In the run up to Marvel’s hotly anticipated release of its first female-led movie, Captain Marvel, it cannot be ignored that there is growing online resentment of the movie by seemingly dissuaded individuals. Toxicity amongst fandoms has long since been a thing, we can’t all agree on everything after all. However, online spaces such as those provided by social media platforms have only encouraged and emboldened individuals with strong negative opinions to speak out, and now even target those associated with the property of their disliking.
Rotten Tomatoes recently announced it was disabling its feature that allows reviews to be published by users before a movie’s release, after trolls left false negative comments on Captain Marvel, sabotaging its audience rating. This contrasts with overall positive reactions the film has received from official media outlets who rated the film from an early screener. Other controversies surrounding the movie include DC fans encouraging people to boycott Captain Marvel, and instead support upcoming DC movie Shazam!, which is due to be released in April. These calls even got the attention of Shazam!‘s lead Zachary Levi, who in an Instagram Live video appears shocked at the online hostility and hopes that audiences can support both movies.
The act which has unfortunately received the most controversy however is lead actress Brie Larson’s wishes for there to be more diversity during her press tour. The actress’ hopes to avoid an “overwhelmingly white and male” promotional tour of her movie were immediately taken out of context and berated online. An active member of #MeToo movement, it comes as no surprise that Larson is utilizing her platform to bring more attention to the lacking diversity and inclusion within this area of the media. The entertainment journalism community was quick to point out that Larson’s comments had weight. Many stated that white and male journalists seem to often be the top picks when it comes to selecting reporters for big Hollywood blockbusters, however this did nothing to deter waves of brutal criticism targeted at Larson and subsequently Marvel.
So are these valid criticisms of a movie which is yet to publicly released, or the rallying cries of a hostile online minority who feel personally targeted by Larson’s statements and the messages of Captain Marvel. This is not the first time female-led science-fiction movies of recent years have faced seemingly unwarranted backlash. Rey (Daisy Ridley), the leading face of the most recent Star Wars trilogy, was been heavily brandished with misogynistic commentary and the inherently sexist label of ‘Mary Sue’. The term refers to a female character appearing ‘seemingly perfect’ and an extension of the writer. Anyone who seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens knows of Rey’s struggles and her journey to become a Jedi. Much like with Captain Marvel, trolls bombarded the film’s Rotten Tomatoes page with overwhelmingly negative reviews, despite strong positive reviews from actual critics.
Emma Watson expertly explains part of the problem with backlash predominately from male audiences towards female-led movies, especially in genres that having traditionally been male-orientated. From the rebooted Ghostbusters to Rogue One: A Star Wars story, the backlash may not be reflective of all, it is becoming an unavoidable phenomenon. Watson believes that this in part because men are often taught not to see value in women’s stories. In an interview with Marie Claire Australia she states “‘Anything that deviates from the norm is difficult to accept. I think if you’ve been used to watching characters that look like, sound like, think like you, and then you see someone [unexpected] up on the screen, you go, ‘Well, that’s a girl, she doesn’t look like me. I want it to look like me so that I can project myself onto the character.'”
In response to that understandable reaction, Hollywood must therefore make deliberate attempts to broaden its representation in regards to storytelling. Diversity should not just come in the form of more representation in front and behind the cameras, but also in the stories being told and who is front and centre in them. Only when studios begin taking risks with female characters can we expect female-led superhero movies to become commonplace. Ultimately, Captain Marvel does not exist to try and appeal to the desires of male audience members (see the deliberate avoidance of over-sexualizing her costume), but rather empower younger and female audience members. Here’s hoping that a new generation of boys too can grow up seeing powerful female leads without question of their position, authority or existence.