Superheroes: Women Behind Action Films and ‘Gotham City Sirens’

Image of ‘Gotham Girls’ cartoon with Catwoman, Harley Quinn, and Poison Ivy. Copyright goes to DC and Warner Bros.

Hi! It’s Annie!

I’ve been wanting to make a post about this subject since last week, but other projects kept pushing it off and I was looking for more material to write about for this post. Jump to yesterday when I got around to watching ‘Gunpowder Milkshake’ and ‘Black Widow’. Both female led action films that feature a cast of primarily women. Really, I love seeing any film like this come to the surface. We need more of them. But there was such a profound difference between the two of them. And while I’m not going to review them, the review for ‘Black Widow’ will come later; I want to talk about what the differentiating factor between these two movies was. A female director. And sometimes female writers as well. And this subject also comes up a lot when talking about the upcoming ‘Gotham City Sirens’. Something that I have been excited about for a good while that could crumple my excitement with a single decision. This is why we need female creatives behind the scenes.

‘Gotham City Sirens’:

‘The Suicide Squad’ was definitely a success among fans. There’s no disputing that. And while the gore exceeded my level of horrifying intake, I could see why people liked it. The movie did justice for many of its characters. And with the success of this movie, many people are calling for James Gunn to be the director of the upcoming ‘Gotham City Sirens’ project which is also expected to have an R rating. I think this is an extraordinarily bad idea. And it’s not because I dislike an R rating; I did actually really love ‘Birds of Prey’. And it’s also not because I don’t want to see that level of gore again (which let’s be honest I don’t, but gore doesn’t make a movie bad). It’s because we need white men to stop directing every single action film out there regardless of whether or not the movie is about women or POC. Women and POC need to be allowed to tell their own stories. And slamming millionaire James Gunn in a female led movie just because he did well with ‘The Suicide Squad’ will do this film no favors. None. You want to know why? Below I’ll give you some really good examples for why female led films NEED female directors right now.

‘Gunpowder Milkshake’:

This movie came out on Netflix a while ago, and its trailer immediately captured the attention of viewers. And it was truly gorgeous. The neon 80’s colors accompanied with the library that doubled as a safe-house for weapons were great ideas. The cast featured the likes of Karen Gillan, Lena Headey, Angella Bassett, and Michelle Yeoh. And this is a movie about female assassins, so they’re all kicking ass in the film. What’s not to like? Apparently everything. The choreographed fight scenes were uninspired, the dialogue was cringey, and many of the plot points didn’t come together at the end. But worse than all of that was the cast of women who were given nothing to work with, even though they’ve all proved themselves time and again in Hollywood. Instead they were given scenes that echoed some of the most stupid assumptions about women that I’ve ever seen in my life. Because the biggest catch to this movie is that it was directed, written, and produced by men. This was not a woman’s story, it was what men think a woman’s story would be. No female creatives behind the scenes to be seen. Which resulted in one absolutely atrocious scene that featured Karen Gillan’s character talking with the main villain (a man) who insisted he was a feminist to her. He spent a good long while talking about how he was a feminist the minute his daughter was born and that he liked all of that “unicorn” stuff. But a son was something different and more familiar. I’m not sure if this was supposed to be sexist or not. Considering the lack of understanding the movie had for women in general, I couldn’t be too sure. But even if it wasn’t, the entire scene was completely missing the point. The societal issue women face is not that men have absolutely no idea what feminism is. How many times do women around the world have to educate men daily for us to drill this in? The issue is that men willingly come up with excuses so that their level of comfort won’t change. It doesn’t matter what he perceives feminism to be because feminism isn’t really for him. Not to mention that the fact that the main villain had to bring up feminism at all even though it had nothing to do with the scene, other than the fact that the person sitting across from him was a woman, was ignorant in itself. And the entire conversation is a good depiction of how all the male creatives on this film had absolutely no idea what they were doing. Because they created a feminist movie without any female creatives. They essentially did exactly what the main villain did. They talked a lot about feminism without actually including women in their views of it. And because these directors were men, male critics swore up and down the wall that the entire film was somehow Karen Gillan’s fault. Even though in any action film starring a celebrated male actor, the director probably would have received the blame.

‘Black Widow’:

Unfortunately, ‘Black Widow’ was written by men with some help from women. There is the plus that women did aid in at least going over this script. And one of the major editors of the script was none other than the female director, Cate Shortland. In the film, most women will notice a period joke. When Alexei reunites with Natasha and Yelena he comments at their hostility toward him by essentially asking Yelena if she’s on her period. Shortland, Scarlett Johansson, and Florence Pugh were all originally angry with Eric Pearson (the main writer) for having written this joke. Pearson eventually stated that the joke was to show that Alexei was a lame old-timer with skewed views, but this still didn’t sit well with Shortland. Together with Scarlett and Florence, she completely changed the dialogue proceeding the joke so that it would be more accurate to how these women would respond. Which was the line “I don’t get my period dipshit, I don’t have a uterus.” Shortland crafted this response with Pugh because of the surgeries that Widows have to endure during the program. And it also added humor back into the scene, essentially allowing the women in the scene to refuse to be seen as victims of the joke. Would this have been changed in such an important way if a female director hadn’t been directing it? I highly doubt it. In fact, I know for a fact it wouldn’t have. A female creative who was in charge had to look at that script and apply her own knowledge for it to work.

In short, the plight to get James Gunn on the next ‘Gotham City Sirens’ film is extremely misled at best. Cathy Yan did an amazing job with ‘Birds of Prey’ and she is a woman and a POC. We need more of that. And if you don’t like Cathy Yan, then look at other female directors. Not male ones. James Gunn may be a good director, but he’s not the right fit for a female led action film. Especially because we already have so few of those as it is. ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ and ‘Black Panther’ were directed by POC. ‘Birds of Prey’ was directed by a woman. We can’t stop this streak of letting marginalized people tell their own stories just because you liked that one movie. I’m sorry, we just can’t.

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

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