Why not both?

First, let’s take a moment to revel in the glory of the potoo bird, nature’s weirdest, most Muppety bird.


Now that we’ve reveled a bit, can we talk about all the crazy AI movies that are out right now? I went to see the new Avengers movie this weekend, and then I saw Ex Machina yesterday, and…no, I can’t even pretend that my most prominent feelings are about the dangers of AI, when they are almost all about female superheroes.

(Also the house buying process. But no one wants to hear about that anymore! It will only make you crazy with me. Stay sane, my sweet summer children.)

Female viewers make up something like half of the audience for Marvel movies, so I can no longer understand, even on a financial level, what the hell Marvel is doing with their female characters. Why are there 19 Marvel movies before they’ll bring in a female lead? Why has Black Widow not gotten a standalone? Why did they make Black Widow spew some nonsense about how being unable to have children makes her a monster on the same level as the Hulk? (Ok, yes, I get that the probable intent of that moment was “I was turned into a killing machine & let all vestiges of my humanity be stripped away and that includes my ability to bear children” but the way it was presented was “Hey maybe I killed some guys? But mostly no babies, so how can I woman?”) (For more on this, i09 published a great & very thorough essay yesterday.) Every time Black Widow or Scarlet Witch did something badass on screen, I was brought near tears. Not because I need a movie to tell me that women are badass, but because I know so many badass women, and I am almost embarrassingly gratified to see that quality recognized on screen.

So, Marvel’s insistence on keeping female characters in supporting roles? There is no valid economic or cultural argument for it. At this point, it’s just petulance.

On the other hand, there’s Ex Machina, a movie in which a female(-presenting) robot of utter hotness and total destruction is kept captive and threatened with mind erasure (our main robot is Ava, but we see some pretty horrifying footage of the pre-Ava iterations going crazy in captivity and ultimately being shut down), after walking around naked and having her artwork torn up and generally being used as a tool by her creator. (Since that is literally the way he sees her. He also has a lot of sex with one of her predecessors.)

Arguably, this is a more horrifying vision for femininity than Black Widow being sad about not having babies. Except, in the case of Ex Machina, all that horror is the point. Yes, the male gaze is doing some pretty hard work here, but the movie is completely aware of that, and Ava responds to it with…well…a hostile vigor.

So basically: Marvel? Get it together. It’s obvious that kickass female characters can exist and lead films without having to cry about not having babies, even if you want to objectify them. Just look at the murderous, naked, self-aware super-robot in Ex Machina.