“Hey men, what would you wear to fight? Hint: don’t expose your vital organs,” wrote Jessica Chastain on November 14. She was responding to a wry tweet from Melissa Silverstein, founder of Women and Hollywood, that compared the Amazon warrior costumes in Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman (designed by Lindy Hemming) to the Amazon warrior costumes in Zack Snyder’s Justice League (designed by Michael Wilkinson, who also created the costumes for Batman v Superman). The former were sturdy, battle-ready combinations of leather and armor; the latter were skimpy outfits that emphasized their wearers’ chests and exposed their washboard abs.
While some might argue that the images shown were cherry-picked, the uproar that ensued highlighted a glaring issue in Hollywood’s depiction of female action heroes: most of the time, they’re not clothed nearly as appropriately as their male counterparts. (Yes, George Clooney’s Batman and Robin costume was decorated with sculpted nipples—but at least his chest was covered.)
Action leads like Xena and Buffy have made great strides in how women are portrayed as warriors, but for years, it seemed that every positive step came with an equal and opposite setback—Halle Berry’s Catwoman; the scrapped 2011 Wonder Woman TV series; films like Sucker Punch in which women attempt to fight in high heels and glorified lingerie. As Cara Delevingne said upon the release of Suicide Squad, another offender: “Generally, though, superhero movies are totally sexist. Female superheroes are normally naked or in bikinis. No one would be able to fight like that.”
But more recently, movies like Wonder Woman and The Force Awakens have laid the groundwork for equality in how action stars are presented—and clothed. As Hollywood’s post-Weinstein reckoning continues, those efforts matter even more; as Michael Kaplan, costume designer for The Last Jedi, said this month, “There’s wonderful strong women in this film, much more than we’ve seen ever before in a Star Wars film. And I think it’s reflecting what’s going on [in the news].”
What’s more, costume equality in Hollywood is set to reach new heights in 2018—and beyond. For proof, look no further than this survey of 2017’s greatest female action-hero costumes—and the outfits we’re most looking forward to seeing on screens next year.
Here is a fantastic example of the difference between the male and female gaze.
Patty Jenkins' Amazon warriors on the left. Zack Snyder's on the right. pic.twitter.com/fRDkV8dFLe
— Melissa Silverstein (@melsil) November 12, 2017
Images courtesy vanityfair.com