Reaction to the Supergirl trailer seems to fall into two camps: those that love it and those that think it looks cliched. But this show looks to be exactly what we need.
I’ve been pretty hard on some current superhero shows about their treatment of their female characters (cough Arrow cough Flash cough), so I was cautiously optimistic about the upcoming Supergirl series. On the one hand, female-driven superhero show! On the other, so many chances for inadvertent (or overt) sexism. But the release of the trailer now has me simply optimistic about the series when it starts airing in November.
Before we get into the discussion, the trailer:
There’s been some complaint about Supergirl coming across like a cliched romantic comedy, which undercuts an empowering message for women. But I have to disagree with the core of that argument. Let’s break it down.
Complaint: It looks like a rom-com
First, what’s wrong with rom-coms? Yes, they’re generally poorly received, but much of that criticism boils down to that they cater to a female audience. Ew, gross, girl cooties. I mean, who wants those girl cooties infecting another oft critically maligned type of story (superhero)?
And yes, plenty of rom-coms can be cliched, shallow, and vacuous. But so can any other genre. The execution is what matters.
But more than that, we’re in an era of comic book properties getting increasingly dark and gritty. Much has been said about viewers having fatigue with dark and gritty superhero stories. Hello, Batman v Superman! But The Flash broke this mold with a much lighter tone than sister series Arrow. And Supergirl seems to be following in The Flash‘s footsteps. (The same people are working on it, after all.)
In fact, Supergirl seems to share more than simply a lighter tone with The Flash. Let’s look at a comparison between the trailers of The Flash (which was well-received) and Supergirl (which had mixed reviews):
We begin with voiceovers, a trademark of the Greg Berlanti/Andrew Kreisberg superhero shows.
Both heroes see their iconic costumes for the first time.
Both heroes get advice that shaped their lives from their late mothers.
Both heroes are somewhat awkward, which makes their becoming superheroes even more empowering.
Both characters take off with their powers, thus embracing their destinies as heroes.
The two trailers sure seem to share a lot of beats, don’t they? They both play with a traditional rom-com set up (not pictured: Barry and Iris, Kara and James), and both end with the protagonist becoming a hero rather than falling into bed. But only one is getting flak. Hm.
Complaint: It looks cliched
So, we’ve established that yes, the trailer does set up a pretty typical rom-com set up of the shy girl with the boss from hell whose life is on the verge of changing. In the tired, cliched rom-com, this is where the heroine meets the One. Enter handsome James Olsen to turn her world upside down with his sexiness, right?
Wrong. In Supergirl, this is where Kara rescues an entire airplane full of people, inspiring her to become a superhero.
Where a traditional rom-com would focus on the heroine trying to get together with her soulmate, thus completing herself, Supergirl is focusing on Kara embracing her destiny as a hero. Only she can complete herself, and she does so by becoming the hero she was always meant to be. And who gives her the push to fight for that destiny? Her sister, another woman. That sounds pretty empowering to me.
Even beyond that, the men, like James, in the trailer are there to prop Kara up as she becomes Supergirl, rather than the cliche of the woman being a prop for the male hero. James brings the connection to Kara’s famous cousin and is there for moral support, but Kara is the true hero of her self-titled story.
So,cliched? I’d argue Supergirl sets up our expectations and then subverts them quite consciously.
Complaint: The ‘girl’ speech
Let’s get this out of the way: The comic book character is named Supergirl, so the show is going to use that name. However, the writers appear to recognize there is something outdated about the name so finds a way to explain its use in modern times. (Kara debuted in 1958.) That’s where Kara’s boss’, Cat Grant, speech comes into play.
And it’s refreshing to see this unapologetically feminine woman reclaiming a word (girl) that might be used to undermine or infantalize a woman.
There’s nothing wrong with being a girl, Cat says. And she’s absolutely right. Modern culture plays a role in teaching us from a young age that there is something wrong, less, about being a girl — being feminine. Boys are told they throw like girls as a pejorative, and Cat seems to recognize that mindset in Kara’s objection to the name Supergirl. If women embracing their femininity is a key component of this story, I see that as only a plus, considering it’s not something often seen in the genre. We see plenty of tough women in superhero stories, but there are other women who deserve to have stories told about them too.
Admittedly, it’s a bit dismissive in terms of the larger conversation, but it’s promising that the writers are showing awareness of the issue that comes with a modern day show called Supergirl about a woman in her 20s.
No one is arguing that Supergirl is going to be a perfect feminist document. We simply don’t know enough yet; we’ve only seen six and a half minutes of footage from a series that won’t begin airing until November. And there is plenty of room for trips and stumbles along the way. Some fans have already noted the uncomfortable “not a lesbian” moment and the complete lack of women of color in the trailer. There is definitely room for improvement.
But what I see in this six-minute trailer is a female-driven superhero series not afraid of femininity. And that will be a welcome addition to a genre that isn’t always female-friendly.