Sunday, April 6, 2014

Kitty Pryde and Sexism in Marvel Movies

Disclaimer: I haven't read any X-Men comics, but I hang out on enough nerdy sites and read webpages explaining and deconstructing storylines and such that I have a decent background and understanding  of the mythos. It comes up enough that I was able to name most of the characters in the uber-excessive character-dropping of The Last Stand. And as I've said before, I have nothing to prove, so if you think I have no credibility, then, well, fuck you- you're prolly the type that wouldn't think what I'm about to say is of value even if I've read some.   

I've said here and  here that I'm not as impressed with the female representations in the Marvel movies as some people seem to think I should be (obviously, these people don't know me well enough, but still). Well, let me tell you something, I've now become pretty frustrated and huffy over something about the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past



Whilst I was watching that preview and literally flapping my hands in delight, I was reckless enough to swipe the mousepad and make the screen scroll down. This meant I accidentally was faced with nigh but a wall of... the COMMENTS.



Right? Scary-ass shit, you'd think. Well, actually, it wasn't, for the most part. Mostly fanboys  gushing about how excited they were. But before I could stop myself, I noticed a comment that had the name "Kitty Pryde" in it. Intrigued, and recalling this is the character played by Ellen Page (whose X-name is Shadowcat) in the second and third movies in the first run, I decided to read the comment in its entirety to see why they'd bring her up (other than the fact that she's in a few seconds of this trailer, while she was in zero if the first). Now, her character didn't really do too much in those other movies, so here's a visual refresher: 
And then I came out. Fuck you.
Now first, let me rant  a little about how she was characterized in those two films. Her only real purpose in them was to create romantic/dramatic tension between Anna-Marie/Rogue and Bobby/Iceman. She didn't really do much  else. I mean okay, she helped some little boy get out of a room or something like that in The Last Stand, but she only had like ten lines of dialogue the whole movie, and I'm pretty sure even fewer in the one prior. She spent more time looking either scared about what was going on around her or making doe-eyes at Bobby than she did actually doing anything. I was disappointed- because while, as admitted, I haven't read any X-Men comics, my uncle has told me Kitty is one of his favorite characters and  has a long rant as to why. He's an UBERnerd (he DMd my first ever D&D experience), so I trust his judgment. And I hiiiiiighly doubt he'd pick her as a favorite character for any gushy love triangles. Yet she was reduced to an extra source of conflict for Bobby and Rogue's relationship (aside from Rogue's whole sucking-your-powers-when-we-make-out thing). 

And by the way, Rogue? Yeah, all of her storylines were about her attraction to Logan/Wolverine or her romantic entanglement with Bobby. And I don't even need to hear rants from my uncle to know that's total bullshit and reductive treatment of one of the most recognizable characters in the canon. I mean, God, I knew this chick when I was like five was Rogue from X-Men, before I even knew who Poison Ivy is:
Sigh. Please excuse the TERRIBLE
anatomy, there, but it's extremely
difficult finding un-boob pictures of
females in comics. Here is a great link
about that (and the next post is the result
of the SHITSTORM of hate she received).
I didn't even touch the watering-down of Kitty and Anna-Marie before, but... well... ugh.

So anyhoo, the comment I saw. I focused in on it, and it was in two parts, the first another gushy I CAN'T WAIT FOR THIS MOVIE wanking-fest. The second part, though, went basically like this: "I guess my only complaint  is that the original storyline had Kitty Pryde as the one going back in time. Other than that, looks amazing!"

My  reaction was, of course:




And I read a little more, and a number of people said, "Oh yeah, you're right!" and, "Huh, that's kinda interesting," and a few said they didn't mind that much, that they were mainly annoyed about it because they're sick of Wolverine being the main character.

This, of course, was entirely unsurprising for me to see out of them. I did my research to be doubly-quadruple-ee sure, and lo, 'tis true. Kitty Pryde was, indeed, the featured character in that arc when it was published in 1981. And for this film, the featured character is Wolverine.

Now, I get the fanboys' anger. Because yeah, this makes the seventh X-Men movie, and there's only one that didn't have Logan as the central figure, X-Men: First Class. And they're right, there are a zillion other characters to choose from, and Wolverine is, despite what the films would lead a body to believe, often a side-character and even, gasp, not on missions with the others
Yes, actually, I do.
I mean, when The Dark Knight Rises was still in production, I was really hoping Nolan would bring in some lesser-utilized members of Batman's Rogues Gallery that would fit into his "gritty-realism" take, ones like the Mad Hatter or the Calendar Man or either version of the Ventriloquist (and this isn't even entertaining  the theories that the Big Bad in TDKR would be Hugo Strange or Alberto Falcone- both of which I would have totally been behind). Anyhoo, my point is, I get being sick of seeing the same characters over and over in a series based on a mythos with so many more from which to choose. 

But those fanboys  complaining about Wolverine getting another movie are missing a big problem: Generally speaking, this coming movie takes what was previously a story-line centered around the actions of a woman, and making that character a man. And more specific to these movies, they're taking the opportunity to give a female her first lead while simultaneously redeeming the bullshit from her previous movies, and instead giving us a sixth movie with the same dude as the central character.

I'll work backwards. Because this argument is closer to the one the fanboys were expressing. Yeah, I'm kind of sick of Wolverine, too. I mean, I love me some Hugh Jackman...

Yes, please.
... but I'm getting sick of this character. How many times can the same dude have the exact same character arc, people? "I'm not a team player... yes I am." I mean, jeez. They're going with him because he's familiar to non-comic people. And because yeah, Jackman is fucking gorgeous and a good actor (I mean, even though the script for the first solo-film was atrocious, he did well in the scenes he was given- and  he's been amazing in so many other things). The X-Men universe has soooo many other characters that could hold their own as the main character in a movie- like how about Storm? Oh wait, ovaries.

I digress. 

My point is,  yeah, Wolverine is old. So if nothing else, it was ridiculous to make him the person going back in time, over every single other character in the X-Men cannon. And especially given how crummy Kitty was in the other movies she had a part in, it's a ruddy shame they didn't take the opportunity to redeem themselves for that and write a story in which she kicks major ass and saves the day.

Now, the more feminist critique of this switcheroo.

I'll start out by emphasizing the genders in the first, basic complaint. An underused and underserved female character is being replaced by an overused and overserved male character. See? SEE?




And more generally speaking, as I've said, the excuses for not having women at the helm of superhero movies are all grounded in sexism. I can just picture the meeting.

Dude in Suit 1: So it's settled, we're going with the  Days of Future Past storyline, great!
Dude in Suit 2: But we still haven't addressed the big pink elephant in the room.
Dude in Suit 3: Yes, it's very serious, we have to be frank about this. We can't possibly have a woman as the lead character, so we can't use that story, women don't star in successful comic book movies!
Dude in Suit 2: Yeah, look at Catwoman!
Dude in Suit 3: Catwoman? What about Elektra?! That was our fault, for actually thinking a comic movie starring a woman would make us money!
Dude in Suit 4: But what else can we do? We aren't creative enough to come up with our own storyline! Are you inSANE?
Dude in Suit 1: Gentlemen, gentlemen, please, calm down. Don't get your panties in a twist.
[The other men scoff]
Dude in Suit 2: So what do you propose?
Dude in Suit 1: Wolverine.
[Silence]
Dude in Suit 1: Let me repeat. Wolverine.
Dude in Suit 4: Jackman has agreed to do the next Wolverine movie, that was item One on the agenda, remember?
Dude in Suit 1: Nonono, I mean we switch Ghostcat with Wolverine. Everybody loves Wolverine. People that don't know the comics think he's the best, and those virginal comic nerds still living with their mothers will flock to the movie no matter who is the lead, so long as it's not a woman. Switch Ghostcat with Wolverine, and we have a winner. Guaranteed goldmine. 
[Pause]
Dude in Suit 2: You mean SHADOWcat, right?
Dude in Suit 1: Whatever, she has a pussy, and we don't want that.
[They all laugh]

Right?

Look, even if the dudes that wrote this script and everybody that okayed it along the way wasn't thinking like that, that a woman couldn't be the lead, the fact that nobody thought a woman's part going to a man is problematic is, in fact, problematic in itself. I don't know if you've heard of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, but, well, if you peruse the site, as well as links to other sites from there, you'll find facts like "[o]nly 32.6 percent of speaking characters from 2007 to 2010 were female, which translates into an on-screen ration of 2.1 males to every one female."

How is that okay? How is that excusable? Women make up more than half the world's population, yet they're not even 1/3 of the speaking roles in movies? I hate to see the stats on leading roles, it'd just prolly turn me into a ball of rage. 

So yes. It's problematic that these dudes (and yes, dudes) in charge of the media keep making men the main characters. And it's also problematic that fanboys don't really notice. Because like I said, the comments on the trailer were mostly, "Meh, I'm sick of Wolverine," and not, "Can't it be a woman?" And most of the comic/movie sites I found by fans were along those lines, too (and more general news-type sites were even less biased, just, "the old story was that and now it's this and here's the reason given"). The only site with a hint at the sexism involved was my beloved Mary Sue (and HOW I missed this piece when they first wrote it, I don't know, to be honest). 

If you read that MS piece, you'll see the writer is making it out to be a logistical thing because Kitty wasn't born yet. Well, that's just a load of crap, as far as I'm concerned, it's an excuse rooted in sexism. 
They could have figured something out- have Kitty possess someone else while there, another mutant (it'd be REALLY interesting if she possessed, say, her own mom (I could see them making that how she gets her powers and/or having it be her so that she'd have them), and met her dad in that state, holy poop). I mean, fuck, just transplant her with a time machine, they've already got astronomically advanced tech bullshit in this film series. Or send both back, so that she's at least around more!

Because here's another thing. I can't find a source, but I saw someone, somewhere when I first put two-and-two together a few weeks ago that Kinberg and Brian Singer were "going to great lengths" to make sure Kitty is a "central driving force" for the movie.

Well, how come when I saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier* today and saw that above trailer and I made the effort to count the times Kitty was on-screen, I only got three? And how come she doesn't say a damn word in any of those shots? And how come one of them is of a pan-shot of her with the other kids she was at Xavier's school with in X2 and the center of the shot was gorram Collossus? "Driving force" my fat, Native American  ass.


And here's one last nugget to munch on, kids. When it was announced that Idris Elba, a Black man, would be playing Heimdall in the Thor movies, the fanboys  got all up-in-arms because it "messes with cannon." Because yes, Heimdall is white in the comics. And somehow, changing the skin color of a character with like five lines in the movie was going to destroy the whole thing.

Yet, it's all been pretty tepid over Kitty. 


Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I think changing the skin color of a character is a LOT less of a "cannon" change than changing which character is doing a thing entirely. And yet any fanboy reaction over the Kitty/Logan switch is very much a "meh" and not the damn firestorm over Heimdall changing races.

And I highly doubt I need to point out that it is not the same thing to change a white character to a POC as it is the other way around, and likewise when a male character is swapped to a female. This blog does a wonderful job explaining it with chocolate covered raisins. It applies to the Heimdall case just as much as it does the Kitty Pryde case. There are so few women in lead roles as it is, and the only two in comic were both utter disappointments (Catwoman and Elektra, of course). Taking away another opportunity for a woman to helm any movie, let alone a comic movie, perpetuates the marginalization of women. And it's noticeable. Tangible.

And it speaks volumes when the fanboys get their panties in a twist when a white guy is changed to a Black one, but don't really care too much when a woman is changed to a man.

We'll never be able to teach our daughters they can be leaders if we can't show them examples to admire and aspire toward. And it's unfair that it's cool for girls to "relate" to male characters, but if boys do the same with female ones, it's taboo. And since our market is used to women adapting and settling, it caters to men. Movie execs know women will go to the movies whether or not the lead is a female, but they assume men won't if it is. So, it isn't. 


Now, does this mean I won't see Days of Future Past? Fuck no. But it does mean I'm going to go in with compartmentalized sections of my brain. One will just be sitting back and enjoying, prolly fist-pumping and growling when appropriate. But another will be taking stock of how Kitty Pryde is portrayed- how the other characters treat and react to her, how much she does versus how much happens to her. And I'm more than skeptical.

*OH MY FUCKING GOD SEE THIS MOVIE NOW. I liked  the first Cap movie, but this one was way better. Certainly better than both Thor flicks, and the latter two Iron Man ones. I'd need to see the first Iron Man movie to decide which I like more now. Hm, I guess I know what I'll be doing before bed.  

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