Female Superheroes’ Worst Enemy? Toy Sales

By  · Published on December 16th, 2013

Gal Gadot is going to have her own action figure soon. She is ‐ for more than just the cinematic medium ‐ going to become the face of Wonder Woman for a new generation of girls and boys looking to have the Justice League invade Castle Grayskull with the Ninja Turtles.

Of course, even though she’ll be immortalized in plastic, she’s still merely a side character in Batman vs Superman. She may even be a cameo, but there’s still probably a toy executive meeting with a Warners executive right now to wring their hands over how well such a toy will sell.

As if we needed proof of such a scenario, veteran geek property producer Paul Dini revealed recently that the biggest threat to the smart women in his Tower Prep series lived at Toys ‘R’ Us. Don’t read if you’re one eye roll away from a coma.

Here he is speaking with Kevin Smith for Fat Man on Batman:

DINI: They’re all for boys. “We do not want the girls,” I mean, I’ve heard executives say this, you know, not [where I am] but at other places, saying like, “We do not want girls watching this show.”

SMITH: WHY? That’s 51% of the population.

DINI: They. Do. Not. Buy. Toys. The girls buy different toys. The girls may watch the show —

SMITH: “So you can sell them T-shirts if they don’t ‐ A: I disagree, I think girls buy toys as well, I mean not as many as fucking boys do, but, B: sell them something else, man! Don’t be lazy and be like, “Well I can’t sell a girl a toy.” Sell ’em a T-shirt, man, sell them fucking umbrella with the fucking character on it, something like that. But if it’s not a toy, there’s something else you could sell ‘em! Like, just because you can’t figure out your job, don’t kill chances of, like, something that’s gonna reach an audi ‐ that’s just so self-defeating, when people go, like… these are the same fuckers who go, like, “Oh, girls don’t read comics, girls aren’t into comics.” It’s all self-fulfilling prophecies. They just make it that way, by going like, “I can’t sell ’em a toy, what’s the point?”

DINI: That’s the thing, you know I hate being Mr. Sour Grapes here, but I’ll just lay it on the line: that’s the thing that got us cancelled on Tower Prep, honest-to-God was, like, “We need boys, but we need girls right there, right one step behind the boys” ‐ this is the network talking ‐ “one step behind the boys, not as smart as the boys, not as interesting as the boys, but right there.” And then we began writing stories that got into the two girls’ back stories, and they were really interesting. And suddenly we had families and girls watching, and girls really became a big part of our audience, in sort of like they picked up that Harry Potter type of serialized way, which is what The Batman and [indistinct]’s really gonna kill. But, the Cartoon Network was saying, ‘Fuck, no, we want the boys’ action, it’s boys’ action, this goofy boy humor we’ve gotta get that in there. And we can’t ‐ ‘ and I’d say, but look at the numbers, we’ve got parents watching, with the families, and then when you break it down ‐ “Yeah, but the ‐ so many ‐ we’ve got too many girls. We need more boys.”

SMITH: That’s heart-breaking.

DINI: And then that’s why they cancelled us, and they put on a show called Level Up, which is, you know, goofy nerds fighting CG monsters. It’s like, “We don’t want the girls because the girls won’t buy toys.” We had a whole… we had a whole, a merchandise line for Tower Prep that they shitcanned before it ever got off the launching pad, because it’s like, “Boys, boys, boys. Boys buy the little spinny tops, they but the action figures, girls buy princesses, we’re not selling princesses.”

“We’re not selling princesses” could be stamped on every comic book tentpole out there.

It’s clear that “Girls don’t buy X” is another way of saying “I don’t know how to sell girls X,” but while the plastic ceiling is a central focus of entertainment executives (or at least the ones at Cartoon Network that cancelled Tower Prep), it shouldn’t be the sole focus of this conversation. Yes, toys and movies have enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship through licensing fees, profit sharing and popularity-boosts for decades, but there’s also something telling about the production mindset that a smart heroine can’t get off the ground because of an outside factor. Forget storytelling or entertainment, phantom toy sales creates a boogeyman for executives unwilling to put female characters into the spotlight. A convenient narrative to avoid risk.

This is their reality (via Toy Director Monthly):

“Typically, movies focused on preteen boys tend to do best, followed by preschool children of both genders, and finally preteen girls. A movie can have a fantastic box office performance and a very long run time but if its main audience is adult males the impact on any toy fashioned after the movie will be minimal.”

Ultimately that means some executives are following a trend of a different industry instead of being leaders of their own. Also, apparently Avengers wasn’t made for adult males. Who knew.

In a world where Easy Bake Ovens are for girls and boys, and Barbie has already dressed up as Wonder Woman, it’ll be interesting to see how the Gal Gadot Wonder Woman toy does when it hits shelves. We already knew that it would be a test for Gadot and the character, but now it seems possible that it will be a toe-dipping test for her tiny plastic counterpart as well.

Source: A Birds’ Words Tumblr for the transcription (via io9)

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.