Taking a look at why such a lovable, nutty character has yet to be seen on the big screen, despite a seemingly endless abundance of male superheroes. Photo Credit: Corduroy Graphics
In the fall of 2016, during my senior year of college, I had the opportunity to intern at a couple different development companies in Los Angeles, California. Both required me to do script coverage, pick up lunch for the office, and do research for potential development projects. It was then that I first heard of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.
I’ve long considered myself a “nerd” in the general sense. I enjoy action movies, books, and I have a casual relationship with video games. That being said, it still took me until the age of 21 to discover the nutty ginger-haired hero called Squirrel Girl. However once I did discover her, I was in love. It was the first time I’d ever seen a superhero that resembled me. In a world where male superheroes of all sorts are aplenty and female superheroes must fit into size 0 spandex, my sweet peanut-loving Doreen didn’t have a chance at the spotlight.
Doreen Green, also known as Squirrel Girl, first appeared in the Marvel Super-Heroes comic book, volume 2 #8 in the winter of 1991. She’s a redheaded, socially awkward, and tech-smart hero whose powers are unconventional and even humorous. She sports a furry squirrel-like tail, buck teeth strong enough to chew through wood, and superhuman strength and agility that allows her to jump and glide through trees. She has sharp claws and retractable “knuckle spikes” akin to X-Men’s Wolverine, although significantly smaller and more rodent-like.
Perhaps her most comical and exciting power is her ability to communicate with squirrels. As an Eliza Thornberry fan, I grew up thinking the ability to talk to animals was the coolest power someone could have. Of course her unique linguist capacity also provides her the opportunity to have squirrel sidekicks who attack villains with her in the form of Monkey Joe (a squirrel despite the ape name) and later, Tippy-Toe (a female squirrel who sports a pink bow, because ya know… how else would you know Tippy was a female if she weren’t wearing a pink bow?)
While her powers and quirks are quite amusing, she’s actually a total badass. In 2015 Doreen Green finally starred in her own comic book series, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. Why Unbeatable? Well because, she’s unbeatable! Doreen in her powerful rodent form has yet to be defeated by a villain. She began her heroic career path at the age of 14 when she saved Iron Man from Doctor Doom. You read that correctly. One of the most popular heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was saved by a young Squirrel Girl. Then, after moving to New York to pursue a degree in computer science, Doreen joined the Great Lakes Avengers.
The production company that first had me doing research on Squirrel Girl asked if I thought she was worth producing a movie for, and of course I insisted that she was. She was unique, a young girl interested in computer science, she lacked much of the typical sex appeal given to older, more well-known female heroes, she was extremely fun and creative, and in some versions she’s even been depicted as more heavy-set, a specific detail which I related to personally and appreciated. But here we are, over four years later, and there is still no Squirrel Girl movie. You can catch her in a few episodes of the Marvel Rising cartoon series, voiced by AT&T sweetheart Milana Vayntrub, but she’s yet to get her blockbuster debut, or any live-action retelling for that matter.
So why is such a loveable, hilarious, and powerful superhero being ignored by Hollywood while Spider-Man has had four actors pass through the role since the hero’s first feature in 2002? (I’m including Sony’s successful, animated Into the Spider-Verse in addition to three live-action attempts.) Is it because her name and powers are dorky? Is it because she wears leggings instead of a short skirt? She sports a short pixie cut instead of long flowing locks? Maybe it’s because she is too young? (although again, four high school Spider-Mans…) Are Hollywood executives doubtful of how successful her franchise could be? Or perhaps it’s simply because she’s just a little chubby…
Unfortunately I think every one of these is a factor. Boys like superhero movies, not little girls. Men like hot female superheroes, not awkward teenage girls. Housewives certainly couldn’t name a superhero off the top of their head if they tried. Films helmed by women have proven unsuccessful. Only… wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong. If it were up to the lady nerds like myself, we would have had our Squirrel Girl movie already. So why the hell is it taking so long?
Anytime you think you’re missing representation in the media, you can start with the higher-ups, the studio heads, the executives. Let’s take a look at who we’re dealing with right now. Major studios run by men currently include: Marvel, Disney, Sony Pictures (eight major executives, only two of which are women), Dreamworks, and Universal Entertainment, to name a few. Both internships I had in college (including the one who asked me to research Squirrel Girl) were also at production companies run by men. Unfortunately, what we’re looking at here is not just “the industry,” it’s largely still the man’s industry.
Even in Squirrel Girl’s construction she was at the mercy of male creators: writer Will Murray and artist Steve Ditko. The utility belt that Doreen wears to store nuts for her squirrel friends was lovingly and respectfully called her “nut sack.” I’m sure Disney would absolutely approve that accessory name in their merchandise stores, soon to be worn by little girls all over the world.
The fact is that we need women creating female superheroes. We need more “normal” girls represented on-screen. We need more women directing superhero movies. My younger sister and I cried after the first time we saw Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman. We had never seen such a powerful female superhero that was portrayed so authentically and respectfully: dialogue, camera angles, and outfits that didn’t degrade her character, powerful stunts, strength and bravery, and a poise I hadn’t seen other female superheroes portray.
This all to say, progress is being made, slowly but surely. I’m excited about the Beanie Feldsteins and Shannon Pursers of the world. They were the first actresses I’d seen on-screen that I felt accurately portrayed how I looked and felt. I’m excited about the Patty Jenkinses, Ava DuVernays, Greta Gerwigs, and Nia DaCostas deciding how our stories get told to the world. It seems that the more we hire women in leadership and creative positions, the more we see ourselves on screen. And we don’t just want them, we need them. Little “me” could have used a Squirrel Girl to look up to in her youth when she was excited about her high school’s math and science team, but struggling with self confidence and weight. So, if you don’t see a Squirrel Girl film come out in the next ten years, catch me directing it myself.