She’s Got The Power: Why Captain Marvel Wins IRL As Shero

Brie Larson as Captain Marvel is changing the game on female superheroes.

Brie Larson as Captain Marvel is changing the game on female superheroes.

We are oh so far from the purring Catwoman character played by Julie Newmar in the 1960s “Batman” tv series.

Enter Brie Larson as Carol Danvers, also known as “Captain Marvel.”

Today’s female superheroes have smarts, strength, superpowers, scientific acumen and even complicated back stories—without the hyper-sexualization.

The first female superhero since Wonder Woman blasted box office records in theaters with ticket sales of “$455 million globally. That includes an $89 million opening in China — the world’s second largest movie market,” according to CNN.

@BrieLarson as @CaptainMarvel is changing the game on #femalesuperheroes.

For good reason, this powerful woman icon has been generations in the making. Whether or not millions of young girls—and women—dress up like Captain Marvel this coming Halloween, the lessons learned here are that female characters sell movie tickets, and female characters inspire women in real life.

It’s about time to discover what has changed about the culture, the workplace and the views of gender and power. And of course, what that means to all of us.

Read more in Take The Lead on Wakanda Women in Black Panther.

“Now we’re in an amazing era of creative flux, and those heroines we obsessively followed on the page for years are finally getting their due on the big screen,” according to Syfy.

Sarah Marrs writes in Sysy, “Carol Danvers has an uneven history in comics, but two things have always been true: her powers are awesome, and she is the best kind of hero, a force for good who tries to do the right thing regardless of circumstance. She has all the cool powers — flight, super-strength, laser hands — and she LOVES them. Carol is one of the few superheroes who is unburdened by her power, great as it is. She revels in her abilities, but never abuses them, which makes her incredibly fun.”

Eliana Dockterman writes in Time, “Enter Captain Marvel, Marvel’s first female superhero to get a solo film. Her eponymous epic, set in the 1990s, outlines the character’s origin story: Carol Danvers is a fighter pilot with alien powers. She can fly, shoot beams from her hands and pack a major punch. In short, she’s the most powerful superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.”

Why does this even matter? It’s just a comic book character on screen. Because representation matters to young girls and women of all ages.

Why does it matter that @CapitainMarvel is the most powerful superhero in the @Marvel Cinematic Universe? Because #RepresentationMatters to young girls and women of all ages.

According to new research from the  Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media  and the London-based J. Walter Thompson Worldwide, 90 percent of women globally said that female role models in film or TV are important. Additionally 61 percent said female role models in film and TV have positively influenced their lives.

More than half, or 58 percent said that women characters in entertainment TV and film have inspired them to be more ambitious or assertive. Seventy four percent said they wished that growing up they had seen more female role models.

How women role models act—even fictional ones—matters. The new big screen shero is not just physically superlative, she is also ethical and emotional.

Owen Gleiberman writes in Variety, In “Captain Marvel,” Brie Larson radiates an ability that too many comic-book heroes never get the chance to show: the superpower of expression. Yet what you can’t help but notice, apart from the slithery bravura of her combat skills, is the feeling she brings to the fight.”

Glieberman writes, “She needs to open herself up to a bold new mode, and the film uses that transition as an analogue of her existence as a female superhero. Everything she’s been told is wrong! Can she wake up from the oppressive (read: patriarchal) mind-set of the conventions that bind her?  ‘Captain Marvel’ is only the second Hollywood movie to feature a female superhero at its center, but it’s a savvier and more high-flying fantasy than ‘Wonder Woman,’ because it’s the origin story as head game. Larson’s Vers is like someone trapped in a matrix — she has to shake off the dream of who she is to locate the superwoman she could be.”

Read more in Take The Lead on the influence of Wonder Woman.

So the question for audiences is, how can you find your inner superhero? Perhaps it is about knowing your own story and embracing the chaos that comes along, as outlined in the 9 Leadership Power Tools created by Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president of Take The Lead.

How can you find your inner superhero a la @CapitainMarvel? Perhaps it’s about knowing your story & embracing the chaos, outlined in #9LeadershipPowerTools, created by @GloriaFeldt, co-founder & president of @TakeLeadWomen

Taking the lessons from Captain Marvel, will big box office numbers, critical acclaim and audience appreciation influence the role of women in the culture? Can this superhero save the day for women?

Read more in Take The Lead on female superheroes.

Maybe not just this shero alone, but it is progress for female representation.

Researchers and academics in Denmark publishing recently in the Journal of Media and Cultural Studies write, “More immediately, the emphasis here on women, on productions, constructions, consumptions, and contestations of femininity, is prompted by the fact that women continue to be positioned in somewhat ambiguous and problematic ways in mainstream screen media. They are at once highly visible, in some respects, yet have been numerically under-represented both in front of and behind the camera, especially in the context of big budget Hollywood film.”

The researchers continue, “Blockbuster action cinema, including superhero franchises, persistently has the lowest percentage of speaking parts for women, yet the superhero genre is an important, high profile site where female heroism is currently being explored and renegotiated across film, television and other media.”

Read more in Take The Lead on women role models in Hollywood.  

It is up to all of us to recast women in the lead IRL.

We want you to be a part of the Take The Lead community: Connect with us on Twitter @takeleadwomen. Find out more here on our 50 Women Can Change The world programs. Subscribe here to our Take The Lead weekly newsletter. Join us on LinkedIn.

About the Author

Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon