The Social Cut is a monthly column by Rishika Aggarwal that intends to critically analyse various media shows, movies and documentaries, from an intersectionalist feminist standpoint.
Superhero films have, since the dawn of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, been rightly criticized for their lack of female characters.
If you’ve never read the source comics, you could be forgiven for thinking that superheroes are by and large the domain of men, with the occasional woman – sometimes a fellow superhero, more often than not a love interest or supporting character, and almost always white, young, and able-bodied – thrown in to add diversity to the whole enterprise or act as a crutch for the male main character.
Despite this, there does seem that there’s progress – however gradual – happening in regards to this tendency. Wonder Woman remains, in this author’s opinion, one of the best films of the past decade for the way it treated its female characters, and Marvel recently released it’s first film with a titular superhero, Ant Man and the Wasp.
The summer’s last superhero feature (before the aforementioned Ant Man and the Wasp) in Deadpool 2 seems, on the face of it, like it too is working at combating the problem that is the treatment of women in superhero films. But if one digs a little deeper, it becomes obvious that this is simply another case of women who, by and large, serve to exist as props for the men around them.
The most obvious and egregious examples of this come in the forms of Vanessa, Deadpool/Wade Wilson’s girlfriend, and Cable’s unnamed wife and daughter. All three are killed off for no reason apart from the furthering of their respective partner/father’s stories. It should be noted that this is a fact that the screenwriters have confirmed themselves. To quote Rhett Reese, who wrote the script alongside partner Paul Wernick and lead actor Ryan Reynolds, ‘if you’re doing a movie where you are trying to get Deadpool at his lowest… the only thing to really take away from him is Vanessa.’ He also goes on to say, in terms of Cable and his family, ‘the desire was to give a motivation to both Cable and Deadpool, and have it be a parallel motivation that they both lost their family.’
This practice, of female characters being killed off in order to provide motivation for the female hero, is a trope commonly known as ‘fridging,’ based on writer Gail Simone’s phrase “women in refrigerators.” Indeed, in the case of Cable’s wife and child, this practice is used to the extent that we, the audience, don’t even know what their names are, forcing us to refer to them by their relationship to the male figure in their lives, a fact that smacks more than a little of the naming of the handmaids in Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale.
Even for the unfridged women of Deadpool 2, their personhood is sometimes incomplete and limited. Yukio, introduced as Negasonic Teenage Warhead’s girlfriend, is one of the characters that occupy this space.
In her relationship with Negasonic Teenage Warhead, Yukio inhabits a commendable space as one of the first two (alongside her girlfriend) queer major characters in a superhero movie. However, this relationship is by and large the defining reality of her characterization in the movie. By and large, the only time she speaks is when she greets and says goodbye to Deadpool, and the only time audiences see her as the truly kickass member of the X-Men that she is is for the few seconds in which she is shown to be fighting Juggernaut. Furthermore, her pink hair and saccharinely sweet characterization and little waves come across less as charming and more as a reflection of the stereotype of the cute, naïve, bubbly and smiling Japanese girl. She becomes, in essence, the personification of ‘seen and not heard,’ to such an extent that actress Shioli Kutsuna commented that should she return to portray the character again, she would “like to see her talk more.”
There is no doubt that the creators of Deadpool 2 should be commended for their work – Domino is undoubtedly one of the most interesting female superhero characters we have as audiences, and the only black woman in this role. Even the women of Black Panther, awe-inspiring as they were, do not fall under the technical category of the superhero in a superhero movie. Blind Al, another supporting character in the movie, represents another underrepresented group on the big screen – as the character’s name suggests, she is blind. And Negasonic Teenage Warhead, Yukio’s girlfriend, is a character with unmatched untapped potential – the literal definition of an explosive teenager, she represents the powerful and destructive female superhero that is rarely, if ever, showcased to audiences. (This said, it should be noted that like Cable’s wife and child, Domino and Negasonic remain unnamed apart from their superhero names in the film.)
But even given their positives, the negatives of the movie cannot be ignored. In a particularly interesting scene in the end credits, Negasonic and Yukio fix the device that allowed Cable to travel through time, giving it to Deadpool. While this leaves the question of if Cable will ever return to the future and his family up in the air for the moment, what Deadpool first uses it for provides an interesting coda to this piece.
Deadpool returns to the past, moving Vanessa out of the path of the bullet that took her life, therefore preventing her death, and – if we’re to take the scriptwriters at their word – Deadpool’s motivation. And, given any other evidence, the audience is left to believe that this is not a fact that past Deadpool is unaware of.
Yet, as we the audience are led to believe, the movie still happens as the plotline we have seen shows it to have. Vanessa’s death ultimately has no meaning, not even of being the only thing that can motivate her boyfriend.
So why kill her at all?
Rishika Aggarwal is a Volunteer Researcher at One Future Collective.
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