We’re days away from the close of what’s been an especially long, incredibly trying, and all-around mess of a year. But while 2016 will be remembered for the devastating losses by way of pop culture icons, there were some positive moments worth highlighting this year.
Perhaps one of the most notable things about 2016 was how pop culture, especially genre, seemed to parallel so much of what was happening in the real world. As women and people of color fought to be seen and heard, and governments around the world seemed to grow more divided by the day, stories from the screen, both big and small, as well as the pages of comic books and fiction eerily began to mirror the present in place of predicting an imagined, far-off future. So it makes sense that some of the biggest moments of the year for women in genre were also notable milestones for pay equality, race and LGBTQ rights as well as inclusion in media. Here are the 16 biggest moments for women in genre in 2016.
16. Game of Thrones was all about the ladies this season - Sansa, Cersei, and Daenerys all kicked ass.
HBO’s juggernaut has caught a lot of merited flack when it comes to its treatment of women in previous seasons, most notably what many perceived as its all-too-casual use of rape and sexual assault as a plot device. But this year, the women seemed to finally get some well-deserved redemption, and by season’s end, it was the ladies of Westeros who were the ones poised to rule the imagined kingdom and the show itself.
15. Wonder Woman's cinematic debut and subsequent trailer
For someone who just turned 75, Wonder Woman is having a helluva second act. Between Diana’s appearance in the polarizing Batman v Superman, which almost all fans universally agree was kickass and some even hailed as the only redeemable part of the flick, to the trailers for her upcoming 2017 film, this year gave longtime fans of the Amazonian Princess hope that her transition from comics to the big screen may be a successful one.
14. Women cleaned up at the Hugos this year
This was the fourth year in a row that the Sad Puppies tried to game the Hugo Awards. Despite their efforts, women still cleaned up, with author N.K. Jemisen winning Best Novel, Nnedi Okorafor winning Best Novella, and Jessica Jones taking the Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form prize for “AKA Smile.”
13. Stranger Things gives us an unxpected new heroine
Netflix’s Stranger Things became an unexpected pop-cultural phenomenon this Summer. The nostalgia-rich series turned its very young cast into America’s new batch of sweethearts, but none more so than its breakout star, Millie Bobby Brown as Jane "Eleven" Ives. The Eggo loving superhuman quickly won the hearts of fans, and instantly cemented her pop culture status as one of the most meme-able and cosplayed characters of the year.
12. Ghostbusters left a major mark
Despite the movie’s release being met by a barrage of mysogonistic bs as well as the down-right racist harrasment of one of it’s stars, Ghostbusters still managed to make a lasting impact this year. First, rumors that the film’s underperformance at the box office put it’s sequel status at risk only further reinforced the glaringly sexist double standards that exist when it comes to Hollywood and filmmaking (a number of male-driven vehicles and actors continue to see their projects green-lit despite any financial risks or losses. See much of Adam Sandler’s career). Second, and most importantly, it inspired little girls everywhere to grab their proton packs and overalls and go chasing imaginary ghosts. And that alone reminded everyone why representation in media matters and who it impacts the most.
11. Ladies stole the show at both major Comic Cons
2016 marked what, hopefully, becomes a continuing trend. At both San Diego and New York Comic Cons, there was a noticeable boost in girl power in both the number of female driven properties as wells as female-focused panels.
At SDCC, Wonder Woman's Gal Gadot and Suicide Squad’s Margot Robbie were major draws, while Brie Larson (Captain Marvel), Tessa Thompson (Thor: Ragnarok), Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira (Black Panther) and Zendaya (Spider-Man: Homecoming) were just some of the of the female-packed Marvel family photo. As for NYCC, creators and studios were making a far more concertated effort to developing and promoting female-led projects, while the number of panels geared towards female fans and creators continued to increase from previous years. Here’s to hoping the momentum continues.
10. Mockingbird's feminist agenda goes viral
In what was an all too frequently occurring theme of 2016, masculinity proved itself to be so fragile yet again, this time over a female comic book character’s t-shirt. Writer Chelsea Cain left twitter following a deluge of misogynist attacks, the bulk of them appeared following the release of Mockingbird #8 which featured Bobbi Morse wearing the "Ask Me About My Feminist Agenda" t-shirt. The comic itself featured pointed commentary of feminist ideas and was unfortunately cancelled after 8 issues despite receiving critical praise.
But ultimately, the MRA tantrums led to the book’s sales skyrocketing as fangirls and feminist allies not only bought copies in droves, but also celebrated the not-even-remotely-controversial cover and its creators. The cover image began popping up as the profile image on countless Twitter accounts as users stood in solidarity with Cain, and We Love Fine was the first of many to quickly release a tee with the slogan.
9. Star Trek: Discovery casts two women of color in leads
The fight for inclusion on TV and in film was kicked into high gear this year, and while there’s still lots of work to do, there have been positive steps. Two of them came thanks to the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery series. First, it was announced that Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) was cast as Federation Captain Georgiou of the Shenzhou. Then Walking Dead badass Sonequa Martin-Green was cast in the show’s lead role as Lt. Commander Rainsford.
8. Target makes girls the focus of Star Wars ads
For decades, Star Wars was conventionally marketed towards boys of all ages. But over the last few years, the franchise made most impressive moves to reflect it’s enormous female fan base by telling stories that focused and relied on female protagonists. Leia was no longer the sole source of estrogen in the galaxy. Joining her at the forefront of Star Wars properties were characters like Ashoka, Hera, Sabine, Rey, and Jyn. And Target, a company that has always been at the frontlines of representation in their marketing, launched an ad that finally made female fans the focus featuring a young girls dressed as a stormtrooper, as well as mutlitple female voice-overs sharing just how much seeing Star Wars, and Leia, impacted them, marking the first time a national ad campaign acknowledged that the traditional “boys” toys weren’t restricted to enjoyment depending on gender.
7.Wonder Woman named UN ambassador
Though it was shortlived, Wonder Woman’s appointment as honorary ambassador to the UN and the face of their empowerment of women and girls initiative was a monumental moment. The superhero has long been a feminist icon and the ceremony itself was moving as a host of young girls listened eagerly to Lynda Carter’s inspiring and empowering speech about women and our place and importance in the world.
6. Marvel finally hires women of color as head writers
For the first time in their publication history, Marvel had hired not one, but two black women to write for them. Feminist author Roxane Gay and poet Yona Harvey were both tasked with writing the Black Panther spinoff World of Wakanda. The series focuses on the women who are central figures in Black Panther’s world: his all female security force and the revolutionary Zenzi. Not only was the hiring of both writers a milestone for Marvel, but Gay’s storyline will tell the lovestory of Ayo and Aneka, marking the first time two queer women of color were the primary focus of a Marvel book.
5. Supergirl saves lives with LGBT representation
Following a successful premiere season, Supergirl leaped networks to join its fellow DCTV shows on the CW. The move has meant big changes, including a slow-burning storyline in which Alex Danvers came out as a lesbian, culminating in a beautiful scene (and kiss!) between Alex and Maggie Sawyer in the mid-season finale. It might seem like nothing, but the impact that arch has had on the fanbase has proved the importance of representation. Fans expressed their appreciation on social media with heartfelt testimonials and more than a few tears. One fan even told a story of how the show, and Sanvers, literally saved the life of one young girl.
4. Jessica Jones hires all women directors for Season 2
Inclusion in media isn’t just about seeing more women on screen, it’s equally about hiring more women behind the scenes as writers, producers, directors, and other jobs.When it came time to tap directors for the second season to Jessica Jones, executive producer Melissa Rosenberg knew she wanted to actively have more women at the helm. But when someone suggested hiring all women to direct the series, she jumped at the opportunity.
3. Hidden Figures gets an early release
History has a habit of erasing the significant contributions of women and people of color to, well, everything. But the last couple years, we’re finally celebrating the groundbreaking work of the women who were instrumental to the space program, many of them women of color. Hidden Figures, based on the book of the same name, was slated for 2017 release, but came out on December 25th as a Christmas present to everyone. The film tells untold story of Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), the brilliant women responsible for launching John Glenn into orbit. It’s also been getting rave reviews and Oscar buzz for Taraji P. Henson.
2. Rogue One dominates
For the second year in a row, Star Wars has given us a female led film. The story of Jyn Erso is different in couple of ways. First, it’s marks the first film in the franchise that is not part of the Skywalker family saga. But perhaps more importantly, it’s the first time that the film’s merchandising has focused heavily on its female protagonist (last year, Rey was noticeably absent and under marketed in Force Awakens merch and toys). It’s also kicking serious ass at the box office, proving once again that a female led movie and a non-white cast can absolutely make a ton of money.
1. Felicity Jones gets what she deserves
Finally, one more step towards closing the way too wide pay gap. Felicity Jones was the highest paid actor in Rogue One, something that shouldn’t be news. Unfortunately, it’s a far too common occurrence that women are paid less than their male costars, even when they’re the leads or even the bigger name. Let’s hope this helps star off 2017 on the right foot.