Musing on Supervillains

Musing on Supervillains - blog post image
18 Oct 2016
During the screening of Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines at the 2016 Women in Film Festival
, I was left with lots of questions and a greater understanding of those beloved characters that I grew up admiring. For those who didn’t see the film, it highlights the highs, lows and interesting perspectives on how certain powerful, female characters (particularly Wonder Woman) 
are portrayed as they are in pop culture. With the continuing evolution of female characters in the film/tv world, I felt as though I was aware of the role they were playing and some of the stereotypes that were being perpetuated, but definitely feel as though I learned a lot through watching it. In an era where gender roles in North America are being shattered left and right, it’s great to see that attention is being paid to these characters, how they develop, and what they mean to their loyal audience.
Since watching the film, I have been thinking about these roles and what they mean in particular with films that have since been released. Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a stellar example of a female superheroine that doesn’t embody any traditional stereotypes I can think of. If anything, she is probably tougher and more resilient than any previous characters in the series (Hello? she’s not even remotely tempted by The Dark Side). Ok, before I geek out too hard in the Star Wars realm I want to explore an angle on this that has been on my mind recently…the supervillain-ess.
What responsibility does a female supervillain have in straying away from the expected model of female pop culture roles? Many people would probably say “none”. They’re supervillains. Not exactly meant to be role models. However, in most cases when following a story with good character development you will find a way to relate to them on some level. I am certain that those who love movies, tv and books can name at least a short list of their favourite villains.
A good example is the recent reboot of the character of Harley Quinn in the film Suicide Squad. For a character who hasn’t been in the DC Universe as long as most, Harley Quinn has become one of the most well known and loved characters from the world of Batman. I grew up watching Batman: The Animated Series in the mid-90’s and can fully say that Harley was one of my favourite characters. For those who don’t know, she starts out as a psychologist and falls in love with the Joker who she fully empathizes with and sees as a victim of circumstance. Long story short, the whole time it was just a game for the Joker as he manipulates her into helping him escape, and she becomes his girlfriend and sidekick in the process. At the time that I watched it originally, I was around 10 years old so I wasn’t paying attention to how she was being treated by her mate. After re-watching some episodes of that show, watching Suicide Squad and doing some research, I found myself pondering some questions about what role female supervillains should have in aligning with what we hope for in the positive evolution of how women are portrayed in the media. The original version of the character from Batman: The Animated Series was a milder one than that from the video games and comic book adaptations, but regardless, she is abused. I know that in the more recent comic book adaptation of the character, Harley finally rejects the Joker refusing to go back to his domineering ways. This isn’t true in this film series (at least for now) and it will be interesting to see where the writers take this relationship in the future.
What role do the characters that aren’t your standard female role models have in portraying a modernized and thoughtful view of not just abuse, but gender roles? Should special attention be paid to this? I mention all this as a thought to how this character can shed light on a very real issue for some women, and if roles like that of Harley Quinn can help women stand in their own power. Should we expect anything more from a twisted character as the Joker? He isn’t a functioning healthy person, of course his relationship won’t be either. Where is the line drawn for fans? I know this is quite the controversial topic, and there are two sides to the issue. It’s an interesting debate.

Written by Daniela Fernandes

Daniela Fernandes studied Film and Television Production and is currently on the committee organizing the YWCA Women In Film Festival 2017.

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