Female action figures just don’t sell. That’s the message the powers that be at various film studios would have us believe, and it’s their justification for failing to create those action figures in the first place.
We saw it with Black Widow, Marvel’s infamous ‘missing’ Avenger. We tiptoed around it with Rey, Star Wars’ Monopoly figure-less heroine. And just this week we’ve learned it was the logic that forced Iron Man 3 director Shane Black to change the gender of his villain, Alrdich Killian.
Rebecca Hall should have played Tony Stark’s nemesis but Marvel’s corporate powers that be didn’t believe she’d sell enough toys to warrant the role, alleges Black, so the script was re-written with a male antagonist (played by Guy Pearce).
And when you overhear a couple in a toy shop at Christmas, declaring there’s no need to pick up a Rey action figure because “nobody wants the girl”, you probably think those corporate bosses are correct in their assumptions and totally justified in their decision making.
But there’s just one problem: it’s quite simply not true.
A lot of people do want female action figures, they’re just not made available to them so they can’t buy them. By continuously failing to provide “the girl”, manufacturers and bosses and powers that be are perpetuating the problem.
How are you supposed to prove that female action figures can be as popular if they’re not produced in high enough quantities to compete with male ones in the first place? And how are attitudes toward female action figures supposed to change if the idea that they might prove popular at all seems so inconceivable to executives and decision makers?
That’s the question even an 8-year-old had the good sense to ask in the middle of the #WheresRey fiasco.
Of course, Black’s Iron Man 3 predates The Force Awakens, but Marvel’s continuous “Where’s Black Widow?” war raged both before and after Rey was retrospectively added to the Monopoly board.
Scarlett Johansson’s seriously impressive assassin still doesn’t have her own film, and finding her among a set of Avengers team action figures often proves harder than unearthing all five of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s mysterious Infinity stones.
I was particularly baffled to note that Agent 13 (aka blonde-haired blue eyes Shield operative Sharon Carter) popped up in a figurine set for Captain America: Civil War, while Black Widow was nowhere to be found.
Back in 2001, Nestle came under fire for marketing the Yorkie as a chocolate bar that was “Not for Girls”. 15 years later, it feels as though corporate bosses are getting away with doing just that when it comes to action figures.
And while many are to be celebrated for becoming more forward thinking, the mere fact that this attitude, this assumption, still exists among even a handful of people in positions of power and influence is infuriating.
From the age of about three, all I wanted was to be X-Men’s Jean Grey, to move objects with my mind, to fly like Dark Phoenix, or to mightily morph into Kimberley, the Pink Ranger.
All these years later, young girls and boys around the globe share those same dreams, and by making assumptions and decisions for them, we deny them the freedom to be creative, to expand their imaginations.
And we deny them the opportunity to decide for themselves whether they want the girl or not.