Warning: Contains spoilers for Rogue One, Pacific Rim, The Avengers, and Mission Impossible film series.
When the poster for Rogue One came out last year, I was excited to see a female character front and center. You hardly ever saw a woman take up so much space on a movie poster — much less a Star Wars movie. But as I watched the film, I suddenly realized something — where were the rest of the female characters? Don’t get me wrong, I loved the movie, but the glaring omission of women was really noticeable. For me, it was during the attack on Scarif to retrieve the plans for the Death Star that made me ask: “Why aren’t there women joining Jyn and the rest of the Rebels? Surely there were female assassins, spies, and mercenaries that wanted to volunteer to go to Scarif.”
And unfortunately, there isn’t an easy answer. Gender equality has always been a problem in Hollywood.
But the point of this blog post is to discuss why there seems to be only one female in genre works. Although television has shown improvements when it comes to adding women to their teams (the DC shows on the CW and Agents of Shield come to mind), genre films are still falling way behind.
Take for example The Avengers‘ Black Widow, who was the only woman on the team for three Marvel universe movies until Scarlet Witch joined in The Avengers: Age of Ultron. You’ve already seen my criticism on how Black Widow was treated in AOU, but adding one more female character to a team that already comprises of six or more male characters hardly seems balanced. Things aren’t so different in the DC movieverse. Although I’m thankful we’re at least getting a solo Wonder Woman movie this year, how long until another female superhero joins the Justice League?
Pacific Rim is one of my favorite movies and Mako Mori is one of my favorite characters ever, but again, I couldn’t help but notice she was one of the only female characters in a cast already saturated by men. Mako doesn’t even interact with the only other female Jaeger pilot in the movie.
The Mission Impossible film series — although not necessarily genre unless you count their fancy spy gadgets as sci-fi — swapped out their single female team member as often as I changed my socks, while bringing back actors like Ving Rhames, Jeremy Renner, and Simon Pegg. That finally changed with actress Rebecca Ferguson who appeared in the fifth movie and will be making her return in the sixth one.
This list could go on and on, but I also want to address what it means to be “one of the boys.” So often I see the single female character in a group full of men treated as the sexpot, the weaker one, the damsel in distress, and so often I see that to be “one of the boys,” the woman needs to be tough, aggressive, cold, incapable of showing emotions. (Sidenote: A friend told me that Jyn’s character in Rogue One was revamped to make to her more “likeable” after test audiences couldn’t connect with her; to me, that usually means she was showing traits often seen and accepted in male characters.) But female characters — when done right — can prevail over the “one of the boys” label. Look at Ellen Ripley in Alien, Sarah Connor in Terminator, Rita Vrataski in Edge of Tomorrow, and Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road. They are some examples of female characters that can be categorized as “one of the boys,” but they’re allowed to be complex, strong, vulnerable, and heroic — regardless of their gender. Maybe that’s why gender-flipped movies like the rebooted Ghostbusters and the forthcoming Oceans 8 are able to fill a void in Hollywood. Women don’t want to see themselves as the token female; they want to see more of themselves on teams.