Rosemary (sophy) wrote,

WisCon 40 Panel Write-up Supergirls and Women in TV and Movies

Panel note disclaimers and clarifications:

1. I only use the names of panelists and moderators as listed in the program book (or as corrected/specified by panelists themselves before the panel). If you want your name removed, changed, or linked to any online identity (or added if I forgot you) please let me know.

2. I do not name or link to audience members, even if I personally know who they are, because I want to err on the side of safety. Please let me know if you need to be credited for a comment, or wish to be linked to as the person who said the thing.

3. My notes are always incomplete. I take them for myself primarily and love to share what I got, but I absolutely miss stuff and get stuff wrong. Corrections and additions are welcome!

4. If I mess up a pronoun or other important info, please lmk! I will fix it immediately.

5. I add my own thoughts and feels in [] - if you see something in my panel report in [] that means it was not part of the panel, just stuff that happened inside my own head during the panel.

Super Girls and Women in TV and Movies

Supergirl. Jessica Jones. And Peggy! The 2015-2016 season brought us three explicitly feminist, female-led superhero shows. They join the women of Flash, Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow, Gotham, Constantine, Daredevil, and Agents of SHIELD. Both Marvel and DC have caught flack for the lack of female protagonists in their films (will we EVER get a Black Widow movie?), but Agents of Shield has given us several women to root for on the small screen, and we'll be getting a Wonder Woman movie soon, so it's not all bad. How are these shows and film series doing with our beloved female heroes? How do they fit in with or challenge the genre? How do they engage with feminist discourse? How do they succeed or fail on topics like race and sexuality? What are our hopes for the future?
M: Joanna Lowenstein. Kris Mayer, Jessica Plummer, David J. Schwartz, Jennifer Margret Smith
#tvsuperwomen for twitter

[this was directly after the Rey panel, in the same room, and with a lot of the same people in the audience. it was also super awesome and empowering.]

Joanna started things off asking the panelists to talk about their favorite female superheroes this season (or this year if in movies).

Jessica said she loves Supergirl, and said she proposed part of this panel [hi! I proposed parts of it too! wheeee!]

Jennifer, whose background includes both academia around media and having worked for Marvel, said Peggy is her favorite.

Kris started in the MCU and their favorite is Natasha.

David talked about how Jessica Jones and Supergirl have some similar dynamics but are functioning in very different ways. He liked the adaptation of JJ - it could have fallen down in a lot of ways, but didn't.

Joanna is a fan of adaptations and liked Peggy Carter - an explicitly feminist show. It had issues, but it also did a lot right.

Some discussion about the differences between the MCU on ABC and Netflix vs. the DC shows on the CW (or the DCW heh).

Jessica talked about how Supergirl treats it's female characters better than Arrow, Flash, and Legends. She loves the female characters on those shows, but hates the shows' treatment of them. She said Supergirl passes the Bechdel test all the time and possibly doesn't pass the reverse Bechdel test (Winn and James just talking dreamily about Kara all the time...). Even female side characters on the show get good arcs and complexity in their relationships with other women. Most of the women in the other DC shows don't get that - other than Sara Lance.

Jessica said she hopes Supergirl continues it's good treatment of women now that it's switching from CBS to the CW. Considering the way CBS is treating women lately (not picking up a pilot because it's "too female" and cancelling many female led shows), it's a fair bet that this treatment is due to the showrunners and not the network, so hopefully the network switch won't change things.

Jennifer called out the functional loving families depicted on Supergirl - there's a protectiveness between Alex and Kara. So often superheroes are orphans in several different senses, and while this is true of Kara - she also gets a loving family.

Kris said that Supergirl's attempts at feminism are interesting (the show, not the character). "A" for effort but it's also painfully 101. If you can't handle having these conversations, maybe don't start them.

But then Kris saw the twitter responses from dudes complaining about it and thought, "ok, Supergirl is doing well - and I guess a lot of people are starting at 101 and that's needed."

Jessica likes that Supergirl gets to be angry - and there was even a conversation between her and James about how, as black man, he can't be angry either - the show actually HAD that conversation. [I think here there was some audience interjection asking if that's true that black men aren't allowed to be angry and both panelists and audience members assuring this person that yea, for different reasons than for women, but yea.]

David and Jessica talked some about Cat Grant, who has an interesting mentor relationship with Kara, and being happy that she is confirmed for season 2 - she won't be a regular, but she'll be around.

Jennifer talked about the Jessica/Trish and Kara/Alex relationships as both being sort of sisters (were raised together) but having different dynamics.

David said he kept waiting for Peggy to find a female friend, but it didn't happen.

Joanna asked the panelists to transition into Marvel a bit more.

Kris said watching Marvel take tottering steps into acknowledging that women are people is interesting. Talked some about Black Widow merchandising problems and then about Agents of Shield - this show has women of color leads but it's also the least respected part of the MCU. However, that AoS is doing better than other Marvel properties on issues of race and gender says more about the other properties than it does about AoS. For instance, Daisy and May are great, but all of the other poc in the show are treated badly.

Jennifer said that when women appear in the MCU they're great, but it's still much too rare. Whereas in DC - the women are there, but are treated poorly and often fridged.

Gotham is brought up and everyone admits they wanted to like it but had trouble getting through it.

Jessica said that there is so much superhero TV now that one person can't even watch it all, and that also means you don't have to watch it all to get the content you want - she can make decisions about which ones to stop watching (I think Arrow was the choice she made to stop watching).

She also talked about how people were saying Jessica Jones was so diverse, but where are all the poc? She does think JJ does a good job at critiquing toxic masculinity with the white male villain, and exploring power dynamics but we NEED more women of color on TV. We just do.

Jessica mentioned a piece on about Marvel, specifically Daredevil, and it's treatment of Matts's character and his treatment of poc.

David brought up the casting of Simone Missick as Misty Knight in Luke Cage, and Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing in Iron Fist - yay poc actresses! Wing is biracial in the comics, but it's not brought up a lot and she is mostly seen as white, so casting an Asian actress is a big deal.

Some discussion about how on Luke Cage, you can at least go in knowing they can't kill ALL of the black people. Also the exciting news about the Black Panther movie casting 90% black/African actors. People saying, well, yea, it takes places in Africa - but you know what? This is Hollywood, so that's not even a given.

Jennifer said that if you look at the comics, the women and people of color are already in these universes - use them in the movies and TV shows!

David opined that Ant Man is sort of a metaphor for the way Marvel keeps putting off giving women the superpowers. "It's amazing how many sexist tropes they fit in that movie." Jennifer added the lack of Janet van Dyne.

Joanna asked why there seems to be more women in the TV shows than the movies.

Jennifer spoke about how TV is a more feminized medium. Also, you can invest small amounts of money in a TV show and cancel it at any time if it's not doing well. There is less risk involved.

David talked about the critical mass of superheroes on screen. The success of the MCU means there's going to be more. And look, if they make a horrible She-Hulk movie, I'm still going to pay for it.

Jessica joked that we'd all still go to it and then probably have whole panels defending it.

She also talked about Jessica Jones and Luke Cage being sort of the "smurfette"'s of MCU on netflix. This lesser rick medium where they decided to have a bunch of series - why not make one a woman and one black?

Also, apparently Greg Berlanti wanted to do a Superman show, but couldn't, so he went with Supergirl. Apparently this makes Zack Snyder mad. Kris added in "live your life so that Zack Snyder would be angry with you" lol.

Jennifer also said that there are (slightly) more female writers and directors in television than movies. An audience member added that there are just more opportunities in television overall right now.

Jennifer said another thing that happens is studios using secondary characters in the TV shows so that they're not "wasting" them on the big screen.

Joanna asked the panelists to come back around to the sister relationships on these shows.

Jessica said there's three big ones: 1) Kara and Alex on Supergirl - adoptive sisters, but act very much like sisters who aren't going to kiss some day (lol) - one audience member said that's debatable. 2) Jessica and Trish on Jessica Jones - also adoptive sisters, but they're a little bit in love with each other, and also are best friends. 3) Laurel and Sara Lance on Arrow (Legends now for Sara) - bio sisters.

She said this was one thing Arrow did right - while both sisters were love interests of Oliver, they both kicked him to the curb and their stories were more driven by one another than by him. Their motivations were their relationships with each other. Laurel was not written as well in season 1 because she was all about Oliver and not Sara. Laurel was recently fridged, but they took the time on Legends to tell Sara about her death and have her react to it.

From the audience, I interjected my frustration that the show allows for the male characters to go back and save other male characters, but somehow when a woman wants to save another woman they can't do that. This led to Jessica giving a gloriously long and hilarious description of the premise of Legends of Tomorrow and ending up "it's nutballs and awesome."

So anyway, back to the sisters thing...

Jennifer talked some about the Jessica/Trish relationship being sometimes fraught but ultimately more satisfying than how it's depicted in the comics. It's complicated the way real life relationships are.

An audience member asked who owns Spiderwoman and there is a confusion of "which one?" and "well, a few different entities...."

Kris brought up the beauty of Jessica Jones and Trish and the "I love you" bit. [I was so busy listening to this part that all I have is a big circled star in my notes here - but it was one of those moments of the whole audience reacting together about it]

Jennifer said that Supergirl, Jessica Jones, and Agent Carter all did the thing where the real villain is the patriarchy.

Kris added that with Peggy - there was the myth of the exceptional minority. Peggy really does try punching the patriarchy but the systemic sexism isn't really punchable. They talked about how the first season ended better than the second in some ways because it wasn't happy. The whole "I don't need a medal, I know my own worth" thing was not a big feminist triumph - it was more of a surrender and acceptance of the way the world works.

Jennifer expanded on that by saying that knowing your own value just isn't enough. We need to be recognized as full human beings by other people/the systems in place. This isn't just about a celebration of self esteem.

Kris: "she didn't really achieve anything... well, I mean, she did save the world..."

An audience member brought up Jessica Jones and it's treatment of trauma [and oooh boy howdy does this turn into a super emotionally charged and powerful conversation- I know I missed jotting a lot down because I was having teh feels].

David said that he found it instructional as someone who doesn't have trauma in his life but is close to people who do. Showrunner Melissa Rosenberg made it clear that they weren't going to eroticize rape or continually revist the traumatic events themselves.

Kris added that the show is brutally real emotionally speaking, and they didn't need a big graphic rape scene in order to accomplish that. We understand that she was raped, she names it herself, and the dinner scene where he tells her to smile shows all we need to know about the abusive dynamics in that relationship.

People with trauma want their stories told - especially when including the healing process.

Jennifer said that the show was a powerful example of how contexualization is important. Saying no more rape on TV would not allow for this kind of story to be told.

Jessica added that it's not just Jessica who is traumatized by Kilgrave - every single character on the show is. They all have different responses and narratives, so it's not just showing the one way or the right way to heal - it's showing a variety of ways.

An audience member brought up that the difference with Jessica is how physically strong she is - this depicts that the trauma is often the emotional aspects of abuse.

Someone else in the audience brought up Trish's mom as another example of an abuser. Kris said that if the audience was not getting that Trish's mom was an abuser, then they're not understanding what abuse can be.

David added - mothers can be abusers. That's important to talk about.

Jennifer related it to female villains and the importance of showing different varieties of them.

Jessica talked about depictions of queer women in these shows. Jessica Jones uses the tragic lesbian trope. Supergirl keeps using the "coming out" metaphor which is especially problematic when there is no queer representation on the show. Sara Lance is a positive example.

Joanna added that AoS has a gay male character.

David said that Marvel just has no clue how to show relationships between characters in general.

Jessica talked about all of the superheroes she can't believe we're supposed to believe are hetero (apparently she tweeted this list - does anyone know where it is?)

An audience member said there is a gay male black character on Arrow - unsure about treatment of.

Jessica talked about Iris and Flash's relationship (Iris is racebent - the actress is black). They aren't a couple, but he's been in love with her forever despite being raised as siblings - I asked from the audience if she was "sibling zoning" him and got a big laugh.

Jessica talked about Iris being a black character and getting to be awesome and well-rounded and she reaches out to other women. She also gets to be the dream girl/love interest with multiple love interests of her own.

[Not sure if the panel ran out of time suddenly here or if I just stopped taking notes at the end, but this is all I got! Awesome very interesting good thinks good times panel yay!]
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