superman Returns, Superman III, IV, V, VI. Daredevil, League of Extraordinary Gentleman, Hellboy, The Punisher, Punisher War Zone, Ghost Rider, Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance, Captain America.

All male led super hero movies that either underperformed or were just flat out atrocious.

Yet no one ever decided that male super hero movies were risky.
22. drizzt_scimitar
The problem is, right now, NOTHING male-lead is risky. It might fail, like a lot of the terrible movies you mentioned, but male-lead is the current standard operating procedure. It doesn't matter if it fails, because we all think in the back of our minds that "well, it must have been the script/actors/directing/etc.'s fault". However, since a female-lead film isn't the norm, when it fails, it's very easy to just say "well, female-lead films of this type just don't work" (from a studio perspective). It isn't right, but that's how it is.

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