Director Shane Black is busy promoting his new comedic crime drama The Nice Guys, even while he prepares for production on The Predator. Comic book aficionados will of course remember him as the director of Iron Man 3, though.
During a recent interview with Uproxx, Black was asked about his experience on the film. He confessed that he regrets — not so much the twist centered on Ben Kingsley's The Mandarin — but the fans' reaction to it.
Black was quite direct about some of the challenges of working on Iron Man 3 and within the framework of a big studio system, while still remaining highly complementary about the experience and Marvel Studios.
One studio note struck us as particularly revealing and problematic.
“We replaced a lot of things,” Black told the outlet. “The plot went this way and that way. Stéphanie Szostak”s character was bigger at one point and we reduced it. Rebecca Hall”s character was bigger at one point and we reduced it.”
When asked why Hall's character was limited, Black said, “All I”ll say is this, on the record: There was an early draft of Iron Man 3 where we had an inkling of a problem. Which is that we had a female character who was the villain in the draft. We had finished the script and we were given a no-holds-barred memo saying that cannot stand and we”ve changed our minds because, after consulting, we”ve decided that toy won”t sell as well if it”s a female. So, we had to change the entire script because of toy making.“
We're going to pull that out for you. They changed the nature of the story, reduced a strong female actress' role to little more than set dressing, interrupted the balance of the film, and altered a creative decision because they (whomever they is) assumed a male toy would sell better than a female.
“Now, that”s not [Kevin] Feige,” Black was quick to assure. “That”s Marvel corporate, but now you don”t have that problem anymore. But New York called and said, 'That”s money out of our bank.' In the earlier draft, the woman was essentially Killian – and they didn”t want a female Killian, they wanted a male Killian. I liked the idea, like Remington Steele, you think it”s the man but at the end, the woman has been running the whole show. They just said, 'no way.'”
Both toy manufactures and Marvel have been in hot water over the last several years for failing to provide toys based on their female characters in the same number as they do the males. Including, but not limited to, Black Widow.
What's striking is how emblematic this is of some of the issues in Hollywood.
1. Merchandise needs/desires influenced the story in a way that was detrimental to the overall piece. (As Uproxx points out, Hall's story simply ends at a certain point, failing to pay off her introduction or Hall's skills as an actress, leaving the audience to wonder “what happened?” Now we know.)
2. An assumption was made about how marketable a toy might be based on gender. Meanwhile, if any prediction OUGHT to have been made it's that Killian toys weren't going to sell no matter the sex. It's a person in a business suit pulling the proverbial stings. The character has no costume, no weapons, nothing really interesting for a kid or a collector to want, frankly. As Bleeding Cool (via /Film) reports, in fact, no Aldrich Killian action figures were ultimately manufactured.
3. Yet that initial assumption meant that the status quo continued. Meaning, no potentially interesting female villain in the film and no superhero toys for young girls.
4. Additionally, as long as we are dividing toys along gender lines we cannot have clear data about which toys sell to which group, because the superhero toys are typically found in the boy section where the girls may not want to go. Furthermore, the cycle of TELLING kids what the attributes of their gender are continue, as they naturally want to fit in with what's available in the “boy” or “girl” aisles. Another option is to allow them to craft there own identity free of those constraints. I know, that's a dream.
And so it goes.
Here's the only way to really test the bean counters' theory on merchandise: Make a film with compelling male and female characters, create interesting toys based on both, make the toys available in a gender neutral store…See what sells. Until then, the data and the system is broken.