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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

thing I’m pissed off about today: token-girl movie posters (and movies)

For an excellent illustration of how The Smurfette Principle guides filmmaking in Hollywood (and beyond), one need only look at the posters used to sell movies. To wit, The Raid 2:


The Art of the Steal:


Captain America: The Winter Soldier:


Out of the Furnace:


Cheap Thrills:


Need for Speed:


And Guardians of the Galaxy, which is particularly egregious, because of the five characters pictured, two of them aren’t even human… and they’re still dudes:


Good movies, great movies, meh movies, shit movies, movies I haven’t seen yet so I have no idea of their quality. These are only the most recent examples. I didn’t have to dig for them. At all. I set specific rules: there had to be at least three men and only one woman on the poster. And still it was effortless to find these.

Because, as far as The Movies are concerned, a woman is just a type of person. A person can be a hero (male), a villain (male), the human comic relief (male), the alien comic relief (male), the muscle (male), the competent cop (male), the incompetent cop (male), the fuckup (male), the leader (male), the sidekick (male), the nerd (male)… or the woman (female).

Fuck this shit.

  • meh

    There are only 4 speaking parts in CHEAP THRILLS. All 4 characters are on the poster. Equal head size. What’s the issue?

  • Danielm80

    By your count, 75% of the characters with speaking parts are male. If there were a comparable number of movies that were 75% female, that wouldn’t be a problem. Most years, the numbers are heavily lopsided in favor of men.

  • Matt Clayton

    I’m worried how badly Wonder Woman will be handled once WB starts doing marketing material for Batman vs. Superman (or whatever it’ll be called) in two years. She needs a character poster by herself showing her confident, ass-kicking, and formidable side. But considering the track record, she’ll probably be relegated to ‘Black Widow’ status like Scarlett Johansson was for The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

    I notice how the females in the posters you mentioned are either clothed in sexy attire, looking to one side, standing by their lonesome and marginalized, or a mix of all three. Urgh.

  • Jan_Willem

    I blame the movie makers and the casting process more than the poster designers. Still: check out the knees of the women on the Art of the Steal and Captain America posters. So coy and girly! Having watched The Avengers last night, I suspect this representation of ScarJo may not reflect her kick-ass contribution to the actual film.

  • I’m not blaming the poster designers. They are accurately representing the films. The films are the problem.

  • What’s your issue with me pointing out how dominated by men movies are?

    As I’ve said numerous times before here, it’s hardly ever a problem that any given individual film is dominated by male characters, and that goes for *all* the films here. The problem is that the vast majority of films are… which was the point of showing all these posters in one group.

    Not every film needs to have a gender balance among its characters (or a racial balance either, for that matter). But a helluva lot more of them do. And there need to be more movies with an overbalance of female characters, and not female characters who are focused on romance.

    I mean, you’re aware, aren’t you, that women can be good, evil, nerdy, competent, incompetent, funny, etc. Many of the roles pictured in the posters above are gender-blind. They could have been female characters. Filmmakers need to start to thinking that way.

  • I’m not sure it’s fair to include Guardians of the Galaxy since at least one of the men on the cover to meet your quota of 3 is a raccoon or a talking tree. Of course, they’re both voiced by men (at least in so far as Groot as one line), which may be enough to prove your point.

    … Which is a valid point. The idea that a ‘default’ character is first male and making them female represents a change is one of those things that has been so ingrained into our culture that most people don’t even notice and it will only take active involvement to change. Affirmative action, which people like to complain about, is the only way you even begin to shift “normal” into something that includes all options, not just the ones people have unfortunately become used to.

  • LaSargenta

    It also assumes that non-humans are all also gendered. Even on Earth not all animals are gendered or they express gender differently than humans do…seahorses for example. So, yeah, why the hell is the raccoon male…

  • Nope, Guardians is *extra* offensive in this respect. Those nonhuman characters aren’t just voiced by men but they *read* as male, even though there’s absolutely no reason for them to be. I mean, why is a *plant* presented as human-male?

    Because, as you note, all characters are presumed to be male by default unless there’s a specific reason for the character to be female, like so she can be fucked by one of the guys.

    And we have to point this out — and keep pointing it out — until we are heard and heeded.

  • Fair enough. And I agree completely. It’s got to be talked about until it changes.

  • These Marvel films have changed a lot in their portrayals versus the comics, they should be even more bold and swap some genders. I mean, the line up right now in the Avengers is 7 to 1 male to female. They should swap Ant-Man for Wasp and make Dr. Strange a woman. I’ll bet they’ll do better business because it’ll be so different it’ll attract attention and all the complainers will go see the film so they can complain.

    If Sony can make Johnny Storm black, I don’t see why we can’t have Dr. Strange be played by Claudia Black. :)

  • RogerBW

    Oh, but there are two sorts of women! Hot Babes and horrible old hags!

  • circles9

    Bless you.

    Hey, if Hannibal could change characters’ genders and races, why not Marvel? It’s hella optimism to hope so, but if the success of films like Gravity doesn’t convince the deciders that a female-led action story is commercially viable, I don’t know what will.

  • RogerBW

    If a female-led film is a success, it’s a special case. If the success of Aliens didn’t convince the deciders…

  • I plan to go see Hotel Budapest this weekend, but it has the same problem. Muppet movie…well, yeah, same problem. August Osage County did not have that particular problem, but had a quality problem. Divergent…well, two women but early reviews do not sound promising.

  • Bluejay

    Muppet movie…well, yeah, same problem.

    As far as the poster thing goes, it depends on the poster. Some of them feature Tina Fey AND Miss Piggy, if Piggy counts.


  • Jim Mann

    The Captain America poster seems different from most of the others. For the first few action movies in your list in particular, it seems like the producers had a bunch of guys, the thought, yeah, we better throw a woman into the mix. But for Captain America, there are three characters in the foreground, and one is Black Widow, who is clearly a prominent character in the shot, not just an afterthought.

  • Bluejay

    …But yeah, it doesn’t really take away from the problem that Piggy is still the Smurfette of the Muppets, and Fey is the Smurfette of the human cast. It would have been cool if someone like Amy Poehler could have been cast as well, since she works brilliantly with Fey. I bet she would have been just as good in Gervais’s or Burrell’s roles.

  • Bluejay

    But that doesn’t disprove MaryAnn’s larger point, which is that the movies represented by these posters (including Captain America) still follow the Smurfette Principle: “For any series not aimed solely at females, odds are high that only one female will be in the regular cast.”

    Black Widow kicks serious ass (and from everything I’ve read, it appears that she will be absolutely key to this movie), but it doesn’t take away from the fact that women are severely underrepresented in the Marvel cinematic universe.

  • Topio1

    But all of those characters have a previous history as male, in the comics they’ve been around for years

  • Danielm80

    If Marvel could find a way to work Neil Gaiman’s character Angela into the comic book, there must be a way to fit at least one more female character into the movie.

  • That’s not a good reason. We’re trying to break the traditions of ignoring women here. No one *needs* to make a movie based on old material that ignores women. We could write some new stuff.

  • Lockon Liz

    Can I call a sub-set on the token-girl movie poster? It’s where all the protagonists in the movie are men but a woman peripheral character is boosted on the poster, to help market the movie. Some of the examples above might be in this sub-set but I don’t know them so here is another one to illustrate: http://www.impawards.com/1996/trainspotting_ver2.html

  • cautia

    You forgot Mother Figures.

  • Bluejay

    No one *needs* to make a movie based on old material that ignores women. We could write some new stuff.

    New stuff is always welcome. But if Hollywood wants to keep making movies based on existing comics, there’s plenty of source material that doesn’t ignore women that’s still waiting to be made. Where’s that solo Black Widow movie? The solo Wonder Woman movie? The Captain Marvel movie? The all-female X-Men movie? The Catwoman movie? (Yeah, there’s been exactly one Catwoman movie, which turned out to be crappy. But Superman and Batman have been in multiple feature films, some of which have been lousy too. Catwoman deserves at least as many chances.)

  • This too.

  • That applies to *Art of the Steal* and *Out of the Furnace* here, too. And based on the first film, I bet it applies to *The Raid 2* (but I haven’t seen it yet).

  • bronxbee

    there’s also Janice, the musician who gets only the occasional one-liner.

  • mr. cool

    feminists are literally the dumbest group of people imaginable

  • Bluejay

    Oh, yeah. She’s barely there, though, right? And isn’t the long-eared white dog beside Piggy in the poster a girl as well? They barely register, though. It’s hard (for me, anyway) to easily come up with prominent female Muppets after Miss Piggy.

    (I suppose there’s Wanda in the Wayne & Wanda duo. But what does *she* ever do?…)

  • Lockon Liz

    It’s almost as though they understand men-only movies are not so marketable. But they don’t get the concept enough to include a woman protagonist.

  • Nah, they just figure that guys want to see a hot babe standing around with her boobs thrust out. She’s almost guaranteed to be half naked while all the men are fully dressed, too.

  • Lockon Liz

    That’s likely true. The reason I used Trainspotters as the example poster was that I remember thinking when I went to see the movie when it came out, that the woman in the poster looked like she would be the snarky member of the gang. Good as the movie was, she wasn’t in the gang. But movie marketers don’t look at women the same way we do.

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