The first look wasn’t so super after all.
It’s nearly impossible to escape the superhero craze that’s taken over Hollywood. With movies slated until 2020, and more television shows on the air than ever, it’s clear we’ll be in drenched in hero lore for many years to come.
As wonderful as this superhero renaissance has been, we still have a long way to go when it comes to the representation of our female heroes.
Things have gotten better. Just a few years ago we wouldn’t have heard as much of an outcry for Black Widow merchandise, and we’ve finally moved past the hurdle of just greenlighting a Wonder Woman movie. But despite that progress, we still receive trailers like the recent reveal of Supergirl, CBS’s new show about the struggles of Kara Zor-El, Superman’s cousin, who also escaped to Earth during the fall of Kypton.
Needless to say my first reaction to this teaser wasn’t one of admiration. As a young girl I didn’t have access to comic books, so I missed out on a lot of the heroic adventures many IGN readers grew up with. Thanks to our rekindled superhero love, I’m experiencing these valiant stories and interesting characters for the first time—just like many young girls today.
So when I see something like the Supergirl trailer, it’s really disappointing that the property is being treated with the flowery touch we often see in romantic comedies aimed at a female audience. It’s disheartening when the material has a segment showing the hero struggling to find something to wear for a blind date. Especially when just one week prior Scarlett Johansson participated in an SNL skit spoofing this very idea.
The trailer redeems itself at times by showing Kara saving an airplane, but then it cuts to a potential love interest and even has her walking around in a small tight outfit that she promises she won’t wear as her actual costume.
Supergirl’s character is known for having a bold personality, and even has a violent introduction when she first lands on Earth. CBS did remark that it was revamping Supergirl’s origin story, and now that seems to have translated into a twenty-four year old Kara Zor-El that’s uncomfortable in her own skin—though she does want to embrace her potential—who has a headstrong boss she’ll contend with from time to time (that for some reason has a strong opinion on the word “girl”). There’s since been a second trailer released that shows Supergirl in action, but even that trailer has too many “I can’t do it” moments that seem to overshadow her on-screen strengths.
Does all this matter or are we just nitpicking? Supergirl stands out when compared to the other superhero television shows currently airing, even if it is on a different network with different demographics. When the first trailer for Arrow was released, it presented the tale of a shipwrecked survivor that came back to his city to save it from corruption. Fans then were wary of what the CW could do with the property, even with Smallville’s success; expectations were low. But Arrow treats its titular hero with care, and audiences rewarded this care by turning the show into a massive success.
The Flash then comes along with its trailer of a boy with a tragic past who one day gets struck by lightning and suddenly he has abs—oh, and superhuman speed. And here’s Daredevil, a property with some baggage, which from the onset takes a gritty approach to the notion of good vs. evil. These shows were primarily marketed as serious in tone, and have since proven successful. Compare that to what we currently have from this generation’s first DC female superhero show, and it’s a resounding letdown.
Supergirl is entering a questionable climate for female representation in superhero media. In the public eye the only leading female hero we have so far is Black Widow, who serves at best as a secondary character in her male counterparts’ namesake movies. Though she shares more of the spotlight in the Avengers films, and she definitely kicks ass, a scene between her and Bruce Banner in Age of Ultron has been called out as a setback to her character.
We also have Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy, an assassin, who ends up serving more as a love interest for the protagonist, and participates in a climactic final fight with another woman. This isn’t inherently wrong, but it is an all-too-common trope when you have two strong women on screen.
There are a few fantastic women in current hero media: Maria Hill, Skye, and Raina from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., as well as Agent Carter (coming back for a second season!). And of course there’s Scarlet Witch. But there’s still room to grow.
For now, when we finally do receive a female-centric movie or television show, let’s treat it the same way other properties have treated their heroes. It shouldn’t feel like typecasting.
Not all superhero movies and shows need to be gritty or even avoid a fun quirkiness to them either. But when we’re still in the early days of superhero franchises really making a splash on their own merits—because would we have really cared about an Ant-Man movie 10 years ago?—the spotlight is really on creators to treat their heroes and heroines with care.
Esmeralda Portillo is IGN’s Executive Editor of Custom Content. Follow her on Twitter at @EsmeraldaIP to tell her how awesome she is (or if you disagree… still tell her she’s awesome).