Gendered Superheroes & Spies in American movies

Nimen hao,

welcome to this week’s class.

We will do some work on gender by talking about some American movies (and next week we’ll compare Chinese and American heroes in the Wandering Earth, Superhero movies, and Wolf Warrior movies).

Today we will look at series of images and movie clips from American Spy and Superheroes movies and discuss their representation of gender (representations of masculinity, femininity, maleness and femaleness and other gender identities and the relations between them).

Feminine = a constructed (made) representation

Before we do that let’s just have a quick think about gender as something that is represented in language, as something that is constructed … rather than an expression of a natural essence.

Femininity is socially constructed, but made up of both socially-defined and biologically-created factors. This makes it distinct from the definition of the biological female sex, as, for example, biological males, trans and females can exhibit feminine traits.

Traits traditionally cited as feminine include gentleness, empathy, and sensitivity, though traits associated with femininity vary depending on location and context, and are influenced by a variety of social and cultural factors.[9]

Difference, and oppositional difference (dichotomy) is one of the key organizing principles of language representational systems. Its true, for example, of the Wolf Warrior movies where good guys are defined as kinds of opposites of the bad guys. Opposites are often employed in the ways that gender is thought of, spoken and written about, and shown too.

Let’s take a moment to think of the meanings we think might be associated with femininity and masculinity and see if they look like they’re governed by oppositional difference.

Spy films (comparison 1: Bond v Blonde)

As you watch the clips, keep in mind some of the elements that constitute a movie review:

  • Creative craft elements (including, for example, quality of script, direction and performances, visual design and cinematography,  lighting, set design, costume, hair, make-up, special effects, sound, music, editing.
  • Story, plot, genre, style.
  • Social themes and significance.

“The name is Bond, James Bond.”

Lets start by having a look at this clip from Spectre, one of the recent Bond series movies. First a brief synopsis:

British spy chief “M,” Moneypenny and Q are fighting for survival against an ambitious government mandarin with plans to shut down the 00 agent program and replace it with his own high-tech surveillance network. Bond (007) has to track down a sinister Austrian kingpin at the heart of Spectre, an evil organisation with tentacular reach and extensive personnel. If he succeeds, then the 00 system might be saved, and the new computer surveillance system rejected.

During his quest, Bond goes to Austria where he encounters his main love interest, Dr Madeleine Swann (the woman in the car in this scene). The pair manage to get away to Tangier on a train journey after a punch-up with a beefy henchman. Later, they are captured by and have to overcome the evil Oberhauser, Spectre’s CEO.

Clip1: Spectre.


Now let’s have a look at a clip from Atomic Blonde. (clip from 01:10). Again, let’s read a brief synopsis first.

The setting is Berlin just before the fall of the Wall; the paranoid hangover of the cold war is giving way to a new era of hungry opportunism. A British agent has been murdered; a valuable list is missing. And MI5 asset Lorraine Broughton … is flown in to clear up the mess. There she butts heads with fellow agent David Percival … and has a fling with rookie French spy Delphine ….In this scene the East German security guards are trying to prevent a spy leaving for the West. By killing him ….

Clip 2: Atomic Blonde scene to be played in class.

Discussion: work in your small groups to compare the two scenes.

  • Describe each of the scenes: what kind of a scene is it; who are the protagonists; what happened?
  • Discuss the scenes in terms of their gendered representations

Superhero films (comparison 2: Superman v. Batman V. Superman + Suicide Squad + Avengers: Infinity War).

Let’s begin this comparison by watching “mild mannered reporter Clark Kent” Superman do some super stuff while Lois Lane (Clark Kent’s colleague/Superman’s love interest) does what she does (from Superman, 1978).


Now let’s watch these three clips from Batman V. Superman.

Clip 4. Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice scene 1.


Clip 5. Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice scene 2.


Clip 6. Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, scene 3.


Discussion: work in your small groups to compare the scene from Superman the Movie with the those from Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

  • Describe each of the scenes: who are the protagonists; what happened?
  • Evaluate the scenes from the two movies in terms of the way that gender is represented in the two movies?

Female Superheroes

Marvel and DC comics have each made their own world of superheroes in comics and film. In each there are interesting representations of women. Let’s have a look a “mash-up” of some of some the DC Comics Gotham City girls and Captain Marvel.

Clip 7: Gotham City Girls


Clip 8. Captain Marvel (to be played in class).

Discussion: Superwomen? Gotham City Sirens + Captain Marvel.

Work in your small groups to describe the female characters represented in the Gotham City Sirens and the Captain Marvel clip

Comparison: Suicide Squad v. Avengers: Infinity War

Now let’s watch these clip from Suicide Squad.

First read this synopsis.

Suicide Squad takes place after the events of “BvS.” Davis’ Amanda Waller gets the idea to pluck the worst of the worst villains from prison and give them a chance to reduce their sentences. In return, they must help the state fight its trickiest foes. Their first assignment is to take down a seemingly insurmountable, supernatural figure: the ancient Enchantress, who can time travel and zip through space and manipulate metal and has all kinds of impressive, dangerous skills.

Clip 9-10: Suicide Squad scene to be played in class.

Now let’s have a look at a scene from Avengers: Infinity War. Here’s a brief synopsis.

Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk and the rest of the Avengers unite to battle their most powerful enemy yet — the evil Thanos. On a mission to collect all six Infinity Stones, Thanos plans to use the artifacts to inflict his twisted will on reality. The fate of the planet and existence itself has never been more uncertain as everything the Avengers have fought for has led up to this moment.

Clip11: Avengers: Infinity War

Discussion: Suicide Squad + Avengers: Infinity War.

Work in your small groups to compare the scenes from Suicide Squad with the that from Avengers: Infinity War.

  • Describe each of the scenes: what kind of a scene is it; who are the protagonists; what happened? What were the craft elements and what did you think of them?
  • Discuss the scenes from the two movies in terms of their gender representations.

See a character list for Avengers here.

Or here.


Please do the reading on femininity (sent to our wechat group).

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