I am not in the (vast) camp of people who hated Suicide Squad. I thought it was better than Man of Steel, and it was very definitely better than Batman V Superman. Still, despite the fact that critics have probably been overly harsh on the film – after all, it just topped Man of Steel’s box office total – this film undoubtedly has a problem with its women. There has already been a lot said about the film’s general misogyny, by a lot of incredible writers, and even by Margot Robbie herself.
There is, however, one additional issue with the specific brand of misogyny in this movie (and it is a highly specific brand – to the film’s credit and unlike many of its Marvel rivals, it passes the Bechdel test), I’ve yet to see discussed: and that is the fact that, aside from Viola Davis’s steely Amanda Waller, none of the female characters are over thirty.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. According to the plot, all of the women are at least in their late twenties. Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn was initially the Joker’s psychiatrist, before developing feelings for him and joining his side as a deranged, pigtail-sporting sidekick. Even if Harley’s time at the Joker’s side has been brief at the point of the film’s main plot, she would have had to be in her late twenties in order to have qualified as a psychiatrist – and probably would have had to practice for a few years before she got assigned to work with the most dangerous mental patient in Arkham Asylum. Yet she is played by 26 year old Margot Robbie.
Archeologist Dr. June Moon, whose body serves as the host for the film’s villain, the Enchantress, evidently has a PhD (the clue is in the name). She is played by Cara Delevingne, who would have been 23 at the time of filming. Just last year, Delevingne was starring as a high schooler in Paper Towns yet, according to Suicide Squad, she is able to pass for a serious professional with a PhD in 2016.
Even Katana, the masked badass who talks frequently to the ghost of her (implicitly long-dead) husband, is played by Karen Fukuhara, age 24.
It is worth mentioning that not a single one of the male-speaking roles is under thirty. Not one.
While actresses’ age may not necessarily seem like the most problematic aspect of a movie whose female lead spends the bulk of the action in teeny-tiny hot-pants, it is a conversation that needs to be had.
Actually, it is a conversation that is already being had. Last year, at 37, Maggie Gyllenhaal was told she is too old to play a 55-year-old actor’s love interest. At 32, Olivia Wilde was declared too old to play Leonardo DiCaprio’s wife in Wolf of Wall Street. The highest-paid actress in Hollywood, Jennifer Lawrence, has gotten extensive critical acclaim for roles very clearly written for women in their thirties or forties, despite being in her early twenties. In fact, Lawrence was originally considered ‘too young’ for Silver Linings Playbook, the role for which the Academy gave her the award for Best Actress, but got the role anyway.
Hollywood has had a problem with impossibly young women for a while, but never has that been clearer than in Suicide Squad.
We cannot deny that blockbuster movies influence how women are expected to look. The issue is not, however, as is occasionally implied, that casting directors choose actresses who are ‘too pretty’ – that kind of talk is anti-feminist and, frankly, petty.
The issue is that no 35-year-old can look like a 20-year-old. And by consistently casting women who are under thirty to play characters who are over thirty, Hollywood sets a Catch-22 for aging women, where even when their stories are told onscreen, they are done so by women barely out of their teens, so in effect they don’t exist. These films also serve to normalize an aesthetic of early twenty-something women in romantic relationships with men in their late thirties and forties, without ever addressing the visible age gap – implying, I can only suppose, that there just isn’t one.
In which case, according to films like Suicide Squad, women don’t age.
It’s not all bleak. In 2017, D.C. is bringing us Wonder Woman, where the titular character is played by a thirty-one year oldsomething Gal Gadot and ageless goddess Robin Wright co-stars as an ageless goddess. So that’s something.
But come on, Hollywood. Be better. Cast age-appropriate actresses. Or write more college students into your scripts. But don’t make your viewers feel insecure about how, on top of not being a supermodel, we don’t hold PhDs at 23.