I’ll be the first to admit that I could broaden my scope regarding how I engage with current events. It’s much to my chagrin that my primary news sources are Facebook’s trending sidebar and whenever my grandfather changes the channel to CP24, in that order. That said, every now and then one of the comic book news sites I visit daily will offer me a glimpse of what’s happening outside that bubble.
In the case of this topic, I was informed not of what actually happened but of the response to it, days after the fact. The “event” in question took place during Miley Cyrus’s interview with Variety, which as the title would suggest was largely focused on her role on The Voice, Donald Trump, and coming out. To be more specific, it was the following question and answer [and yes, it is in fact related to comics]:
Why do you think inequality still exists for women in Hollywood?
A lot of it could be changed if we had a female president. That would give us a subconscious boost. I think people will have to realize they’re looking really dated. For example, there’s a show called “Supergirl.” I think having a show with a gender attached to it is weird. One, it’s a woman on that fucking billboard — it’s not a little girl. Two, what if you’re a little boy who wants to be a girl so bad that this makes you feel bad? I think having a title like “Supergirl” doesn’t give the power that people think it does.
Now before I break down her criticisms of Supergirl I want to spotlight what one creator had to say about Cyrus’s comments. Andrew Kreisberg, Supergirl‘s executive director, acknowledged the Variety interview during a press event the following day, telling those gathered that:
“I think we worked hard in the early part of season one to address the discrepancy, and actually had a scene with Kara lamenting being called Supergirl and Cat with the great rejoinder about how the word ‘girl’ in and of itself is not offensive.
For us, the strongest feminist thing on the show is Kara herself as a character and what she does week in and week out. The challenges she’s presented with and how she overcomes them both physically and emotionally. That’s the biggest statement on having a powerful female on TV is by not talking about it and actually showing a powerful female on television. That’s the biggest feminist statement we could make.”
While I couldn’t find a clip on YouTube of the scene between Kara, Supergirl’s secret identity, and Cat Grant, the CEO of CatCo Worldwide Media and her boss, I did come across a Washington Post article that contains the exchange and focuses on trying to get to the bottom of whether or not the name is offensive.
The article may also be worth reading for more than just the actual conversation being cited. It also acts as an additional rebuttal to what I believe is Cyrus’s strongest point, which is that the name may be ill-suited for a female person in her twenties. On the other side of the aisle Sue Storms of the Fantastic Four was introduced as the Invisible Girl in 1961, and while it took over 20 years she did eventually decide to swap out the moniker for the Invisible Woman.
That’s all to say that I’m going to allow Kreisberg to speak for himself and everyone else working on bringing Supergirl to the screen, at least as far as the pseudonym the title character chooses to go by. What I want to address instead are Cyrus’s follow-up comments, which I found to be much weaker.
To be as fair as possible to the singer/actor, I want to provide context to her statement that “I think having a show with a gender attached to it is weird.” The interview was published on October 11th, which is National Coming Out Day 2016. The preceding question actually asks about her identifying as a pansexual, and she [as far as I’ve been able to tell Cyrus has not expressed a preference in regards to pronouns] shares that she “[feels] very neutral.” She also recounts being able to relate to a person she saw who identified as neither male or female “more than [she] related to anyone in [her] life.”
As a person who considers herself gender neutral, it does make sense that Cyrus might consider having gender attached to anything, let alone the title of a TV show, to be a ridiculous concept. Having provided more context as to where she’s coming from, however, it’s important that we view her statements within the cultural context we live in, with particular attention to entertainment.
Of the American live-action superhero movies that have come out in the last five years, 21 have titles that are relate to either a male hero or a team comprised of male heroes [and that’s not counting Doctor Strange, which is due out next month]. Not a single one stars or bears the title of a female hero. Wonder Woman, arguably the most well-known female hero bar none, appeared in a movie that was headlined by two men: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. While not technically a superhero film Ghostbusters did star an all-female cast, yet bears a gender-neutral title. When considering that Supergirl moved from CBS to The CW for its second season it moved to rub shoulders with Arrow and The Flash.
It’s fine to think that “having a show with a gender attached to it is weird”, but considering that the gender in this case is female it’s difficult for me not to see it as a step in the right direction, towards some kind of far-off equilibrium.
Cyrus asking “what if you’re a little boy who wants to be a girl so bad that this makes you feel bad?” is even more confusing. Interpreting the question to mean that a little boy might be so awed by Supergirl as a character that they want to become female, what does it say to little girls who’ve had almost two dozen superhero blockbusters starring guys? For a number of years they had Black Widow to choose from as she appeared in movies from Iron Man 2 to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, always in a supporting role to the male lead.
In a world where there isn’t a stark imbalance between male and female representation in comic book screen media, the most lucrative genre in the world right now, Cyrus’ comments can stand on their own. Given the fact, however, that films like Ghostbusters need to be championed at all speaks to the current culture we live in. Cyrus may have been criticizing the show and what it stands for, but in doing so she underscores just how necessary it is. The title may not be perfect by any means, but maybe Supergirl can and does give the power that people think it does.