women and comics
The Times‘ Manohla Dargis on women in Hollywood: “Women are starved for representations of themselves”
This is not a story about comics — but in a way, it is: In a fairly devastating piece in the New York Times and a no-holds-barred interview with Jezebel, film critic Manohla Dargis lays out the sorry state of films made by and for women in Hollywood today.
Dargis presents the evidence in painstaking and depressing detail. First there’s the good news: hits like Sex and the City, Mamma Mia, and The Twilight Saga: New Moon have made it all but impossible to dismiss women as a “niche” audience. (Which stands to reason, since they’re 51% of the population after all.) The bad news, of course, is that these films — and most romantic comedies and Sandra Bullock vehicles, to name a pair of other standard and successful “femme-driven” film types — are not very good. Dargis argues that their success stems from a massive number of female moviegoers desperate to see themselves represented somehow, anyhow, on screen.
Another silver lining: women-directed films have some hot Oscar prospects this year, led by Kathryn Bigelow’s masterfully suspenseful Iraq War action-drama The Hurt Locker. But Bigelow had to struggle for years to get that movie made, while equally worthy male directors with similar track records cruise from one big-budget star vehicle to the next. And the critical success of The Hurt Locker or Nora Ephron’s Julie & Julia can’t mask the fact that the major Hollywood studios released a grand total of 11 films directed by women this year. Want a comics connection? Soon-to-be Marvel parent company Disney had one; DC owner Warner Bros. had none. Meanwhile, perhaps Bigelow shouldn’t hold her breath on Oscar night: In the Academy Awards’ 81-year history, only three women have been nominated for Best Director, none of whom went on to win.
With its unique blend of Marvel-minutiae mastery and near-total frankness, Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort’s Blah Blah Blog on Marvel.com tends to be an extraordinary document even on days when it’s not touching the third rail of fanboy politics. But in his most recent post, Brevoort does exactly that, addressing the question of why, despite having a great big universe at its disposal, Marvel’s comics tend to star white dudes from the U.S. of A.
Responding to a reader question regarding the difficulty of sustaining books with international leads, like Captain Britain & MI:13 or Alpha Flight, Brevoort expands the issue, likening the situation to the plight faced by “series with female leads, or African-American leads, or leads of any other particular cultural bent”:
Because we’re an American company whose primary distribution is centered around America, the great majority of our existing audience seems to be white American males. So while within that demographic you’ll find people who are interested in a wide assortment of characters of diverse ethnicities and backgrounds, whenever your leads are white American males, you’ve got a better chance of reaching more people overall.
Interestingly, Brevoort seems to view “American” as a far more key component for a book’s success than “white” or “male”: He goes on to speculate that books whose leads are black or female and American will have an easier go of it than books whose leads are white and male but foreign.
There’s an awful lot to chew on in there, from the assessment of Marvel’s audience to the characterization of their interests to the comparison of international characters with women or minority characters to the whole chicken-egg question of which came first, the demographic or the subject matter. Is Brevoort’s analysis a common-sense observation, a self-fulfilling prophecy, or something else entirely? What do you think?
This week’s controversy over the scheduling of a Twilight movie at San Diego Comic-Con raised an issue that we at Good Comics for Kids have been thinking about for a while: Why don’t girls’ comics (and their other enthusiasms, for that matter) get any respect? Even the comics bloggers who leaped to defend the Twilight fans often speak with contempt of genres aimed at tween and teen girls, an attitude that was on full display later this week when Yen Press announced it would be publishing a Twilight manga.
So I sent out the Bat-Signal to my fellow Good Comics for Kids bloggers and asked what they thought.
Robin Brenner: I find it especially distressing that the SDCC crowd, made up of fans who have been typically dismissed and marginalized by the larger culture including comics fans, fantasy fans, and sci-fi fans, seem to think it’s perfectly warranted to dump on fans who you would think they have a lot more in common with than traits to divide them.