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RESEARCH PROPOSAL

Gender representation in contemporary superhero films

Research Question

How gender representation is portrayed in the contemporary Marvel superhero films?

Overview of the Study

This project will be evaluating how gender representation portrayed in 21st century Marvel superhero films. This research will concentrate on using Marvel’s The Avenger (dir. Josh Whedon, 2012) which is the assemblage of all contemporary Marvels’ superhero made after Ironman since 2008. Thompson (1999) and Bordwell (2006) both argued that Hollywood films often emphasize on character traits. Contemporary Hollywood filmmaking tends to draw on certain gender representational pattern of superhero is first and foremost a man. Therefore textual analysis will be used to analyze how masculinity and femininity values are constructed among the main characters in the film.

Aim & Objectives

The aim of this study is to evaluate how gender representation portrayed in 21st century Marvel superhero films.

The objective of this study is to analyze how masculinity and femininity values are constructed among the main characters in 21st century Marvel superhero films.

Literature Review

In the past seven years, majority number of blockbuster superhero action adventure films such as Batman, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Spiderman, Hellboy 1 and 2, Hulk, Ironman, and a host of other “men” have flown, stomped, fallen, and swung across screens in these Hollywood blockbusters (Stabile, 2009). In fact, Gray & Kaklamanidou (2011) describes superhero as someone usually possesses a combination of mental and physical strength more than ordinary human being that fight against evil who will succeeds against all odds. These superhero characters are basically adapted from comic books. The characters in the film are presented in stereotypical manner such as either present male heroes and female damsels such as Superman Returns (2006), the Spider-Man films (2002, 2004, 2007) or else allow for a few female superheroes as part of a male-run-crime-fighting collective, as in X-Men Films (2000, 2003, 2006), and the Fantastic Four franchise (2005, 2007).

Gallagher (2006) described masculinity as a product in our culture; the action film has historically been a ‘male’ genre, dealing with stories of male heroism and women as peripheral princesses. However these attributes and behaviors tend to shift over time and are constantly under negotiation in the film. Furthermore as Benshoff & Griffin (2009) argued that although there are slight variations can be found in countless Hollywood films, the way of cinematically telling stories is basically the same today as it was in the 1930s. Classical Hollywood style is always formulated to spoon-feed story information to the spectator, thus keeping everything clearly understood by the audience. For instance, Thompson (1999) and Bordwell (2006) both argued that Hollywood films often emphasize on character traits. Contemporary Hollywood filmmaking tends to draw on certain gender representational pattern of superhero is first and foremost a man. Besides, the superhero is an American creation, born on the eve of World War II (Gray & Kaklamanidou, 2011). Therefore the role of superhero is always associated with typical masculinity traits while the characters in superhero film are portrayed in stereotypical manners.

Interestingly, over the past few decades, various male-dominated Hollywood genres have been adapted for female leads. Benshoff & Griffin (2009) explained that the science fiction action-adventure film has also produced some strong female leads, played most notably by Sigourney Weaver in the Alien Films (1979, 1986, 1992, 1997) as well as Jovovich’s Alice in the Resident Evil film franchise (2002, 2004, 2007) has become the most financially successful female action character of the era. However, mainstream Hollywood entertainment still negotiates gender in ways that uphold and maintain patriarchal privilege (Cohan & Hark, 1993). The nostalgic Hollywood blockbuster formula, with its stalwart male heroes, continues to drive the industry. Another way of looking at the gender representation in superhero film is that, Hollywood filmmaking tends to exploit sexy male bodies in action while female action adventure heroes with objectified sex appeal. As Benshoff & Griffin (2009) argued that although more and more women are entering the Hollywood industry, the sexual objectification of female bodies tends to surround on the female lead while men tend to dominate the main role in superhero film.

Methodology

Given the exploratory nature of this study is to evaluate gender representation portrayed in 21st century Marvel superhero films; it is proposed qualitative research method of textual analysis will be used to analyse the text in contemporary Marvel’s superhero films. Textual analysis in fact is research method of trying to learn something about people by examining the content, structure, and functions of the messages contained in texts (Frey et al., 1999). In other words, textual analysis may use to describe and interpret the characteristics such as behavioral patterns, values and attitudes of a recorded or visual message.

Marvel’s The Avenger (dir. Josh Whedon, 2012) will be selected to evaluate how masculinity and femininity values are constructed among the main characters. In fact, Marvel’s The Avenger is the assemblage of all contemporary Marvels’ superhero made after Ironman since 2008 (Marvel, 2012). This film basically consists of four main characters of Marvel’s superhero that are Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk and Thor. Furthermore, the film also features with other existing S.H.I.E.L.D agent Hawkeye and Blackwidow. Likewise, analyzing the text in the Marvel’s The Avenger provides the researcher the opportunities to study a few series of contemporary superhero film simultaneously.

Indeed, textual analysis consists of both strengths and weaknesses in analysing the gender representation in the film. According to Larsen (1991), textual analysis is able to bring out whole range of possible meaning in the film content. It is also a preferred method for identifying such latent meaning and a powerful tool for researchers who seek to produce theoretically valid interpretations of the targeted text. However, textual analysis required an extremely close reading on the specific text (Frey et al., 1999). It is time consuming and has high maintenance need which the researcher is requires to set up the rules, such as coding.

In fact, content analysis according to Weare & Lin (2000) is able to determine the presence written and spoken communication or concepts within texts. However, it is obtrusive and a purely descriptive method which it unable to reveal underlying motives for the observed pattern (‘what’ but not ‘why’). Therefore as the objective of this study is to analyse the gender representation and characters role played in the contemporary Marvel’s superhero films, the purpose of using textual analysis in this study is thus able to provide in-depth understanding on the text.

Marvel’s The Avenger

In fact, Marvel’s The Avengers is a 2012 American Hollywood film produced by Marvel studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. In fact, it is featuring with iconic Marvel super heroes Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye and Black Widow. Marvel’s The Avenger has been ranked as the third highest grossing film in worldwide. However it is interesting that 7 out of 8 leading are male while the only female lead is Scarlett Johansson who plays the role as Black Widow.

Marvel Studios has released nine films since 2008 within the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Iron Man (2008), The Incredible Hulk (2008), Iron Man 2 (2010), Thor (2011), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), Marvel’s The Avengers (2012), Iron Man 3 (2013), Thor: The Dark World (2013) and Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) (Marvel, 2014).

Significant of study

Superhero film is relatively one of the latest development trends in Hollywood film (Gray & Kaklamanidou, 2011). However, there has been no much academic research made on superhero movie. It is believe that the increasing number of these films requires an in-depth academic study on the concept of superhero in this globalized society that is emphasize on gender equality. As Ryan & Kellner (1990) argued that the representation of certain characters can work towards explaining the political social landscape the current time. It would be interesting to find out how men and women in these movies are represented: how different characters are portrayed, using typically feminine and masculine traits. Therefore this study will contribute to the future research and literature related to gender in action and superhero film.

Timeline of research

Months Task
June Research topic area of interest Completed
Micro presentation about topic of interest Completed
Research and review of literature Completed
Online engaging for sharing purpose (methodology) Completed
Submission for first draft of proposal Completed
July Feedback received on first draft of proposal Completed
Evaluate suitable methodology Completed
One on one progress meeting Completed
Meeting with programme leader Completed
Online engagement on the following dissertation plan Completed
August Final review of proposal Completed
Submission of research proposal Completed
September Submission of progress report
October Chapter 2 Literature Review
Submission of annotated bibliography and critical methodology
Chapter 3 methodology
Chapter 4 Analyzing the text
November Chapter 5 Conclusion
January Submission of dissertation

Conclusion

This project will be evaluating how gender representation portrayed in 21st century Marvel superhero films by using Marvel’s The Avenger. Textual analysis is because it able to provide in-depth understanding and analysis on the gender representation and characters role played in the film. While the number of superhero is increase, this study serves as a fundamental literature thus able contributes to the future research on gender in action and superhero film.

Bibliography & References

BENSHOFF, H. M, & GRIFFIN, S. (2009) America on film: Representing race, class, gender and sexuality at the movies, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

BORDWELL, Da. (2006) The way Hollywood tells it: Story and style in modern movies. Berkeley: University of California Press.

CODELL, J. L. (2007) Genre, gender, race and world cinema: An anthology, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

COHAN, S., & HARK, I. R. (1993) Screening the male: Exploring masculinities in Hollywood cinema, London: Routledge.

FREY, L., BOTAN, C., & KREPS, G. (1999) Investigating communication: An introduction to research methods. (2nd eds.) Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

GALLAGHER, M. (2006) Action figures: Men, action films, and contemporary adventure narratives, New York: McMillan.

GRAYLAND, R., & KAKLAMANIDOU, B. (2011) The 21st Century Superhero: Essays on Gender, Genre and Globalization in Film. North Carolina: McFarland.

KING, N. (2008) Generic womanhood: Gendered depictions in cop action cinema, Journal of Gender & Society, 22, 238-258 [online] Available from: www.swetwise.com [Accessed 9 July, 2014]

LARSEN, P. (1991) Textual analysis of ¬ctional media content, In J. Vercshueren, J. O. Ostman, & J. Blommaert (Eds.), A handbook of qualitative methodologies for mass communication research (pp. 121–134). New York, NY: Routledge. Painter, C. & Ferucci, Patrik

MARVEL’S THE AVENGER. (2012) [Film] Directed by Joss Whedon. California: Marvel Studios.

MILLER, K. (2005) Communications theories: perspectives, processes, and contexts. New York: McGraw-Hill.

STABILE, C. A. (2009) Sweetheart, This ain’t gender studies: Sexism and superheroes, Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, 6:1, 86-92 [online] Available from: www.swetwise.com[Accessed 11 July, 2014]

THOMPSON, K. (1999) Storytelling in the new Hollywood: Understanding classical narrative technique. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

WEARE, C., & LIN, W. Y. (2000) Content analysis of the World Wide Web: Opportunities and challenges, Social Science Computer Review, 18:3, 272-292