Perhaps like her portrayer, a rare female presence in a male-led superhero movie, Christina Wren's Man of Steel character Major Carrie Farris often found herself the only woman in rooms filled with very powerful men. And despite the 2013 film being called by Slate the "feminist action movie of the year," there was no denying that in Man of Steel, women were scarce. Yet since then, Major Farris has earned a promotion — and in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice , out Mar. 25, women are front-and-center, playing seriously significant roles.
"We know it’s a problem that women aren’t as often represented on screen, and that that goes for even smaller roles like extras or characters that have one line," Wren tells Bustle. Thankfully, in Batman v. Superman, there are plenty of important female characters. Wonder Woman makes her big-screen debut, and it's been rumored that Jena Malone will appear as Barbara Gordon. Man of Steel featured a female supervillain, Faora, who could potentially return in the new film, and BvS will definitely have an expanded role for Lois Lane (Amy Adams), who returns, of course, as Clark Kent's Daily Planet colleague and love interest.
"I love this version’s take of Lois Lane; you know, she’s not the doe-eyed, naïve woman who’s just taken by Superman," Wren reveals. "She’s so much more savvy, and she puts herself in harm’s way for her work. She’s brave and articulate."
Behind the scenes, there are also signs of change; Batman v. Superman is produced by Deborah Snyder, the film's director Zack Snyder's wife. But it's Wren's character, Major Farris, that's one of the movie's best examples of its feminism. In a world rife with superheroes, Farris keeps pace even without supernatural abilities, and while Wren says that "this is mainly Batman and Superman's movie," there's no question that her character plays a major part.
"She recognizes authority and the way that power structure kind of works, but holds her own in the room as well," Wren says. She adds that she identifies with her character's situation, saying of her on-set environments, "I'm in a room of heavy-hitters, and I need to make sure I represent myself very well."
For Wren, being in two Superman movies (and counting) is "a geeky dream come true." She recalls how she and her brother were avid fans of the Christopher Reeve series growing up, with many days spent with towel-made capes on their shoulders and John Williams' theme songs stuck in their heads. But growing up a fan of a male superhero, Wren confronted gender norms that still persist today. "The superhero toys were my brother's," she says, but "I liked playing with them... I never knew what to do with a Barbie."
Toys might seem tangential to the issues of gender representation in Hollywood, but as anyone who followed the controversy over Rey's absence in many Star Wars: The Force Awakens toys or The Avengers' figurine packages lacking Black Widow, the tie-ins reveal deep-rooted disparities that are especially visible in science fiction and superhero films. Toys are one of the primary ways young fans can engage with the material, so the absence of central female characters in the collections is frustrating, to say the least. It reinforces a normative logic that socializes boys and girls from young ages to think there are certain things that are meant for them. As Wren says, boys get the "stuff that you get to be messy and play with," while the girls' aisle is filled with pink and purple and dolls.
"There's such a distinct line," the actor says. "I think people would be surprised how many girls, if they didn’t feel they weren’t supposed to, would pick a figurine — would pick a toy that looks like you can do really cool things with it."
And the less examples young girls have of these superheroes in their lives, the less likely they might be to think that they can look up to them, or even play one in a movie. Yet hopefully seeing female actors like Wren and Amy Adams in Batman v. Superman will show what's possible. Wren might not have a figurine hitting shelves any time soon, but, like the many women that populate Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman, she's no token, either.
Images: Warner Bros.