An Interview with the Filmmaker Behind “Women, Superheroes, and Refrigerators” Pt 2

This is part 2 of my recent interview with filmmaker Tristan Nall regarding his most recent documentary entitled Women, Superheroes, and Refrigerators.

Check out part 1 of the interview here.

Journey into Awesome:  When researching the treatment of female characters in comics, did you find any trends? Were some writers, companies, comics, or time periods worst or better than others?

Tristan Nall:  Well, I really only researched mainstream superhero comics, so I looked at DC and Marvel more than anything. That being said, I did notice a slight pattern in terms of time period. Surprisingly, the worst stuff all happened in the more recent years.

The incredibly racist Jungle Comics.

Back in the Golden Age (pre-1950s or so), women were very frequently the main protagonist in their stories, and usually kicked as much ass as the other guys. While I won’t say these stories were perfect (Jungle Comics, for example, were incredibly racist), they at least weren’t killing women for the sake of it. Rather, they usually tied them up as bondish fetish. Whether that’s better or worse than killing them, I don’t know.

But it wasn’t until later, the 1950s and ’60s, that women started being shoved to the sidelines and thus into the aim of the heroes’ archenemies.

JiA:  So the 50’s and 60’s saw the rise of Refrigerator Stuffing. What about even more recently? Do you think the treatment of women in comics has gotten better or worse in the last decade or so?

Starfire from Red Hood and The Outlaws #1

TN:  Well, I think it actually started to get better for a while. They put women in charge of all the major superteams, with Black Canary in charge of the JLA, I believe Powergirl was the leader of the JSA, and Ms. Marvel was the leader of the Mighty Avengers for a little while. Writers got smarter with how to hurt heroes without having to hurt their loved ones. Except for Daredevil, dating for a superhero seemed pretty safe.

But just recently, even more so than my movie really covers, came DC’s New 52. Now, anyone who knows me knows I’m a DC fan. I love both companies, but there’s something about DC’s nostalgic superhero world that I just get into. And I think the New 52 is taking a huge step back in terms of their treatment of women.

Catwoman #1 (2011)

The famous image of Starfire in her swim suit is not only one that stirred up controversy, but it was one that the writer of the book actually tried to use to promote it before it came out. Then, they have a triple whammy in Catwoman #1 by opening it with her half naked, end up killing her best female friend, and end it with her having very blatant sex with Batman. And finally, in Suicide Squad, they turn Amanda Waller, perhaps the strongest non-sexy minority character, into a sexy one. All of which I think were mistakes on DC’s part.

[For more on DC’s New 52 and its treatment of female characters check out DC’s New 52 and the Difference Between Sexualizing and Objectifying]

JiA:  Well, we’ve spoken about the bad, but what about the good? Are there any mainstream comics that you feel have done a particularly positive job in their depictions and treatment of female characters?

TN: I think Spider-Man has been really good about it in recent years (post-Brand New Day), and Pepper Potts has been lucky enough through Iron Man that she’s even a superhero herself right now.

The current run on Moon Knight, Batwoman, and the Stephanie Brown Batgirl title I think all did a pretty good job at highlighting female characters. I’m sure there are more, but those jump out off the top of my head.

[You can check out the film in its entirety below.]

2 Responses to “An Interview with the Filmmaker Behind “Women, Superheroes, and Refrigerators” Pt 2”

  1. 1 Andy October 6, 2014 at 1:59 am

    Oh my god, this story is just so filled with inaccuracies and wrong facts!

    “So the 50’s and 60’s saw the rise of Refrigerator Stuffing”

    No, it didn’t. It doesn’t really happen until the 1980s/1990s, if at that.

    Karen Page wasn’t killed off, as you suggest, in the way Alex DeWitt was. If anything, Karen Page falls under the Gwen Stacy trope. “a writer just doesn’t know how else to hurt a hero than to kill his girlfriend” is the definition of the Gwen Stacy trope, not Women in Refrigerators.

    • 2 Daniel Amrhein October 2, 2015 at 3:17 pm

      The term wasn’t coined until much latter but the trope of hurting or putting women in peril goes back much further than the ’80s and ’90s (both in comics and in other media). While Gwen’s death wasn’t near as horrific as DeWitt’s, the “Gwen Stacy trope” as you call it, is most definitely part of the Women in Refrigerators trope.

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