Suicide Squad is set to be a unique summer tentpole in more ways than one. Its original purpose has changed from a fun divergence to carrying DC’s future, and it will also be the first mainstream superhero movie to prominently feature female leads. Yes, we got a glimpse of Wonder Woman in Batman v Superman, but she was hardly at the center of the film. And yes, there is Black Widow in The Avengers, but she’s a series of black leather poses and relationship angst.
Women in superhero movies are traditionally the damsel in distress (see: Mary Jane in Spider Man, Lois Lane in Man of Steel, Jane in the Thor movies), or a leather-decked caricature of what male writers think a Strong Woman is (Black Widow). Superhero movies are a middle school dance, where men are on one side and woman are on the other, consigned to the realm of Girl Stuff.
If you want to see interesting, flawed, nuanced women who happen to be superheroes, you must leave the theater and look instead to TV: Jessica Jones, Supergirl, and the all-too-brief Peggy Carter. To be a woman watching a superhero movie is to accept that you will not see representation onscreen.
But with the gloriously fucked-up Harley Quinn, the hardass Amanda Waller, and the possibly evil June Moone at its center, Suicide Squad might be the one summer blockbuster that changes that. These women are not side pieces who are just there to pose or be rescued. They have flaws and deeply dysfunctional relationships and are allowed to be just as human — and have just as much fun — as the men.
Since it’s forging new territory, the film should look to Game of Thrones as an example. Though its sexual politics aren’t always consistent and one individual is indeed a tiresome caricature of a Strong Female Character, Game of Thrones has an abundance of intriguing female characters with depth. None of them are mere stereotypes.
Margaery Tyrell (RIP) could be a one-dimensional femme fatale but she was gloriously complex and commanded respect with her intelligence, Sansa deconstructs the damsel in distress trope, Arya is everyone’s favorite rage-filled budding psychopath, and Brienne is the closest thing Westeros has to an old fashioned chivalrous knight.
Even Cersei could be a cartoonish villain but she, too, is afforded depth and dimension.
Harley Quinn then doesn’t have to be an unhinged madwoman or a tragic broken doll — she can be all these things at once and more. The world is ready to root for complicated and dark female characters in mainstream superhero films.
Suicide Squad has a tough road ahead in many respects, but its abundance of gloriously dark and fucked-up female characters should not be one of them. It has plenty of pop culture examples to emulate.