Macquarie University
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Can a superhero fight patriarchy?: Challenging the ancient masculinisation of mythic heroism in modern superhero action cinema

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posted on 2022-03-29, 02:32 authored by Michelle Mead
With the exponential rise of superhero cinema in the last decade, exemplified by the success of the Marvel film franchise, superhero mythology has fought its way into our zeitgeist. The rising call for heroes who break the mould of male white Western subjectivity has been met with films like, Wonder Woman (2017), Black Panther (2018) and Captain Marvel (2019). However, hyper-masculine heroes still "rule" the genre (Hagley & Harrison 2014; Kvaran 2017:234), and superhero films still enshrine the idea that "world salvation" is only possible through a brutal battle, where a "good" power fights a monstrous evil one. Perhaps the genre's roots in patriarchal capitalism, militarism and imperialism, may forbid fundamental change. This research project asks: How can creative practice present an alternative to the patriarchal model's values enshrined in the superhero genre? It will combine creative practice with a written thesis, each informing the other, as two integrated pieces of one project. The written thesis will deconstruct the patriarchal logic, values and behaviour implicit within the role of the superhero. This information will form the basis for the creative practice research component, to develop what the film industry terms a "story world". The period, place, problems, rules and pressures of this story world will be expressed in an illustrated document known as a story world "bible", along with character backstories involving intertwined plots. The aim of this research is to develop a theoretical framework which can support the revision of core myths in popular superhero genres. The written thesis will substantiate this framework and the prototype creative work will demonstrate how this alternative paradigm can sustain the excitement of the superhero genre but present a profoundly different ideological premise.


Table of Contents

Introduction -- Chapter 1. Patriarchy as a storyworld -- Chapter 2. Patriarchy as a storyworld for female warrior heroes -- Chapter 3. A study of six superhero film storyworlds -- Chapter 4. A new kind of superhero storyworld: reflection on creative practice component form and process -- Conclusion


Bibliography: pages Theoretical thesis.

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis MRes


MRes, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Media, Music, Communication & Cultural Studies

Department, Centre or School

Department of Music, Media, Culture and Communication Studies

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Karen Pearlman


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