Tarana Burke, Malala Yousafzai, Heather Jarvis and Sonya JF Barnett. These are the kind of names that I’d like to see rolling in the credits of a superhero film. Responsible for founding movements such as Me Too and events such as SlutWalk – the global protests against victim blaming during rape trials – these women have been fighting for humanity’s sake for years, knocking away at the foundations of patriarchy with placards, hashtags and powerful speeches.
Today, on International Women’s Day, however, different names will light up cinema screens during the credits of Captain Marvel. It’s smart marketing to release a female superhero film on the same date as a global call to recognise the achievements of women and end gender inequality. Who wouldn’t want to see Brie Larson kicking ass in the titular role with all of that girl power fresh in their minds? An evening spent watching her in the cinema will likely be the perfect end to a worldwide feminist event.
Despite the fact that, you know, it’s 2019, representation of genuinely strong and powerful women in film is still hard to come by – and to have said women in lead roles seems to be an inexplicably harder feat for Hollywood executives to accomplish. The past few years have seen a spate of female centric biopics hit our screens, with films such as Hidden Figures, On The Basis Of Sex and I, Tonya, but the superhero genre has, for the most part, remained a man’s world. Gal Gadot inched us closer to our dreams of cinematic equality in 2017’s Wonder Woman, but even then, she graced our screens donning a sexy Halloween costume. Captain Marvel, on the other hand, proves that audiences are ready to see female heroes who can be strong without being overtly sexy. I’m a firm believer that women should be able to wear whatever they want free of judgment, but it’s certainly nice to see a female hero being marketed in the same vein as her male counterparts. Still, let’s not let Captain Marvel’s CGI and Hollywood artifice overshadow International Women’s Day’s true purpose.
We’re now 17 months deep into the reckoning of Weinstein, with his trial, on charges he denies, currently scheduled to commence in June after being pushed back a month. During this time, more than 80 women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct – Rose McGowan, Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow included – and yet he only faces charges for incidents relating to two different women. The Me Too movement has done wonders for enlightening society to the abuse females often endure throughout their lives, but it’s clearly not enough to stamp out sexism once and for all. Although progress has been made, women still face sexism and inappropriate behaviour on a daily basis. For evidence, you only have to look at the treatment of Christine Blasey Ford while testifying against Brett Kavanaugh at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for his ultimately successful appointment to the US Supreme Court. Or just look at the women in your office on lower salaries or maybe the schoolgirls being catcalled in the street.
Women such as Blasey Ford don’t need CGI to help them change the world; they just need people to take them seriously. The whole “real superheroes don’t wear capes” spiel is tired (and, in the case of Captain Marvel, irrelevant – there’s not a single cape in sight), but the overarching sentiment rings true. It’s truly brave to stand up in front of the whole world and relay a traumatic incident from your past in the hope that it might prevent those kinds of things from happening again. It’s truly heroic to refuse to back down, even when faced with death threats and slander. The women who have done this – Blasey Ford, Burke and everyone else who helped to turn the fall of Weinstein into the widespread rise in feminism – are the people we should be celebrating today.
So, sure, buy yourself a cinema ticket and dig into the popcorn, but when Larson crashes down to planet earth to save humankind, take a moment to remember the women who are already hard at it in real life. Films spotlighting female strength are brilliant steps towards progress, but the battle for equality is still raging and we’ll need a hell of a lot more than fictional superpowers to win.