WONDER WOMAN: Voting With Your Bucks
The caveat I’m about to make is a reluctant one. Why can’t women get a win anymore without men coming in and taking away their mic? So it has to be said: WONDER WOMAN is a victory for women and men everywhere who believe that representation in front of, and behind, the camera is important. WONDER WOMAN is an achievement in being a female-led film that has done well and will continue to do well at the box office.
Anyone who remembers Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter’s leaked emails from the Sony Hack understands the stupid, persisting conviction that female-led films are a financial risk simply because they are female-led. This was always bullshit, because Perlmutter wasn’t accounting for the real reason these movies didn’t do well: Hollywood’s blockbuster and franchise mentality. WONDER WOMAN director Patty Jenkins herself, the first woman to direct a summer tent-pole superhero film, a film with a female protagonist, and a film with as a high of a budget, backed out of directing 2013’s THOR: THE DARK WORLD just because the stakes were so high. With staunch, old, white guys like Perlmutter in charge, it’s no wonder she did so. (Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige even staged a coup to get around his old whiteness.) It also makes Wonder Woman’s achievement such a worthy one to celebrate.
So at this point it should go without saying how it was a valid victory. The real loser, however, was anyone who cares about superhero films, original blockbusters, and the death of the DC Extended Universe. WONDER WOMAN’s box office smash will help Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara and DC Chief Geoff Jones justify the work they’ve done so far. It will be all that they need to keep this terrible franchise going. Justice League is still going to happen, and more will be on the way.
This is also not a Marvel versus DC debate. Marvel has every incentive to see these films do well, because they represent their pinnacle genre. Every mark against any superhero film is a bad one for the genre’s overall brand in a market that the genre over-saturates as tentpoles grow and mid-tier films die. I, as a DC comic book fan and a fan of the blockbuster experience, also want to see these properties do well. WONDER WOMAN dashes any long term hopes I have.
These statistics will probably sound familiar to you: ticket prices are on the rise, theater attendance has dropped, but mostly, it feels like a lot blockbusters these days suck and all you’re seeing in theaters is franchise after franchise. We can blame the rise of television. We can blame theatergoers who vote with their dollar when they only choose the films they feel are worth seeing in a theater the most. However, the real culprit is Wall Street.
There are seven giant corporations publicly traded on Wall Street. Over time, these large parent companies have consolidated nearly every studio, network, magazine, and comic book publisher under their control. Hell, they even control some of the sports teams, toy lines, and ratemyprofessors.com. These companies, who have to answer to investors quarterly, are at fault. The desire to break a quarterly profit record for shareholders leads to maximizing the amount of money spent on sure bets, i.e. franchises. Many people who own these shares have stakes in other companies. They may own some Inovio shares amongst countless others. Still, the large companies are costly, and so they want their investment to return well. If you are only going to see a film worth seeing in theaters because ticket prices are higher than ever (thanks to these studios and their parent corporations who set the prices), then, of course, you’re going to choose one with characters you know and love. The studios know this is a safe bet for their hundreds of billions of dollars, because they will get more hundreds of billions of dollars back.
This is where creative Hollywood accounting comes from. This is why franchises are prevalent. This is why WONDER WOMAN’s box office smash will keep that years-long pre-planned slate on the table. And unfortunately, all we’ll be talking about is the victory for women. Never mind the fact that this system is the reason women are just now getting this movie. Never mind the fact that you deserve nuanced and challenging mindless entertainment instead of the messes of BATMAN V. SUPERMAN and SUICIDE SQUAD. The old, white guys will stay entrenched in their system of power celebrating the real victory of capitalism and sexism.
Talking about this is hard. The conversation will be clouded by the real, but albeit surface-level, sexism. We’ll ignore that the GHOSTBUSTERS reboot was a bad movie because it didn’t do anything new with the franchise and was poorly written, because the men will instead attack the female leads based on their looks. (There is also real sexism in how we perceive some comedy better from men than women, but that’s a different article). The women will rightfully criticize the men’s attacks. Meanwhile, us moviegoers will collectively give up and turn to television as ticket prices keep rising. The irony in all of this? There was one candidate in last year’s presidential election who actually criticized Wall Street’s quarterly capitalism, but she lost.
So, what can you do? Your dollar still votes, but it isn’t just a matter of not supporting these franchises (though it does help) when they don’t need it. This is about a mindset change on every level of consumption. Your first vote starts at the intellectual property level. This is the books, comic books, short stories, video games, and *sigh* toy lines you consume, in addition to movies. Support the ones that matter to you, because this will tell studios what to make. Your next vote, if you are able, should be at Wall Street itself. Figure out who the major companies are, who they will promote to top positions, buy stock, and exercise your right as a shareholder to place or keep the right people in charge. You can also become a direct investor in content itself. There’s the smaller, more commonly known level of crowdfunding, but now new startups are forming that let you vote on the blockbusters you want to see, as was the case with COLOSSAL. The most important vote, however, isn’t with your dollar at all. It’s at the ballot box. Get your representatives to decry short-termism, make it a question at the presidential debates, and exercise your right to vote as an American. Because if you didn’t know this already, film is political.