In an interview with /Film about Marvel’s next MCU franchise, Guardians of the Galaxy, Zoe Saldana – who plays leading lady Gamora in the film – said the following about the design of her character:
“[And] what I was thinking was, “She just needs to be pretty.” And that’s usually a thing that I don’t think about with other characters that I play but for some reason because I was going to be green and I was going to be the lead girl, I just wanted teenage boys to find me attractive.”
Now, this isn’t some anti-Zoe/feminist ‘crusade’ or whatever. The surprise here is that she became a famous Hollywood actress by playing women that aren’t totally reliant on their ‘attractiveness’. Not just that, but in sci-fi and action films too, which, unfortunately, is rare. She’s echoing the consensus of comic reading and comic movie watching fans that we’ve all heard before – that the sole demographic are teenage boys.
When comic book properties started making money with notable success stories like the first X-men and Sam Raimi’s record breaking Spider-Man, it came as an unexpected surprise to movie studios. Who would want to see a man in a tightfitting spandex costume, swinging from building to building, fighting a camp Willem Dafeo? How could that make money? That’s so Batman Forever. The answer? Teenage boys. Because, you know, girls don’t want to see that. And, in the history of comic books, no girl has ever picked one up. No, no, that wouldn’t make any sense at all.
Just like the coolness of watching Arnold Schwarzenegger blow shit up or eating a Yorkie chocolate bar, comic book films are supposedly made for teen boys only. Zoe’s comments are another reflection of the idea that young male demographics are the way forward, ignoring statistics that show otherwise.
In 2013 and 2012, women accounted for 52% of moviegoers. The Avengers, the number one grossing film of the year in America when it was released, has enjoyed an enormous wealth of success (literally). It’s now the third highest grossing film of all time. Do you think that it was just teenage boys that made The Avengers over $1 billion? What about Iron Man 3, again, another comic book property that also raked in $1 billion plus?
While the 12 – 17 and 18 – 24 age brackets regularly go to the cinema, 25 – 39 year olds make up 23% of moviegoers. That demographic isn’t exactly the male teen audience you’re thinking of, is it?
Taking into consideration that illegal downloads are a big thing, in 2013 young people – and yes a higher percentage of men – were more likely to pirate movies. Downloading off BitTorrent doesn’t make a film successful, though – box office takings, home rentals, legal streaming and DVD purchases do. So why apparently target your films at an audience who aren’t even going to pay for it?
The impression that teen boys will like comic movies more than girls is mostly inherited from the history of the comic book community. A lot of women have to defend their right to like something stereotypically seen as being nerdy or face being branded a ‘fake geek girl’. Sci-fi, fantasy, gaming, anime and comic fans represent a feeling of acceptance in some ways, but in others there is an extreme issue of exclusivity.
Because there is still the assumption that only men can enjoy fighting the forces of evil as a wizard, or see Goku uppercut Vegeta into the sky, this idea transcends over into our generalisation of comic book movie audiences. I mean, girls only pretend to like comics to get the attention of men, right?
But that’s the thing; people are watching these films and enjoying them, both critically and commercially, regardless of their association with Marvel and DC characters before the movies. Men and women who have never bought a comic book are proudly wearing their Thor t-shirts. Yes, chicks and dudes. Comics are popular now.
When I was an eight year old kid, sobbing into my copy of Daredevil 181, comics were definitely not cool. Merchandise was hard to come by then, but I had no problem picking up Spider-Man colouring books for my boyfriend’s three year old nephew the other week. Talking about comics would only see you being labelled a nerd or geek, whereas chatting about Iron Man or Captain America today is completely normal and cool.
We look at comic book films in a different way now. Heath Ledger winning the posthumous supporting actor Oscar for his role as The Joker was a big thing, especially for how ‘seriously’ people started taking superheroes. The relationship that critics have with audiences, while it does vary, serves a purpose – if something is getting five stars in every major news outlet and the film is accessible, there is an audience for it.
Independent cinema, though more critically regarded at times, suffers from the fact that, unless the film is being touted for award success, not many people will get to watch smaller budgeted films due to marketing. Big movies don’t have that issue and because of that, word gets around quicker and the hype is built up from both reviewers, online and off, and film watchers. We’re living in a new era of the blockbuster. The ‘80s had John MccLain screaming, “Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker” and we have Batman, flying over the streets of Gotham and beating the hell out of people. Girls went to see Die Hard, too, just like they did with The Dark Knight.
Comic book adaptations, particularly the MCU, have given a breadth of access to all these great characters and worlds that wouldn’t have been known to most male or female audiences. While there is the danger of an arc being tampered with, or a costume design change, it is a different interpretation of franchises that have gone through so many alterations already (I mean, this is Marvel we’re talking about). Why is it such an odd thing to imagine that this can be something both men and women enjoy? Mainstream, though it can have its downfalls, doesn’t make something automatically bad. And though the comic community has its issues with exclusivity, especially among females, that doesn’t mean we have to continue catering to the idea that a 16-year-old boy is the only market for blockbuster comic book movies.
So, no, Zoe – you don’t need the approval of teenage boys, especially on how attractive you are. Oh, and what you said about having sex appeal for the teen male vote? Trust me; you’re totally better off without them.
Words & Collage by Cherokee
Categories: Feminist Criticism