WOMEN HAVE been slowly gaining ground in the world of ‘geek culture’—an amalgamation of comics, video games, sci-fi and fantasy—but 2015 will likely go down as a breakthrough year all the same. That’s because this is the year that a huge number of existing franchises finally started experimenting with giving women lead roles. The result was that a lot of franchises that were feeling a little long in the tooth felt reinvigorated and fresh, reminding people of the magic that made them fans in the first place.
By far, this was most evident in the big-event movie of the winter, the year and, quite arguably, the century, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The original franchise, despite the presence of Princess Leia, was still male-dominated, with almost no important female characters of note except Leia. But The Force Awakens not only added more women to the mix, but took it a step further: the Luke Skywalker-style character, the young hero, who is unaware of latent Jedi powers and who will clearly develop into a prophetic-style saviour character, is a woman.
The same thing happened with another sequel to a 1980s’ franchise that most people thought was long-dead: The Mad Max movies. As with Star Wars, the filmmakers put a female lead at the centre of a movie that most audiences think of as a boy’s club and, as with Star Wars, the choice ends up invigorating a movie that otherwise could have gone very wrong.
By making the movie about Imperator Furiousa, played by Charlize Theron, director George Miller is able to spin out a riveting feminist fairy tale in the post-apocalyptic wasteland, where people seem to express themselves solely by grunts and high-speed car chases. It wasn’t a subtle movie and didn’t want to be. But it still felt fresh, in no small part because audiences are so used to seeing violence against women, especially in sci-fi and fantasy movies, used only as window dressing or to motivate a male character to heroism. But in Mad Max, the women who are subjugated are saving themselves and, in the process, this low-dialogue, high-action movie ended up having more to say about patriarchy and the women—and men—who resist it than far more high-minded bedroom dramas can usually convey.
The Marvel movies continue to fall behind when it comes to making women the stars and, unsurprisingly, the two big movies of the year, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man, ended up being less than memorable. Not so with the Marvel TV shows, however. The year kicked off with a winning TV show with a woman at the centre, Agent Carter, who is known as the founder of S.H.I.E.L.D in the Marvel universe.
In the world of video games, too, there are at least five major releases featuring female protagonists that have recently debuted or will arrive soon for Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One. Among them are well-known titles like Assassin’s Creed and new arrivals like Horizon Zero Dawn and ReCore. Official statistics are hard to come by, but experts see a distinct shift underway.