Making Marvelous Women

DC Comics’s “Suicide Squad” was one of the most anticipated summer movies this year. The quirky, colorful trailer promised a light-hearted supervillain movie with bold, unapologetic female characters like Harley Quinn, Katana, and Enchantress. For what seemed like the first time, female supervillains were going to take the spotlight. Comic book aficionados and feminists rejoiced at the sight of “Suicide Squad” trailers.

But when the movie came out, feminists stopped cheering. While the trailer and pre-release clips indicated a cast of capable, nuanced, complex female supervillains, the movie failed to deliver. In fact, the film fell back into old tropes of sexist typecasting. Katana, a Japanese sword-wielding master, is silent for most of the film. Her entire concept is tied to a male character, her husband. Then there’s Enchantress, a powerful deity who inhabits the body of Dr. Moone, a quivering mess of a woman who is utterly dependent on the support of her lover and protector Rick Flag. Enchantress herself is marginally better. The only way to activate her goddess-like powers is to gyrate seductively, make out with strangers, and wear a series of revealing undergarments.

The most anticipated character, Harley Quinn, brought the greatest disappointment. Praised as a feminist icon, the comic book version of her found independence from the Joker and became so popular that some believed she overshadowed the male villain who inspired her. But on the big screen, she takes several steps back. She’s back with the Joker, a man who used electroshock to drive her mad, convinced her to jump into a vat of chemicals, and offered her body to a business partner.

Harley Quinn is an exaggeration of all the sexist tropes of female film characters. She’s eye candy. She’s hypersexualized. She’s insane. Her character is entirely dependent on her male lover. And while I commend her unapologetic and uninhibited attitude, it disappears in the presence of her beau, the Joker. In fact, her whole agenda is based on faith that the Joker will rescue her.

The deficiency of strong female characters is disturbingly noticeable in the superhero media. While characters like Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss in “The Hunger Games” and Daisy Ridley’s Rey in “Star Wars” have emerged, the most recent Avengers movies, made by Marvel, feature only two female superheroes in a main cast of ten characters, and none of the crucial plot drivers are female.

But there is a bright side to this disappointing new blockbuster. The criticism slathered on “Suicide Squad” shows a new awareness of sexist stereotypes portrayed in fictional media. Audiences were disgruntled with the sexism present in film persona. All over YouTube trailers, IMDb, and other open-discussion sites, “Suicide Squad” was met with a wave of criticism for the misogynistic undertones, as well as large demand for female characters with more uplifting narratives.

While we, as Andover students, may not be able to directly affect the creative decisions of Time Warner executives or 21st Century Fox writers, it is our criticism, choices, and money that shapes the film industry. If we decide not to support films with characters like Harley Quinn, Enchantress, and Katana, and instead openly criticize them for overtly sexist themes, we can steer the cultural movement in the right direction. We can demand a film industry that gives these female characters the opportunities women, even fictional ones, deserve.