The question of inclusion of minority and female characters in media is a long-standing and crucial one. With the rise of superhero movies and TV shows, that genre”s lens on women and minorities has come under some scrutiny. Later this year Netflix will release Marvel”s Jessica Jones, marking the first female-led superhero series from Marvel (as much as we love her, Peggy Carter isn”t technically a superhero).
When Zap2it asked Jessica Jones showrunner Melissa Rosenberg if she felt a particular responsibility in bringing a lady superhero to life she responded:
“The trap that we fall into is the ‘female” in front of the ‘superhero.” I never approached this as I”m writing for a woman; I”m writing for a character. Industry-wide, it”s like if you”re writing for a guy it”s a ‘character.” If you”re writing for a woman it”s a ‘female character.” That alone sets some boundaries in place.”
Adding, “That”s, I think, why there are so few juicy, interesting roles for women, superheroes or otherwise, is that women are defined gender-first, people of color are defined race-first. If you just are approaching it from the point of view of ‘what”s a complex, interesting, messed up, cool character to tell?” and then you cast it in your mind as a woman or anyone else, you”ve got complexity then and you”re no longer limited.”
So that raises the question: Does identifying a character as specifically female limit the interpretation and/or audience expectations?
Take a look at the video above for our thoughts. Here”s a brief overview:
It would be easy to read Rosenberg”s comments as calculated, but I think she is both sincere and hits on a real concern when it comes to marketing. It”s true that gender impacts both life experience and personality, but over-identifying that way is potentially problematic in the sense that it can become ABOUT the gender. This won”t always be the case, but even if it isn”t in execution, it can read that way in the marketing. When comic books were initially looking to include females and characters of various races they often ran into the issue of having that character”s story focus too exclusively on either race or gender, which lead to some rather stereotypical interpretations that are now looked upon with some chagrin. Also, the characters were in danger of lacking dimension. Is inclusion important? Yes. Absolutely. Ideally we”ll get to the point where we can relate to one another on a human level, with our life experience of course informing who we are.
While Melissa Rosenberg”s premise is solid – character first is always a good mantra – attempting to remove “female” from the “female superhero” isn”t the answer. Being a woman or a PoC (Person of Color) dramatically affects a person”s character and how they interact with the world around them. To strip out “femaleness” to avoid negative reactions from the audience seems akin to making all strong and capable female characters into men with boobs. Being a woman – whether as a superhero or not – informs decision-making and responses to events. “Female” isn”t the only thing Jessica Jones is, but it”s definitely PART of who she is. To pretend otherwise is both disingenuous and a missed opportunity for storytelling.
For our full take see the video above!
Now we”d love to hear what YOU say? What”s your take on Rosenberg”s comments and the idea of identifying a superhero by gender or, in other cases, race?