When it comes to female roles in blockbusters, there is inarguably underrepresentation. While women make up half of the world’s population, by and large when studios set about making an expensive reboot, sequel, or franchise gamble, the film’s main protagonist is a male. As a result of this, not only do the female characters get second or third billing, but their existence in the film is entirely dependent upon their relationship to the man. They’re the girlfriend, the wife, or the love interest dragged into whatever mayhem the Transformers have caused now, with little to do besides act scared, maybe throw out a couple of one-liners, and serve as character motivation for our male hero.
Things are getting better, though. In 2006, only one out of the top 17 highest grossing films of the year featured a female protagonist, whereas last year with Star Wars, The Hunger Games, Cinderella, and Inside Out women led four of the top 10 highest grossing films. And now, with Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 promising to be one of the biggest films of 2017, writer/director James Gunn is asserting that the film carries not only serious representation, but female characters that have more to discuss than the other male characters in the movie.
In a post on Facebook celebrating International Day of the Girl (via CS), Gunn mentioned the important role that Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2’s female characters of Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Nebula (Karen Gillan), and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) play:
“Women all over the world have been pushed to the sidelines in the interests of men, and their person hood is often forgotten or delegitimized. This is true in the realms of politics and education and religion. But it is also true in the realm of STORIES. That is my personal area of expertise, and that is where I believe women – and girls – deserve the fullness of character that men have often received. I have done my best, as a male writer, with varying degrees of success, to bring female characters and female stories to the forefront. Whether they’re protagonists like Ana in Dawn of the Dead or Starla in Slither, comedy relief like Deadly Girl, Nightbird, and Power Chick in The Specials, or the insane, scene-stealing roles usually reserved for men, like Libby in SUPER. And I can’t wait for you all to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, with Gamora, Nebula, and Mantis in action, where we not only pass the Bechdel test, but run over it and back up over it again and again in an eighteen-wheeler truck, and where their stories and the men’s stories don’t come at the expense of each other, but are interwoven in a way to strengthen and optimize all of them.”
For those unfamiliar, the Bechdel test is a way of measuring whether a work of fiction features female that exist separate from men. A piece of fiction passes the Bechdel test if it features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. You’d be surprised how many films fail this test hard, but of course the test is not always the be-all, end-all measure of the quality of a film’s female representation. For example, Mad Max: Fury Road fails the test horribly, and yet is one of the most feminist films of the past decade.
It’s heartening to hear that Gunn is actively trying to bring female stories to the forefront, especially given that he’s at the helm of one of the biggest movies of the year. We’ve seen great strides taken in the past five years or so to bring women to the forefront, as male-driven studios no longer have an excuse to wave off female-fronted stories as “not profitable” in the wake of Hunger Games, Twilight, Frozen, Bridesmaids, Maleficent, Gone Girl, etc. Things still aren’t perfect, but when someone like J.J. Abrams takes the reigns of the biggest film franchise in history and asserts that it’s going to have a female lead, it paves the way for even more female-fronted stories to be told on massive canvases.
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 opens in theaters on May 5, 2017.