'A huge, huge impact on other women': From Doctor Who to NBA Live, pop culture gender trends are shifting

There have been several significant firsts for women in recent weeks, from video games to TV shows to movies. But is it a blip or a trend?

Gender equity consultant says new female-led series and movies are especially important for young women, girls

Jodie Whittaker, who is taking on the lead role in the long-running Doctor Who TV series, attends the EW: Women who Kick Ass panel on day three of Comic-Con International on July 21, 2018, in San Diego. (Chris Pizzello/The Associated Press)

It's still mostly a man's world in video games and action movies and TV shows. But in recent weeks, there have been signs of change that have some experts and commentators feeling cautiously optimistic.

A promotional video from the video game company EA Sports for its newest basketball game says NBA Live 19 will allow gamers to create female players for the first time since the series began in 1994.

"That might entice young girls to maybe want to play with their brothers … and be included in something that they might not have been included in before," said Canadian basketball play-by-play announcer and former collegiate player Meghan McPeak.

"It might show a different level of respect that some young men have for the women's game that don't necessarily have it now, or don't have the chance to see it," she said.

Meghan McPeak is the first female play-by-play announcer in the NBA G League. (Alexandra Vergyris)

McPeak knows all about breaking new ground. As the play-by-play voice for the Raptors 905 (the NBA G League farm team for the Toronto Raptors), McPeak is the first female play-by-play announcer in the league.

She says while seeing female players in an NBA video game could've easily happened a while ago, the timing is better now.

"I think it's a great moment and I think if it happened earlier, I don't think that it would've had the same impact that it does right now. But it's great that it's happening," said McPeak.

Firsts for women in TV shows, movies

In more than 55 years, 12 male actors have played the role of Doctor Who in the long-running TV series. Now, for the first time, a woman will headline the British science-fiction show.

Jodie Whittaker took the stage last month at the 2018 Comic-Con International in San Diego for her first public appearance as the 13th doctor.

Meanwhile, this summer's release of Ant-Man and the Wasp was the first Marvel Comics superhero film to feature a woman in a leading title role.

Actress Evangeline Lilly poses for a portrait during press day for Ant-Man and The Wasp. (Joran Strauss/The Associated Press)

Canadian Evangeline Lilly plays the Wasp and told MTV in an interview that a line at the end of the first Ant-Man movie perfectly summarized her feelings about it.

"At the end of that script, I see a prototype for the Wasp suit and I say, 'it's about damn time,'" said Lilly.

Last year's Wonder Woman was the first DC Comics film to feature a female lead, and Wonder Woman was the first female superhero to get her own movie.

Huge impact on young women and girls

"This has a huge, huge impact on other women, particularly young women and especially girls," said Cristina Stasia, a gender equity consultant and director of instruction at the University of Alberta's Peter Lougheed Leadership College.

She's published work on female action cinema and says you can summarize the impact she's referring to by watching a video on YouTube of young women and girls watching the live unveiling of the new Doctor Who lead.

"Someone is filming her and she's watching the video on her computer and then they announce that Doctor Who is a woman, and this young girl bursts into tears and just, like, throws a fit of ecstasy, and you can just see the world opening up for her," said Stasia.

She credited this to the global response to the #MeToo movement and increased awareness of gender equality and sexual violence in our world.

"But we need to make sure that we're buying tickets for the films, buying these games, playing these games, so that it becomes lucrative," said Stasia.

"The only way they're going to keep doing this is if it makes them money."

A blip or a trend?

Dr. Cristina Stasia, a gender equity consultant, has published work on female action cinema and says its time we start seeing the realities of women's lives portrayed on screen. (Curtis Trent)
Stasia says she's had enough of talking about "firsts" that should've happened long ago.

"I don't want to keep getting excited every time there's a new female action hero because women play basketball, women play hockey, women can save the day. Let's start seeing that on the screen: on our video screen, our television screen, on our film screen," she said.

Despite these firsts, a new report from the University of Southern California suggests nothing's changed on the big screen.

After analyzing the top 100 Hollywood films, researchers found only 31 per cent of characters with speaking roles were women — a ratio that hasn't shifted in the past 11 years.

About the Author

Jason Osler is the national 'trends' columnist for CBC Radio.


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