The New Supergirl Trailer and What it tells us about Female Protagonists

Like most people last week, I did watch the new Supergirl show trailer…twice. It didn’t grab me either time. But pretty much everyone is talking about it, so I wanted to put in my take on the trailer. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch it here:

What was your reaction? Did you like it? Did you hate it?

Personally, I’m not sold. One reason being that it is eerily reminiscent of the Black Widow trailer parody that SNL showed a few weeks ago; another reason being that I’m not too fond of Kara’s portrayal. I’ll admit, I am not big into Supergirl, and I only know the basics about her, but I’m not thrilled. Much like the Black Widow parody, Supergirl is too rom-com for me. And I get it, the creators are trying to make her relatable to a broad audience, but in the most general way possible. She has job problems, she has guy problems, and she has fashion problems. She has been made into the stereotypical female protagonist, which I’m sick of seeing. Here’s why:

I read the comments on a lot of posts on Facebook. Some of them are positive, some of them are negative, and the majority of them are arguments between total strangers. But a lot of them are really distressing. “Why would anyone want a Black Widow movie?” “I would not see a movie with her as the main character.” “No one wants a Supergirl show.” I know that it’s all opinion, but reading comments like this distress me, as all of it is mainly directed towards female protagonists. I think that the problem lies in the archetypes that these characters are framed. If you take a look at the Black Widow parody and the Supergirl trailer, you may see a lot of similarities. Why? There are elements in both that we have seen before, specifically in a majority of female-led movies. In other words…

  • Girl has job
  • Girl is quirky and independent
  • Girl begins to get attention at said job due to quirkiness
  • Girl begins to get attention from a love-interest
  • Girl wants to find herself/obtain a certain goal (love, job advancement, self-awareness)
  • Girl takes goal and begins “quest”
  • Girl holds herself back at first
  • Girl receives push from a mentor figure
  • Girl pursues her quest
  • Girl struggles with quest; loses confidence
  • Girl receives another push from a mentor figure
  • Girl finishes quest.

It’s basically the hero cycle, but modified by Hollywood to fit in with that complicated “female crowd.” While there are elements that we can relate to in some way, most of us get sick of seeing the same thing over and over again. And here’s the kicker: not all women have the same problems. Shocking, I know.

So does Hollywood think that women are unoriginal? Well, it certainly seems that way. Should we blame the source—comic books—for forcing these archetypes upon female protagonists? I’m not sure. Like I said at the beginning, I am not familiar with the Supergirl literature; I am, however, familiar with other comic book ladies. Take, for instance, Batgirl (I’m talking New 52 Batgirl because I haven’t read the latest incarnation yet). Batgirl suffers from PTSD after being attacked by The Joker, and yet she still fights crime in Gotham. Batgirl has a complicated love life, doesn’t date much, so she recognizes that it is not a major priority in her life, and puts romance last on her list. Batgirl is also reminded of her mortality quite a bit, and often contemplates her position as Gotham’s vigilante. Typical girl problems? Not so much. Then again, no woman is typical.

Every form of media, whether it be television, literature, or movies, are all guilty of reusing these archetypes, but a lot of these media forms can be clever and original. The success of Marvel’s Agent Carter and the new Batgirl, Ms. Marvel, and Thor comics should be proof enough that female protagonists don’t have to fit into this rigid formula. So, in reality, there is no excuse for Supergirl to be formulated as a copy-cat, rom-com chick flick. If that were the case, at least copy from good chick flicks like Steel Magnolias. And I get it, most comics do follow archetypes—both male and female superheores—and some people like them. But once these archetypes transform into negative stereotypes and tropes—again, imposed on both male and female characters—that’s when things get messy. Shows like Supergirl don’t seem interesting enough because it seems like we’ve seen it before (which we have), which makes the concept of a female-led show seem like a joke. It shouldn’t be like this, I think.  

However, not to rain entirely on the Supergirl parade, I will say that the presence of a female-led show is nice to see. I am also glad of the fact that the show’s creators did not force the character into a skin-tight, butt-hugging, mid-drift and boobs showing costume. They kept her ensemble classic without making sex a priority. And who knows? This might generate interest in Supergirl and in comic books, which would promote reading. Maybe girls and boys will see this show and recognize at all of the good qualities and values that superheroes instill. Who knows? Anything’s possible when it comes to superheroes.

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