Why Supergirl Doesn’t Inspire Hope


I’ve seen three things this week that have set me thinking.

The first was the recent Saturday Night Live skit; the one that takes the form of a spoof trailer for a “Black Widow” movie and stars Scarlett Johansson as a markedly different Natasha Romanoff than any we’ve seen before. She’s got an internship at a fashion magazine and she’s looking for love. It’s an obvious dig at the way female characters are portrayed in Hollywood and it is pretty funny. If you haven’t seen it, check it out now.

The second thing I saw was posted right here on CV. It was a speculative, fan-made intro, again for a “Black Widow” movie. It had a Bond feel to it and was clearly created by somebody who, like me and many others, would like to see Black Widow helm her own movie.

The third thing I saw this week – a thing that I almost wish I hadn’t seen – was the trailer for CBS’s new show: Supergirl.

Ignoring the horribly lazy writing and the cliché-riddled plot, my main problem with the trailer for the new show was that it was almost identical to the SNL spoof trailer for “Black Widow”. I mean – seriously – it’s almost like somebody at CBS saw that skit and said: “That! That’s what I want! That’s my vision for this show!”

Now, I have to admit that I have never been the biggest fan of Supergirl. I have nothing against the character, she just doesn’t appeal to me as much as others do. I’ve caught bits and pieces of Supergirl’s comic book history, but nothing substantial. I also have fond memories of the 1984 film version, but I haven’t seen it since I was very young, and considering the low ratings it has, I probably won’t be tainting my fond memories by watching it again now. I’ve made that mistake before.

Even so, I remember the only thing I really thought was interesting about the character of Kara Zor-El (Superman’s cousin, for those who didn’t already know) was that, unlike her cousin, she actually grew up on Krypton. She was in her teens when she was sent to Earth. This made her a little bit more than just a female Superman. She had this whole “difficulty adjusting to a new planet” thing going on. It seems, however, that the only thing I found interesting about the character is entirely left out of the new show. When we see Kara on Earth, she is working for some kind of media company as Calista Flockhart’s PA. Did I mention that Calista Flockhart’s character seems to be lifted straight from The Devil Wears Prada? We see from an interaction with Jimmy Olsen (portrayed, for the first time I can recall, by a typically attractive man) that Kara, a bullet-proof super-being capable of flight, turns into a nervous, tongue-tied mess when in the presence of a typically attractive man.

It’s all very insulting and absolutely unnecessary.

I understand that the creators of the show want to appeal to a female demographic, but do they really think that the only way they can do that is by making it look pretty much exactly like Sex And The City? (Writer’s note: I’m a straight male and I love Sex And The City so please don’t think I’m being derogatory towards Carrie and co. because I’m not. I’d be just as upset if Batman was shoehorned into a sexy Samantha storyline as I am about this).

In 2016, DC will be releasing Wonder Woman. This film will mark a pivotal point in the ever-expanding history of superhero movies. There’s a very real sense of pressure surrounding its release and a lot of it stems from the fact that the main character is female. This will be the first big-budget superhero movie helmed by a woman in over a decade and, if it flops, there’s a feeling that the blame will be laid upon the gender of its protagonist and there won’t be another for a long time. I really don’t want that to happen.

A quick look at the last couple of female-fronted comic book adaptations, Elektra (2005) and Catwoman (2004), paints a fairly disappointing picture. (I’m sure you can feel the restraint I’m using, especially with regard to the latter). It’s almost as if the studios saw the reaction to those two and just said: “Well, there you have it. People just don’t want female superheroes.” Well fuck that. I’m a fan of comic book movies and I’d love to see a well-made Catwoman or Black Widow movie. My feelings toward those characters have nothing to do with their genders. I didn’t take less of an interest in Supergirl than Superman because I favored the male representation. I just thought it felt a bit been-there-done-that, having already been so exposed to Superman. I didn’t dislike Catwoman (2004) because it was female-centric. I disliked it because it was one of the worst films I’ve ever seen, despite the lead-actress being an Oscar-winner.

It seems to me that studios are unwilling to offer the same resources to a female character that they will offer to a male character. Less money thrown at a project means cheaper actors, cheaper writers, cheaper directors, cheaper SFX, cheaper everything. By simple logic, this will usually result in a poorer final product. Then, when people don’t like the film, they place the blame on the gender of the lead-character. I’ve seen it happen and I don’t want to continue seeing it happen.

I have less hope for Wonder Woman now that I’ve seen what they’ve done with Supergirl. Between Marvel and DC there is a cast of female comic book characters every bit as interesting as their male counterparts. I’m worried that I will never get to see them on the big-screen because of the way Hollywood handles them. Is it too much to ask for female characters to be characters first and female second?

(Writer’s note: Now I’ve had time to think about it, I take it back; a Batman/Samantha storyline in Sex And The City would have been gold).

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