Super Girl: Will She Right the Gender Wrongs?
Back Story: I am not, in general, a comic book fan or, more specifically, a fan of super heroes, male or female. As a child I favored Betty and Veronica, mostly unaware that for a half century there have been Supergirl comics and other DC and Marvel equivalents, including Wonder Woman. My historical perspective on comics is non-existent, as is any in-depth knowledge of the family trees and plot lines of these print and film stories in which, as writer Dave Itzkhoff has described them, women “wear capes, fly through the sky, and throw colossal punches.”
Nonetheless, I had been looking forward to the pilot episode of the new Supergirl television series this week, if just as a welcome diversion from the numbing, crushing assault on the dignity and rights of real life women and girls that has become the norm. Could a fantasy about a millennial woman born with paranormal powers — able like her cousin Superman to morph instantly from a mild mannered human to an alien from another planet, to leap tall buildings, to fly, to wipe out evil enemies of the right and the good — be the antidote we need in order to keep going?
And would she be a credible feminist?
So I did a bit of reading before the show (which has been called the most talked about addition to the big network broadcast line up this fall) was aired. Can this be the primetime superhero show that will finally break the chain of poorly performing shows that came before it: the contemporary Superman series, Batman, the Hulk, and an earlier version of the Flash? Will it dispel the common assumption in Hollywood (including television) that women fantasy heroes are bad box office, and that the increasing success of women titled comic books does not cross media lines?
Will its focus on 21st century-style female empowerment (and good production) give it the edge? Let alone the selection of Melissa Benoist, best known for her role as Marley Rose in Glee, as Kara Danvers, aka Supergirl, who self identifies as a pacifist who has just recently discovered the satisfaction of “butt-kicking” in the service of being a crusader.
Spoiler Alert: The scene that has attracted the most analysis so far is the one in which — shades of The Devil Wore Prada movie — Kara, whose day job is as a meek personal helper to patriarchal female media company head Calista Flockhart, dares question the choice of the name Supergirl: “If we call her Supergirl, something less than what she is, doesn’t that make us guilty of being anti-feminist?” She is soundly put down for fretting about a mere word.
Supergirl or Superwoman, there are moments so far that show her to be a gutsy, righteously angry role model for the younger viewers in particular who might tune in. She presents as a super girl/woman who insists that she has not traveled 2,000 light years to be just an assistant. A super girl/woman who is encouraged to find a way back to the brave, wise, strong and true person she had once been and could be in the future, if she was truly able to use her full powers.
Despite its conventional rating-seeking share of gratuitously violent action scenes, there is something compellingly smart and sassy and even hopeful about Supergirl. Perhaps even something that might spur real conversation about what it means to be a freed up female.